Alaska Memories and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Pearl Couscous

Alaska Memories and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Pearl Couscous

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It would have been simpler to meditate. Instead, 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 which multitasks as a mail and food delivery service, garbage collection, and all-purpose passenger shuttle to and from Homer, the closest town accessible by road. 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
Needless to say, the seafood is glorious in this part of the world. The following recipe is inspired by a meal I enjoyed at Tutka Bay Lodge.

Shrimp Kale and Pearl Cousous
Serves 4 to 6Alaska Shrimp Tutka

Ingredients:
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups pearl (Israeli) cousous
2 cups plus 1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
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 or curly green kale, tough ribs removed, torn into 2-inch pieces
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves, chopped fresh oregano leaves and chives

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

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a clean skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp in one layer to the skillet. Cook until bright pink and lightly seared on both sides and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes, turning once. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate.

3. 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 the liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and season with salt.

4. To serve, divide the couscous between serving plates or shallow bowls. Top with the kale. Arrange the shrimp over the kale. Garnish with the fresh herbs and additional lemon zest.

Homer View Lynda Balslev

 

Lisbon Snapshots #TasteFoodTravel

Afternoon Light - Casa de Pasto
Casa de Pasto
Cevicheria
Cevicheria

Rooftop Sunset

Sao Roque
Sao Roque
Chiado Wine Bar
Chiado Wine Bar

Graffiti

LX Factory
LX Factory
Pastéis de Nata
Pastéis de Nata

Ginjinha

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 350°F. Butter two (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.

 

Beautiful Alaska

Homer View Lynda BalslevFor those who seek space

Alaska PPP Farm Lynda Balslevand new beginnings

Tutka Cabin Lynda Balslev

to embrace nature

Tutka kayaks Lynda Balslev

and get their feet wet

Alaska view

Where the sky is the limit

Widgeon Lynda Balslevand convention shed

Halibut

King Crab Legs

to receive abundance

Alaska Paella TasteFood

and break bread

dinner

with fellow travelers

cooknscribble

and kindred spirits

Tutka dock Lynda Balslev

Beautiful Alaska

Chino Farms

Chino Farms

Size is not everything at this wonderful little farm stand in Rancho Sante Fe, California.  Just north of San Diego, Chino Farms is a family-run farm that has been in business for over 30 years.   Tucked in the countryside east of Del Mar, Chino Farms sells its just-harvested produce to any and all who stop at their roadside stand.  Chefs and home cooks alike patiently stand in line to choose their produce. If you dine in any of the area’s best farm-to-table restaurants, you can be sure your veggies are from Chinos.

Since we were there as tourists, and unable to return to our kitchen to prepare a farm-fresh meal, we satsified ourselves with baskets of wild strawberries to nibble on as we drove down coastal route 101 on our way to the beach.  In the evening, back at the Lodge at Torrey Pines, we were lucky enough to enjoy a meal at A.R. Valentien where we were told the chef uses fresh produce from Chino Farms.

Lettuce

Courgettes

Artichokes

Zucchini Blossoms

Potatoes

To Induct or Not to Induct – 18 Years of Cooktops

You would not believe the variety of kitchens I have used in the last 18 years.  I have lived in 8 different homes in 5 different countries since 1990 and have been exposed to a catalog of kitchen styles and appliances.


The first kitchen I had was when I moved to Paris and rented a tiny apartment in the 18th arrondissement while I attended Le Cordon Bleu Ecole de Cuisine. The kitchen was more of a kitchenette and had a dormitory-sized refrigerator and a hotplate as a cooktop, which I rarely used.  To be honest, I was so tired of cooking and tasting all day at school, that by the time I came home the last thing I felt like doing was cooking more food. Besides, if a meal was to be had, there were too many restaurants to explore in the city, and I was on a mission to try as many as possible.  


My first house in Geneva had another tiny kitchen.  It was the size of a closet and had a galley of efficiency appliances with a postage stamp-sized work surface along one wall.  There was just enough space left for a tiny bistro table and 2 café chairs, where I would eat with my boyfriend.  Despite the size, I adjusted and found the efficiency refreshing.  I could literally stand in one place, pivoting left and right, and everything was at my fingertips.  I entertained regularly out of that kitchen and even catered a few dinner parties, while borrowing surface space from the living room around the corner as necessary.  It worked, but I suspect it would be difficult to go back to at this time.


