Alaska Summer Harvest

One way to relive summer during a cold, dark winter is to enjoy the harvest that one worked hard to gather during the bountiful summer months.  This year’s summer harvest has been the most diverse and plentiful for my family.  This winter we’ll be reaping the benefits of that hard work in many meals, and evening teas.  Alaska offers diverse and healthy food that can be gathered and hunted in the wild.  Food harvested in Alaska’s relatively pristine environment is by far healthier than mass-produced food in grocery stores, and offsets the cost of groceries for several months.

My family will be enjoying salmon, caribou, moose, lingonberries (this summer was great for berries),  mushrooms (this summer was too hot and sunny for mushrooms, but we found a few), Labrador and Coltsfoot this winter.  I’ve already posted recipes for salmon and wild mushrooms on this blog, and plan to post new recipes in the coming months for Lingonberries, caribou, moose, etc.

I plan to expand my knowledge on wild plants by reading a new book this winter called The Boreal Herbal, which explains medicinal and culinary uses for many plants that grow in Alaska.  I got my copy at Costco for about $30.  The goal is to stock my pantry with a wider variety of herbs, jellies, and relishes made from wild plants such as spruce tips, birch syrup, and fireweed.

Salmon Red Caviar

Salmon Red Caviar

Lingonberry Patch

Lingonberry patch on our lot in McCarthy

Lingonberry Jam

Scott made Lingonberry jam

Labrador Tea

Labrador Tea has a lot of vitamin C.

Wild Mushrooms

My meager mushroom harvest of White Boletes, and Aspen Boletes



Wild Mushroom Vegan Soup

Lately we’ve been total nerds about harvesting and preserving wild food – salmon, cranberries, mushrooms.  On a rainy Saturday afternoon in Anchorage I called my mom and convinced her to go pick mushrooms at Kincaid Park with me despite the rain.  A friend joined us and we spent about two hours strolling through the forest with buckets and knives, gathering delicious fungus.  We found Aspen Boletes, White Boletes, a couple of puff balls, and many other mushrooms that we left untouched because we didn’t know what they were.  Better safe than sorry.  I do have the Mushrooms Demystified book, but inconveniently, I left it in my shack in McCarthy.  When we got back to the car, my mom gave me all of her mushrooms because she was planning to go to a movie, not to clean and cook mushrooms.  Sweet score for me!

When I got home, my bucket was crawling with little black bugs and a couple spiders.  I inspected each mushroom for bugs and maggots and cut off all the parts that have already been devoured by them.  Here’s what I ended up with.

Wild Alaska Mushrooms

Wild Alaska Mushrooms

I decided to make wild Alaska mushroom soup!  After consulting the web for a recipe, I made up my own recipe.  Fortunately, I had gone to the Farmers Market in the morning and had plenty of fresh Alaska veggies to add to the soup.  Unfortunately, I didn’t keep close track of quantities of ingredients.

Here’s the list of ingredients:

About four cups of chopped wild mushrooms

Half a cup of chopped red onion

Three garlic cloves

A cup of chopped zucchini

Two basil leaves

A couple sprigs of fresh cilantro

One red potato

A quarter of an Anaheim pepper with seeds

One carrot

One large leaf of kale

I added the following spices: salt, pepper, dry parsley, dry dill, Braggs Liquid Aminos, nutritional yeast.

First I washed the mushrooms and put them in the pot to boil.  While they were boiling, I chopped up the other ingredients.  The mushrooms produced white foam that I skimmed off with a spoon a few times.  I sauteed the onions, garlic, pepper, carrot and kale, and then added them to the soup, but first I added the potato to give it a head start.  Then I added all the spices and let everything simmer for about 15 minutes.  I think it would have tasted pretty good with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt (I know this sounds strange, but try it, you may like it), but I didn’t have any on hand.  This soup is very nutritious and delicious!  Hopefully I’ll have another chance to gather more mushrooms this year.

Wild Alaska Mushroom Vegan Soup

Wild Alaska Mushroom Vegan Soup

Homemade Salmon Burgers

homemade salmon burgers salmon patties

Homemade Salmon Burgers

No matter how skilled you are at filleting salmon, there is always meat left on the carcass that goes to waste.  This meat can easily be turned into many meals in the form of salmon patties.  I ended up with 20 patties, and that’s about ten meals – bonus food made from meat that most people just throw away.  Several friends have asked me how I make my own salmon burgers, so here’s the info.

Step 1

While you are filleting the salmon, place all the carcasses in a pot.  Then fill the pot with water enough to cover all the contents and cook until the water is hot, but not boiling, and the meat turns a lighter shade of pink.  You just want to cook the meat enough that it comes off the bones easily, but not too much that it becomes overcooked.  Since you’ll eventually be cooking these patties right before serving them, you want to expose the meat to minimal cooking at this stage.

