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Hominy Chowder

One of my favorite dishes ever is New Mexican-style posole with pork and a deeply flavored red broth. What I love so much about it is the hominy. I start with dried hominy and soak it overnight then simmer it for hours until it pops a little like popcorn. It has the best texture and corny flavor.

Sometimes I just want the hominy without the posole, so today I made a corn chowder-like soup using hominy instead of corn. I recently got to visit a Trader Joe’s in Pennsylvania where I picked up a jar of elote corn seasoning, which seemed like a great way to flavor a Mexican-style corn chowder. This chowder was fantastic and definitely something I don’t want to forget, which is why I’m putting it down here!

If you can’t get a hold of the TJ elote seasoning, I would mix up some sugar, salt, chili powder, cumin and dried cilantro and maybe add in some Tajin, which is easier to come by.

Hominy Chowder

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. dried hominy, soaked overnight in water
  • 2 strips bacon, diced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 1 carrot, cubed
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 3 fresh Anaheim peppers
  • 1 orange or yellow bell pepper (or 6-8 mini bell peppers)
  • 2 tablespoons Trader Joe’s elote seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 6-8 cups chicken stock
  • 2.5 cups rotisserie chicken pieces
  • salt and pepper to taste

For garnish:

  • sour cream
  • grated monterey jack cheese
  • fresh cilantro

Directions:

Set your oven to broil. Chop off the stems of the peppers, and make one slice down the side of each, discarding seeds and pith. Press each pepper flat and place skin-side up on a baking sheet. Broil until the skin is black and blistered. Remove from oven and cover with foil until cool to handle. Remove the skins and discard, then dice up the peppers and set aside.

Heat the bacon in a dutch oven and brown, but do not make it crispy. Add the butter, onion, carrot and celery and cook till onions are soft, about 7 minutes. add the peppers, elote seasoning, cumin, bay leaf and garlic and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add 6 cups of stock and the hominy. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for 3 hours or until the hominy is tender. Add more stock when needed as the hominy will absorb it as it cooks.

Twenty minutes before serving add the chicken bits and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer till chicken is super tender and falling apart.

Ladle chowder into bowls and to each add a big dollop of sour cream, stirring to combine. Top with shredded monterey jack and chopped cilantro.

Chili Crisp with Peanuts and Fried Garlic

Last summer I purchased some chili oil from a local farmers market and learned about the wonders of this condiment. Sadly, by the time I finished the jar the market was closed for the season. I looked into making it myself, having very little knowledge about exactly what dried chili flakes to use.

I went to New Central Market and they directed me to some pulverized Korean chilis, but they didn’t have the look of the stuff I normally see in Thai restaurants. They showed me a jar of dried chili flakes, which I bought, but I had a feeling they were too spicy for me.

The dried chilis sat in my cupboard for months. Then I started seeing targeted ads for Momofuku chili crunch, and I was intrigued as it looked like a turbo version of chili oil.

I found a jar of Dragonfly brand Spicy Chili Crisp with Peanuts at New Sagaya and had to give it a try. WOW! So much flavor. Not just spice, but smokiness, sweetness, saltiness, umami – this condiment packs a punch. I had to try to make it myself.

Chili crisp goes with anything. You can add it to ramen, fried rice, pizza, fried eggs – anything where you want to add a boost of flavor.

I based my recipe on this Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp from i am a food blog. I didn’t have all the ingredients in this recipe, but I also wanted to try to add some improvised flavors, such as Red Boat salt, which is a salt infused with fish sauce, and smoked paprika to give the chili crisp some smokiness.

After making a batch with my original dried chili peppers and developing a rash because it was so spicy (and I thought I could handle some spice!) I tried my recipe again but with regular dried chili flakes (the kind you sprinkle on pizza). These peppers are more mellow and produced a chili crisp that was so delicious I’m having trouble not eating it by the spoonful.

Chili Crisp with Peanuts and Fried Garlic

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup dried chili flakes
  • 2 teaspoons Red Boat salt (or regular salt)
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup neutral oil such as peanut
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, sliced thin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 scallions, white part only, sliced thin
  • 6 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons dried chopped shallots (or onion)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts.

Directions:

In a heatproof medium bowl, add the chili flakes, salt, smoked paprika and sugar. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, add the oil, ginger, bay leaves, star anise, cinnamon stick, scallions, garlic, dried shallots and peppercorns. Heat over medium low for about 10 minutes or until the garlic and shallots are golden brown. Place a metal sieve in a large liquid measuring cup and strain the oil. Set aside the aromatics until cool.

Pour the oil back into the pan and heat until just smoking, 350F. Carefully pour the hot oil over the chili flakes. It will sizzle and bubble and start to turn orangey red. Let cool completely.

