TasteTravel – Alaska: Tutka Bay Lodge and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Israeli Couscous

tbl_AA5D_MG_1283-325x325It would have been simpler to meditate. Instead, last summer I traveled to Alaska. More specifically, I traveled 3,000 miles on three planes of diminishing size, and one water taxi to Tutka Bay Lodge. Tutka Bay sits at the mouth of a rugged seven-mile fjord stretching into the glacier capped Kenai mountains, 125 air miles south of Anchorage. It’s not accessible by road, only by sea plane or a water taxi from Homer which multitasks as a mail and food delivery, garbage collection, and all-purpose shuttle. If you want to get away from it all, this is for you. It’s well worth the trip.

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Before you pack your compass, first aid kit, and water purification tablets, let’s be perfectly clear. This is not roughing it. This is not even glamping. This is wilderness isolation in extreme comfort. You will find yourself in a lodge, tucked into plush beds in cozy private cabins, waited upon 24/7 by an attentive staff, and dining in a first class restaurant. Sure, you are in the remote wilderness on a spit of land flanked by a rugged fjord and craggy mountains dotted with old growth Sitka spruce. Yes, that’s an ancient volcano looming in the distance, waiting ever so patiently for another opportunity to express itself. Indeed, you will be sharing your outdoor space with resident bald eagles, floating otters, and possibly an orca or two. You will also be pampered, fed and catered to in a lodge staffed with servers doubling as mountain guides, valets doubling as naturalists, and professional chefs doubling as culinary instructors in a teaching kitchen converted from a re-purposed two-story crabbing boat.

Widgeon Lynda Balslev

Tutka Cooking Class Lynda Balslev

Halibut The point is that there is something for everyone at Tutka, with the most notable activity being nothing. Because, while your every whim will be addressed and serviced, your tummy fed, your fitness itch scratched, your need for nature connected, you will find yourself in the most spectacular vignette of nowhere, amidst staggering scenery and blissful solitude. Activities are plentiful, and peace is everywhere, which yields the treasure of perspective and balance. So, whether you crave a weekend or a week to find your center, this is the the place to be. Just leave yourself a day to get there.

alaska makos taxi

Tutka kayaks Lynda Balslev
The following recipe is inspired by a delicious memory from Tutka Bay Lodge.

Shrimp Kale and Israeli Cousous
Serves 4 to 6

Alaska Shrimp Tutka

Ingredients:
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups Israeli cousous
2 cups chicken stock, plus 1/4 cup
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound large (18/20) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 bunch purple kale, tough ribs removed, torn into 2-inch pieces
1 garlic clove, minced

Method:
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the couscous and stir to coat. Cook until the couscous is light golden, 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Carefully add the 2 cups stock. Reduce heat to low, then cover and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Keep warm.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp in one layer to the skillet. Cook until golden brown on both sides and cooked through, turning once. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate.

In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil and the red chili flakes over medium heat. Add the kale and garlic and sauté until the kale leaves begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the 1/4 cup stock and continue to sauté until liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Season with salt.

To serve, divide the couscous between serving plates or shallow bowls. Top with the kale. Arrange the shrimp over the kale. Garnish with fresh snipped herbs such as oregano, thyme leaves and chives.
Homer View Lynda Balslev

Top 3 photos courtesy of Tutka Bay Lodge. All other photos by Lynda Balslev.

Danish Layer Cake (Lagkage) and Camilla Plum

Danish Lagkage tastefood

When it comes to baking I am not perfect. I embrace presentations that are what they are – not too fussy, but simple, honest and fresh (as we should embrace ourselves, right?) It was my daughter’s birthday recently, and her favorite cake is lagkage, a traditional Danish cake consisting of layers of genoise or vanilla cake, whipped cream and fresh fruit. It’s beautifully simple – no piping, no bling, just vanilla-infused cake and slathers of  whipped cream smushed with macerated fruit. The only decorations are oodles of berries and pretty snipped edible flowers and herbs from the garden. Actually, it’s…perfect.

I adapted this cake from a cookbook by Danish food icon, Camilla Plum. She is a Danish chef who, in addition to her television shows, cookbooks and garden books, has an organic farm an hour outside of Copenhagen, open to the public on weekends. During the summers you can stroll through her fields, orchards and greenhouses. Her sprawling and well-lived property includes a shop with organic produce, fruit and flowers from her farm, as well as organic meats, kitchenwares and, of course, her cookbooks.