There were several other homes along the way, while I lived for 8 more years in the Geneva countryside before moving to England for 3 years.  Most of our homes were at least 100 years old with lots of character, yet blessed with modern kitchen conveniences and European appliances.  We rented a few, so accepted the varying styles and finishes that came with the rent, and for those we purchased, we tweaked to our taste and learned to use a whole new set of appliances.  
Our biggest coup was when we purchased a renovated barn south of London in 1999.  With the barn we acquired a large rambling country kitchen with a coveted Aga oven.  What a beauty.  It was a cast iron, cobalt-blue enameled fixture the size of a Mini Cooper.  It took up the entire north wall of our kitchen and was truly the heart of the home.  It was always on, emitting warmth (very useful in drafty homes in the English countryside) and the cats and children would curl up in front of it on a cold wintry day.  The kitchen also came equipped with an AEG gas cooktop and convection oven range.  When we first moved in, I was relieved to see the range and assumed I would frequently use it in place of the enigmatic Aga.  Wrong.  I never used the range – not even once in the 2 years we were there. 
 The Aga had 4 ovens with specific temperatures that did not fluctuate.  One was for warming, one for baking and one for roasting.  There were 2 cast iron cooking plates on the top that also did not fluctuate.  One was high temperature (boiling) and the other was medium-low (simmering.)  There was also a warming plate you could place a pot on once removed from the cooking elements.  I quickly learned to manipulate my pots and pans over these surfaces and in the ovens, and the results were phenomenal.  Nothing was impossible – I could even toast bread on the Aga.  Food that came from the ovens seemed to have more flavor.  This was slow cooking at its best.  In fact, our neighbors told us that they would put their Christmas turkey in the warming oven of their Aga the night before eating (this is not a recommendation, but they swore by it!)  According to them, after 24 hours the turkey was finished, succulent and delicious.  The only quibble I can think of regarding our Aga is that since the ovens sealed in all the air and exhausted through a chimney outside, I could not smell my food cooking.  This made me appreciate how much I use my sense of smell to judge when something is done.  (No, I have never developed the habit of using an oven timer.)


When we moved from England to Denmark, our 130 year-old home outside of Copenhagen had a lovely restored kitchen with a minimalist Danish style.  The cooktop was induction.  This was a new one for me, and, at first, I was very dubious, especially since I was still on my Aga-high.  As I got used to this new slick, clean cooking element I was very pleasantly surprised.  It was fast, consistent and, as mentioned, very clean.  I was worried I would have to replace my pots and pans, since induction requires a ferrous metal, such as iron or steel, as a component in the cooking pans to react to the magnetic field, so they will heat.  I was relieved to find that most of my pots and pans already had this. As the heat is inducted in the pan, it’s the pan that becomes the cooking element, so the cooktop surface never becomes too hot, which I appreciated with small children in the kitchen.  And, believe it or not, I found it at times faster and more controllable than gas, as the organic aspect of the gas flame is less predictable.  I loved it.


So, fast forward to our present home in Northern California, where we inherited a 6-burner commercial grade gas cooktop.  Before Denmark, I would have been ecstatic about this.  However, if I had my choice now, I would opt for induction.  Yet, I see none in all the spiffy renovated kitchens I visit.  My question is: Why hasn’t induction caught on here yet?  Does anyone know?

Summer Solstice NOMA-Style

Last summer we were in Denmark visiting friends and family during the solstice.  Miraculously, we managed to get a coveted dinner reservation at the acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant NOMA, and realized that our luck was only due to the general population out partying in traditional solstice-style on beaches before bonfires rather than in restaurants.  Seizing our opportunity, we invited our Danish friends and hosts (who were more than happy to abandon tradition for a table at NOMA) to join us.

That evening, we dined on a fabulous prix-fixe menu consisting of 7 courses composed exclusively of ingredients hailing from Nordic countries.  (NOMA is an acronym for Nordisk Mad – or Nordic Food in Danish.)  A visit to this restaurant is highly recommended if you are in Copenhagen, although advance reservations are a must. It is a fantastic collaboration between Danish chefs Claus Meyer and René Redzepi.  All ingredients originate from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.  They run from the familiar to the exotic: eel, musk ox, green strawberries, hare, seaweed, rye bread, black lobster are a few examples (quite out of context.)  You may feast on dishes such as Sautéed Dover Sole with New Danish Potatoes, Green Strawberries and Elderberry Sauce perhaps accompanied by Stirred Mashed Potatoes with Lumpfish Roe and Crispy Chicken Skin, and finish with Caramel Ice Cream with Icelandic Buttermilk, Dried Swedish Berries and Sorrel Crème Anglaise.

MPMS Stepping up 08, bday, food 112I enjoy poring over the NOMA Nordic Cuisine cookbook, which I bought as a memento after our meal. It is an inspirational and unique testament to Nordic terroir, and apropos several interesting blogs that attempt to prepare every single recipe in a particular tome of a cookbook, I would seriously have a go at reproducing NOMA’s – if only I could get my hands on chickweed, seakale and sweet cicely.  For now, I do what I always do and improvise with the seasonal and local products I find in my part of the world.

As we drove home after our long dinner, it was approaching midnight.  To the west the sun had just set and exited the sky in a swirl of orange and purple flourishes in its haste to rise again. To the east it was doing just that, where the sky was brightening and soft pink tinges nudged the gray-blue midnight summer sky.  It was truly a magical Danish solstice moment.