Meanwhile, discard the ginger, bay leaves, star anise, cinnamon stick and peppercorns (if you feel like picking through those, but they are probably ok to go into the chili oil). The crispy scallions, garlic and shallots should be all that’s left in the sieve.

Add the scallions, garlic, shallots and peanuts to the chili oil and stir to combine. Pour into a jar, cover and place in the fridge. My oil solidified a little bit in the fridge, but softens up quickly when placed on hot foods.

Coconut Curry with Air Fried meatballs and crispy tofu

This fragrant curry offers up everything: umami-rich meatballs, tender vegetables and crispy tofu. The air fryer is a great tool for quickly cooking meatballs and getting your tofu extra crispy. Of course you could always use a regular oven to cook the meatballs and pan fry the tofu.

This recipe is based on Food + Wine’s Ginger-Braised Pork Meatballs in Coconut Broth by Jenn Louis.

Ingredients:

1 brick extra firm tofu

Meatballs:

1 pound ground pork

1 green onion, white and green parts minced

2 tablespoons minced cilantro

2 cloves minced garlic

1 tablespoon peeled, grated ginger

1 egg

2 tablespoons panko

2 teaspoons fish sauce

salt and pepper, to taste

Curry:

1 stalk lemongrass, outer leaves removed and chopped into 3-inch pieces

2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced

1, 13.5-ounce can coconut milk

2 cups chicken stock

1 serrano chile, sliced lengthwise and seeds/pith removed

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

zest and juice of 1/2 lime

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 tablespoon sugar

salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 cup julienned carrots

1/2 cup chopped broccoli florets, stalks julienned

1/2 orange bell pepper, julienned

fresh mint, Thai basil, and cilantro, for serving

jasmine rice, for serving

Directions:

Press the tofu: Slice the tofu brick in half like a hamburger bun and place in a clean dish towel on a baking sheet. Place a cutting board on top and set a heavy pot on the cutting board. Let the tofu drain like this for 30 minutes then cut into cubes and set aside.

Make the meatballs: In a bowl, combine all the meatball ingredients and mix well. Heat an air fryer to 400F. Spray the trays with cooking spray. Form small meatballs and place them on the trays; air fry for 7 minutes. Turn the meatballs and air fry another 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the curry: Place the lemongrass and ginger in a gauze drawstring bag (or let them be loose in the curry and fish them out later). In a medium dutch oven, add the coconut milk, chicken stock, lemongrass/ginger, garlic, serrano, lime juice and zest, fish sauce, ground turmeric and sugar and heat until simmering. Turn down heat, cover and let simmer until meatballs and tofu are done. Add salt to taste.

When the meatballs are done in the air fryer, add them to the curry and continue to simmer while tofu crisps up.

Clean off the air fryer trays and spray them with cooking spray. Add the tofu to the trays and spray the tofu with cooking spray; sprinkle on some freshly ground pepper if you’d like. Place tofu back into the 400F air fryer and cook 6 minutes. Turn tofu pieces and cook another 6 minutes or until tofu is browned and crispy.

When there’s 5 minutes left on the tofu, place the carrots, broccoli and bell pepper into the curry and let cook until veggies are tender. Remove the lemongrass and ginger pouch and discard.

Serve curry with steamed rice topped with tofu pieces and sprinkle on chopped fresh herbs such as mint, Thai basil and cilantro.

Savory Pumpkin Ravioli in a creamy pumpkin sauce with spinach, white beans and mushrooms

So I should say except for the pasta dough I didn’t measure any of the ingredients for this recipe. Here are some approximations but use measurements that make sense to you! Follow your tastebuds.

Ingredients

For the pasta dough:

300 g. all purpose flour

100 g. semolina flour

4 eggs

For the filling:

1/2 cup puréed pumpkin

1/4 cup cream

1/4 cup puréed white beans

1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1/4 cup shredded mozzarella

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)

a few dashes of Trader Joe’s umami powder (or onion powder)

black pepper, to taste

pinch of ground sage

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

salt, to taste

For the sauce:

1/3 cup puréed pumpkin

1/4 cup cream

1/4 cup chicken stock

olive oil

1/4 onion, chopped finely

6 crimini mushrooms, roughly chopped

pinch of ground nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

a big handful of fresh spinach, roughly chopped

Pecorino Romano for serving

Directions:

First, mix the pasta dough. Combine the flours in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and crack in the eggs. Lightly beat eggs with a fork while incorporating the flour. Combine until a rough dough forms. Remove from bowl and knead on a lightly floured surface for 5 minutes until dough is smooth and slightly elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes to an hour.

In the meantime create your filling in a mixing bowl and transfer to a gallon zip top bag. Set aside.