DK camilla plum

 

DK plum is

There is also a cozy cafe where you can  enjoy a slice of lagkage with a cup of coffee or hyldeblomst (elderflower juice) outside in the gardens before heading home.  Just watch out, you might also leave with a kitten.

DK lagekage

DK kitten

Danish Layer Cake (Lagkage) with Whipped Cream and Berries

The cakes may be divided into 2 or 3 thin layers. Feel free to use as many layers as you like when assembling the cake. Recipe translated and adapted from Blomstrende Mad (Flowering Food) by Camilla Plum.

Cake:
8 large eggs
1 3/4 cups (375g) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (50g) almond meal
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
5 tablespoons (75g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 3/4 cups (250g) unbleached all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder

Whipped cream:
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sifted confectioners sugar
1 cup raspberries, plus more for decorating

Assorted berries (raspberries, sliced strawberries, currants)
Fresh edible flowers, herb sprigs and leaves for garnish

Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 35o°F. Butter 2 (9-inch) cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment and butter the parchment.
Beat the eggs and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Gently mix in the almond meal, vanilla, and lemon zest. Stir in the butter. Whisk the flour and baking powder in a small bowl, then add to the eggs. Gently mix just until combined without over mixing. Divide among prepared pans. Bake until light golden and tops spring back when pressed, about 25 minutes. Cool completely on racks. Remove the cakes from pans and slice horizontally in half (or thirds).

Make the cream:
Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer until traces of the whisk are apparent. Add the sugar and beat until firm peaks form. Place 1 cup raspberries in a bowl and mash with a fork. Add half of the whipped cream and gently stir to combine.

Assemble:
Place one cake layer on a cake plate and top with raspberry cream. Repeat with remaining layers. Spread the remaining whipped cream over top and sides of cake. Top with fresh berries. Garnish with snipped edible flowers and/or herbs.

 

Warm Cauliflower Couscous with Lemon and Chiles

Cauliflower couscous tfCauliflower Couscous – Posted by Lynda Balslev

The secret to this fabulous side dish is cauliflower – not as an addition to a salad of couscous grains, but as a replacement. That’s right – it’s all cauliflower, finely chopped to the size of couscous or rice grains, then tumbled with lemon, chiles and fresh herbs. Cauliflower holds its texture beautifully, either raw or, in this case, sautéed, providing a mild, nutty flavor and firm bite that will likely leave your dinner guests stymied and then pleasantly surprised. And not only is it a healthy ingredient, it provides a great gluten-free option to a grain side dish.

Warm Cauliflower Couscous with Lemon and Chiles
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

1 small head cauliflower
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 thin scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
1 gypsy sweet pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 cup parsley leaves, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Remove the leaves and core of the cauliflower. Coarsely chop the florets and place in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the florets until they are finely chopped, 10 to 12 times.
2. Heat the oil and malt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the cauliflower and sauté until beginning to color, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic, red chili flakes, paprika, and cumin. Continue to cook until the cauliflower is tender but not mushy, 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Taste for seasoning. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Southwestern Quinoa and Kale Tabbouleh

quinoa tabbouleh tastefood

This recipe is a clash of civilizations. Traditional tabbouleh is a Middle Eastern bulgur salad, packed with fresh herbs, garlic and chopped vegetables and coated with lemon and olive oil. This version wanders south of the American border with a rendition that substitutes quinoa for the bulgur and adds corn, red pepper, and cilantro. Shredded kale joins in the fun adding flavor and healthy heft. This salad makes a great light main course and a substantial side that goes well with grilled meat, chicken and fish. For a complete vegetarian option, substitute the chicken stock for water, and taste to adjust for additional seasoning.

Southwestern Quinoa and Kale Tabbouleh
Serves 4 to 6

1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (or water)
1 teaspoon salt
1 corn cob
1 red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 large carrot, peeled and finely grated
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 cups shredded kale leaves
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoona extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon hot sauce (or ground cayenne)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the quinoa under cold water and drain. Place in a medium saucepan with the chicken stock or water and the salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until the quinoa releases it’s tail (germ) and the liquid is absorbed. Transfer to a large bowl and cool.
Cut the kernels off of the corn and add to the quinoa. Add all of the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

Summer Bounty – Quick Pickles

fall picklesSummer Pickles – Posted by Lynda Balslev © 2014

When summer yields more vegetables than you can shake a stick at, it’s time to pickle. I adore pickles and for years shied away from trying to make my own. Why? Perhaps due to the time and labor, mixed with a little fear of failing. Well, quick pickling came to the rescue. For impatient types like me, this method requires minimal time and easy results.