Step 2

Remove the carcasses from the water and let them cool enough so that you can touch them without burning your hands.

Step 3

Remove any meat you can from the carcasses and try to avoid bones.  You’ll end up with a bowl full of small chunks of perfectly delicious salmon meat!

Step 4

In a food processor chop onions, garlic, and various spices of your choice.  Then add eggs to the food processor at the end of the chopping process (you don’t want to add them in the beginning because they will become frothy, you just want to mix them into the spice concoction).  Add salt and pepper.  You don’t have to use a food processor if you don’t have one, you can just chop everything by hand.  This year I made two different spice mixes, one basil and the other green Thai curry.

Step 5

Mix the flavor/egg mixture into the salmon meat until it is evenly distributed.

Step 6

Form the meat mixture into patties of any size.

Step 7

Vacuum pack the patties and place in your freezer.  If you don’t have a vacuum packer, just place them in plastic bags, but try to get rid of as much air as possible from the bags, because it will contribute to freezer burn.

Step 8

When you have a hankering for some salmon burgers, or just want a quick meal, cook your salmon patties on a grill, in a skillet, or in the oven.

Barbecued Ribs Over Ohia Wood in Hawaii

BBQ Pork Ribs Ready to Eat

BBQ Pork Ribs Ready to Eat

During our recent trip to the Big Island of Hawaii we had a handful of amusing culinary experiences such as roasting a Breadfruit, suspiciously eating a Passion fruit, and wolfing down a Dragon fruit.  The most adventurous cooking activity one evening was barbecuing pork ribs over Ohia wood coals.  We finished our beach adventure relatively early one day, and had plenty of time to enjoy a relaxing evening at our rental house, which happened to have a fire pit, a BBQ, and a large deck.  To maximize entertainment we decided to make our own BBQ sauce (to avoid replicating the fake smoke flavor in store-bought BBQ sauce with actual smoke flavor), and  to make our own coals from Ohia wood, a plentiful resource conveniently cut, cured and stacked for our use.  The Ohia tree is one of the first plants that grows on recent lava flows, and is the most common native tree on the Hawaiian Islands.  The wood is very dense and strong, and has many uses.

Failing to find a BBQ sauce recipe online that could be made with the limited assortment of ingredients typically found in a vacation rental house, we decided to create our own.  Here are the ingredients.  The measurements are very rough, so use your own judgment if you choose to replicate this sauce.

  • 1/2 of a Serrano Pepper
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 onion (in retrospect I think this was too much onion, I would go with 1/2)
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • A splash of Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Lime juice squeezed from a lime
  • About a 1/4 cup of molasses
  • About a 1/3 of a cup of sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • A splash of beer
  • A splash of white wine (you can tell what we were drinking that night)
  • Dash of black pepper

Taste the sauce and add dashes and splashes of whatever ingredient you deem lacking.

Homemade BBQ Sauce

Homemade BBQ Sauce

The fun part was making the coals.  When we were enjoying the hospitality of the next door neighbor, he asked us why all the Alaskan visitors at our rental house always have to burn wood.  I hadn’t thought of that, but he has a point: Alaskans just have to burn wood, that’s what we do outside!  I couldn’t believe that some people think this is strange.

Burning Ohia wood.  Ohia trees are growing in the background.

Burning Ohia wood to make coals. Ohia trees are growing in the background.

Once the wood burned down to nice coals, we shoveled them into the small chamber of the BBQ grill.  The coals go into the separate smaller chamber of the grill and the ribs where placed in the large chamber.  The smoke from the small chamber saturated the large chamber, and thus the ribs were smoked, rather than grilled.  I was told that this is the authentic way to BBQ meat.

Real BBQ grill with two chambers

Real BBQ grill with two chambers

Ohia wood coals in the small chamber of the BBQ grill

Ohia wood coals in the small chamber of the BBQ grill

Pork ribs being smoked in the large BBQ chamber

Pork ribs being smoked in the large BBQ chamber

After about four hours, we were hungry, the ribs smelled great, and the sun had set, so we decided to call the ribs done.  In retrospect, we should have rummaged through the utility drawer to find a meat thermometer.    The ribs could have cooked for another hour in my opinion.  They tasted pretty darn good!

Alaskan Pickled Salmon Recipe

Alaskan pickled salmon recipe

Alaskan Pickled Salmon Ready to Eat

When the summer is approaching, and we still have last summer’s fish in the freezer, we either can it, or pickle it to make room for the upcoming summer’s fresh catch.  This pickled salmon recipe comes from our friend Ira Edwards.  I plan on trying another recipe from my friend Ashley Maury, which takes several weeks.