Quick Summer Pickles

Shake up your pickles with a variety of veggies. Not only are they diverse to eat, they look very pretty in the jar. Small cauliflower florets, pardon peppers, baby carrots, green beans and fennel went into this mix. Of course you can also use cucumbers (kirby are best), zucchini, okra, or whatever else strikes your fancy.
(Just remember to pre-salt your cukes and zukes for 30 minutes, then wipe off excess moisture before brining.)

2 pounds veggies

Brine:
6 garlic cloves, smashed but intact
2 bay leaves
3 cups water
3 cups apple cider
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds

Wash and trim the vegetables as needed. Tightly pack into clear heatproof jars.
Combine the brine ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar and salt dissolve. Pour the brine over the vegetables. Cover and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate at least 24 hours or up to 1 week. The flavors will develop with time.

A Grill and a Skillet: Yogurt Marinated Chicken Breasts with Tomatoes and Chickpeas

Chicken grill When the weather gets all hot and in your face, it helps to shout back. Fire up the grill, douse your food with loads of spice and fight fire with fire. What I love about this method is that not only is the food intoxicatingly flavored with aromatics, spicy heat and char, all of the cooking remains outside on the grill. In this recipe, chicken is swathed in a creamy-smoky-spicy bath that permeates and tenderizes the meat as it marinates. While the meat grills to crispy perfection, a basket of cherry tomatoes cooks down to a sweet sludge dotted with nubby chickpeas, which becomes the bed for the finished chicken. It’s served with couscous to absorb the rich pan juices and topped with a dollop of fragrant yogurt sauce. Bright, spicy and very shouty, indeed.

Yogurt and Spice Marinated Chicken Breasts with Tomatoes and Chickpeas

Serves 4 to 6.

Marinade:
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup Greek whole milk yogurt
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne

4 large chicken breasts with skin, de-boned, about 8 ounces each

1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt

Sauce:
1/2 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Prepare:
1.  Whisk the marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Transfer 1 tablespoon of the marinade to another bowl and set aside for the sauce.
2.  Place chicken in a rimmed baking dish. Rub all over and between skin and meat with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
3.  Prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking over medium heat.
4.  Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet over indirect medium heat. Add the tomatoes and cook until they just begin to break down and release their juices, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, chickpeas, cilantro, cumin, red pepper flakes and salt. Cook until the tomatoes collapse and the sauce thickens, about 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. While the tomatoes cook, remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade. Grill the chicken, skin side down, over direct medium heat, until cooked through, turning once. Remove from heat.
6. Whisk the reserved marinade with 1/2 cup yogurt and fresh cilantro.
7. Cut the chicken breasts in half crosswise. Nestle into the skillet with the tomatoes and chickpeas. Serve with the yogurt sauce.

This dish and its many iterations I’ve enjoyed making is originally inspired by a recipe from Bon Appetit. 

Bircher Muesli

birchermeusli 1

I had my first bircher muesli in Switzerland. Bircher Muesli is a hearty alpine favorite and a breakfast staple. No wonder: it’s a healthy, satisfying and refreshing start to any day. The technique to bircher muesli is an overnight soaking of oats, steeped in milk or yogurt. Just before serving additional ingredients such as grated apple, dried fruit and nuts are folded in. Feel free to experiment with extra ingredients and toppings such as chia seeds, pepitas, dried cranberries, and fresh berries. If you are feeling luxurious, a dollop or two of whipped cream may also be gently folded in at the end (I call this the I-am-on-holiday ingredient).

Bircher Muesli
Serves 2

1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup apple juice
1/2 cup whole milk plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 green apple, cored and grated
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup raisins
Shaved unsweetened coconut
Honey (optional)

Mix the oats, apple juice, yogurt and cinnamon in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
Before serving, stir in the grated apple, half of the raisins and almonds. If too thick, thin with additional yogurt or milk to desired consistency. (If you are on holiday, then add the whipped cream).
Serve garnished with remaining nuts, raisins and the coconut. Drizzle with a little honey if desired.