  • If the fillet has skin, de-skin it.  Here’s a trick for doing that.
  • Cut the fish into bite-size chunks.
  • Dissolve salt in water until the water is saturated (the salt will no longer dissolve) to make a strong brine.
  • Submerge the salmon in the brine and place a plate over the top with something heavy enough on top to press everything down a bit.  Brine the salmon for 12-24 hours.  CAUTION: I got a bit pre-occupied and left the salmon in the brine for a whole week.  As a result, my salmon turned out too salty.
Alaskan salmon after soaking for a week in salt brine

Salmon after soaking for a week in salt brine

  • Rinse each piece with cold water, then let the salmon sit in cold water in the fridge for 3-4 hours.
  • Prepare the brine with enough time to allow it to cool completely.
    • 3 cups white vinegar
    • 2 cups water
    • 1.5 cups sugar
    • 5 tbsp peppercorns
    • 1 cup coriander seed
    • 4 tbsp salt
    • 1/4 cup dried dill or 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill
  • Combine all ingredients, bring to a boil, and boil for 10 minutes.
  • Rinse glass quart or pint jars with boiling water to remove any unwanted bacteria.  Let the jars cool down.
  • Layer salmon, sliced onion, orange slices and pickle mix in the jars, leaving 1/4″ head space.  Cover tightly with lids.
Alaska pickled Salmon in Jars Layered with Oranges, Onions and Brine

Salmon in jars layered with oranges, onions and brine

  • Keep upside down in the fridge for one week.
  • Turn upright for 1-2 days.  Now it is ready to eat!

Keep the jars in the fridge, and it will last 3-4 months.

My Kim Chi Recipe

how to make kim chi recipe

My homemade Kim Chi

Kim Chi offers several health benefits largely because fermented cabbage has lactobacilli, a bacteria that helps with digestion and prevents yeast infections.  Some studies have shown that fermented cabbage has compounds that may prevent the growth of cancerous cells.  I eat kim chi almost every day, and make it regularly because the store-bought version has preservatives and costs more.  For about $6 I can make three jars of kim chi, but the store sells one jar for over $5.  I tried various kim chi recipes before I created my own version, which is a combination of all the best elements from the different recipes I had tried.

INGREDIENTS: (for three pint jars of kim chi)

1 head of napa cabbage

1 bunch green onions

2 carrots (or more if you like pickled carrots)

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup Korean chili pepper powder (I buy this at an Asian market, because the pepper I bought at the regular store wasn’t potent enough)

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 cup salt

2 tbsp fish sauce


Cut the napa cabbage into bite-sized pieces, and place in a bowl.  Sprinkle salt on the cabbage, then mix together.  Let sit at room temperature for four hours.  Stir occasionally.

Then rinse the salt off the cabbage and squeeze some of the water out of the cabbage.

Chop the green onions into one-inch pieces, and julienne the carrots.  Mince the garlic and grate the ginger.

Mix the chili pepper powder in some warm water to create a red paste.

Mix all ingredients together in the bowl with the cabbage using your hands, squeezing the ingredients into the cabbage to extract the juices.  I wear rubber gloves for this to avoid getting hot pepper on my hands.  Continue mixing for about five minutes until the cabbage is completely coated with the spices.

Pack into jars, leaving 1″ headroom for expansion during fermentation.

Store in the refrigerator for three weeks.  Then it’s ready to eat!

Kim chi will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks, and will continue to become more sour.

Five Meals from Two Chickens

Raise your hand if you’ve ever bought something on impulse at Costco.  That store can attribute its success to the masterminds who manage to put those certain products in just the right places.  My impulse purchase last week was two whole, organic, free range chickens.  I rarely buy meat, but for some mystical reason, Costco’s atmosphere compelled me to buy two chickens.  I rationalized it by creating a cooking plan for the week.  On Saturday four people came over for a spontaneous dinner party. Luckily, I had planned to roast two chickens with potatoes, carrots, onions and mushrooms.  At the end of the evening I picked all the meat off the chickens and packaged it for later use.  I saved one of the carcasses for chicken stock.  The next day I made the chicken stock and froze it for future use.  The following day I cooked Thai chicken and coconut cream stir fry.  The day after that we had chicken soup.  For lunch we had BBQ chicken wings one day, and BBQ chicken sandwiches another day.  All together, I believe we used meat from those two chickens for five meals, and I still have stock in my freezer.  The chickens cost $18, not a bad impulse purchase after all, as long as there’s a plan.

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