Shrimp Tostadas with Black Bean and Corn Salsa

I confess that I often find Mexican food too dense for my garden-fresh sensibilities, so when I cook Mexican-inspired food at home, I lighten it up with lots of fresh vegetables, homemade salsa and herbs. We made these tostadas the other night and served the ingredients buffet-style, so everyone could pile on the garnishes to their taste.

Shrimp Tostadas with Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Fresh summer corn cut straight from the cob is sweet and crisp – no cooking required. When cutting the corn, lay the husked cob on a cutting board and carefully slice kernels off with a chef’s knife, rotating the cob. Sweep the kernels and milk into the bowl for the salsa. Serves 4 to 6.

For the shrimp:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Sriracha or hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined

For the black bean salsa:
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
Corn kernels from one ear of corn
1 small red onion, chopped
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
Juice of half a lime
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons hot sauce, to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 small handful cilantro sprigs, chopped

Tostada shells
Lettuce leaves
Tomato salsa
1 avocado, sliced
Fresh cilantro sprigs
Lime wedges

Whisk 1 tablespoon olive oil, lime juice, hot sauce, cumin, salt and pepper together in a medium bowl. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Set aside.

Combine all of the salsa ingredients together in a bowl and mix well. Taste for seasoning.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet over medium high heat (or prepare grill for direct cooking over medium heat). Remove shrimp from the marinade, shaking off any excess and transfer to skillet 0r grill. Cook shrimp until pink on both sides and just cooked through, turning once, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer shrimp to a bowl.

To assemble tostadas, lay a lettuce leaf over the corn shell. Spoon the black bean salsa over the lettuce. Top with 2 to 3 shrimp. Spoon tomato salsa over. Garnish with avocado slices and fresh cilantro. Squeeze a few drops of lime juice over each tostada. Serve immediately.

Watermelon, Feta and Bulgur Salad

Watermelon fetaPosted by Lynda Balslev

Watermelon is a staple in the heat of summer. Juicy, refreshing, nourishing and thirst quenching, it satisfies on many levels without filling you up. It’s served for breakfast in the Mediterranean climates and is a great addition to salads. It’s mellow sweetness is perfectly complemented by salty feta. This salad is a mini-meal with the addition of bulgur, and a perfect lunch stop on a hot summer day. It’s also a great addition to a barbecue.

Watermelon, Feta and Bulgur Salad
This recipe provides for a large salad. Feel free to halve the bulgur and use the extra ingredients to your taste. Serves 4

1 cup bulgur
Salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 small seedless watermelon, peeled, cut into 3/4 inch cubes, about 3 cups
2 handfuls sugar snap peas, stemmed, halved
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 ounces feta, crumbled
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the bulgur in a bowl. Add 2 cups boiling water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and let stand until bulgur is tender, about 20 minutes. Drain any excess water and fluff with a fork.
Whisk the oil, lemon juice, cumin, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the dressing to the bulgur and stir to combine. Taste and add a little more dressing if desired (the rest will be drizzled over the salad).
Transfer the bulgur to a serving platter. Scatter the watermelon, snap peas and red onion over the bulgur. Top with the feta and parsley. Drizzle with remaining dressing. Garnish with freshly ground black pepper.

Summer Reflections: Clam Chowder

Posted by Lynda Balslev 

This week I am traveling in Stockholm and its surrounding archipelago. While I’ve visited the beautiful capitol before, I have never ventured into Stockholm’s surrounding archipelago which consists of some 24,000 islands. Within an hour you can find yourself on a tiny island surrounded by nature, and feel as if you are light years from the maddening crowd. More on that later, but in the meantime, I post this from the small island of Grinda.  With the outside air cool and fresh and a fire crackling inside the Grinda Wardshus great room, I can’t help but think of Clam Chowder. Blame it on my New England roots, all right, but a bowl of chowder sings summer to me – no matter if it’s a sunny day at the beach or an afternoon cloaked in fog.

Clam Chowder
Use the smallest clams you can get your hands on, such as little necks, middle necks, or, if you are on the U.S. west coast, manila clams. Serves 4 to 6.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 large leek, white part only, thinly sliced
1 small celery root, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 pound small fingerling potatoes, cut in 1/4-inch coins
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
12 manila or middle neck clams or 24 little neck clams
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and fry until the fat is nearly rendered (it will continue to render as the vegetables cook). Add the onion and leek and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the celery root and potatoes. Sauté until the vegetables being to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the milk, cream, stock, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a boil, then add the clams. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook until clams open, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Discard any unopened clam shells. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot garnished with fresh thyme sprigs.