Start assembling the sauce by heating some olive oil in a pan and sautéing the onions and mushrooms with a pinch of salt. Combine the cream, pumpkin and chicken stock in a small liquid measuring cup. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper and set aside. Turn off the heat when onions and mushrooms are cooked through and the mushrooms are starting to brown.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Now it’s time to roll the pasta. Work with 100g of dough at a time. Flatten a piece of dough with your hands and run it through a pasta roller on the biggest setting. Fold the dough and run it through again. Repeat this six more times. Then switch to the next smaller setting and run the dough through once. Repeat until you’ve run it through the thinnest setting and the dough is as thin as paper. You may need to dust it with flour now and then to keep it from sticking.

Lay the flattened sheet on a countertop and cut it in half lengthwise. Snip a corner off the filling bag and make 8 dots of filling on one piece of the dough, evenly spaced. Lightly wet the dough around the filling and place the second sheet on top. Gently press the dough to get out air bubbles and seal in the filling. Use a pizza cutter, bench scraper or cookie cutter to cut your ravioli how you like. Place on a lightly floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough until you’ve used up all your filling. Refrigerate any extra dough for pasta tomorrow.

When water is boiling add your ravioli. Gently stir with a wooden spoon. Reheat the pan with the onions and mushrooms and add the beans and spinach. Cook until wilted, just a couple of minutes. By now the pasta should be ready.

Use a large slotted spoon or spider to remove the ravioli from the water. Divide into 4 bowls. Add the cream, pumpkin, stock mixture to the saucepan and combine till heated through. Pour over the ravioli and top with Pecorino Romano cheese. Serve immediately.

Polenta Lasagna

I mean, doesn’t that look delicious?

I love a good lasagna, but sometimes I don’t feel like wrangling boiling hot noodles. This polenta lasagna is all the flavor of the traditional dish, but with slightly less effort and an added creamy texture. Also, it’s even better reheated the next day (as it appears in the above photo).

Polenta Lasagna

Serves 4

Ingredients:

-Polenta, hot and prepared Bon Appetit Instant Pot style (you start with 1 cup dry polenta if you want to follow a different recipe)

-1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

-2-3 cups marinara sauce

-Shredded mozzarella cheese

-1-1.5 cups prepared béchamel sauce – I recommend Massimo Bottura’s method

-Freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese

Directions:

First, you’ll need to prepare the polenta. The Bon Appetit recipe I linked above is the best recipe I’ve ever found and it’s perfect for this dish because you add 4 oz. of pecorino Romano cheese, butter and ground pepper – that’s a lot of good flavor!

However you decide to make it, just before it’s done, spray a half sheet pan with cooking oil. Carefully pour the hot polenta onto the pan and spread it into an even layer. This doesn’t have to be perfect. I think my polenta was about 1/4 inch thick.

Let the polenta cool completely. I set it outside since it was 43 F.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Heat a medium pan over medium-high heat and add the sausage. Cook until browned. Set aside.

In the meantime, prepare your béchamel. Now it’s assembly time.

Using a paring knife and possibly a measuring tape, determine what size you should cut your polenta. I made my sheets 5×7 inches, which meant two pieces per layer with three layers. I didn’t cut them too wide or long because I didn’t want them to break as I lifted them off the pan.

Lightly spray a smallish casserole dish with cooking spray. My dish was 10×7″. Ladle some marinara into the bottom of the dish and distribute evenly.

Carefully lift your polenta pieces from the pan using a fish spatula and place them into the casserole dish. Sprinkle on 1/3 of the sausage. Pour 1/3 of the béchamel over the sausage and use a rubber spatula to spread it out across the polenta. Pour on some more marinara and spread it out too. Sprinkle lightly with shredded mozzarella (or heavily if you desire).

Repeat with the remaining polenta, sausage, béchamel, marinara and mozzarella. Sprinkle the top layer with grated pecorino.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15 if you want the top to brown a little. Remove from oven and let sit 5-10 minutes or until you can’t stand it anymore.

Store any leftovers in an airtight container and reheat in the microwave for ultimate second day satisfaction.

Tortellini soup with sausage, beans and kale

The chill is in the air here in Anchorage. After picking lowbush cranberries I just couldn’t get warm enough. My boys went off to the state fair for the monster truck rally and came home with big appetites. I wanted to make something to warm us up and fill our bellies.

This Italian-style sausage and bean soup has all the ingredients I love – porcini, sausage, pasta and even some healthy stuff such as carrots and kale. This was a quick soup that came together in about an hour.

Italian soup with sausage, tortellini, kale and beans | from Alaskaknitnat.com

You can omit the cream of chicken soup – it thickens the soup nicely and boosts the flavor a little.

Italian sausage soup with beans, kale and tortellini

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 3 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
  • 4 packed cups chopped kale, stems removed
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained
  • 6 oz. dried tortellini
  • 4 oz. cream cheese

Italian soup with sausage, tortellini, kale and beans | from Alaskaknitnat.com

Directions:

Place dried mushrooms in a small bowl, cover with hot water and place a plate on top. Let sit for 20 minutes.

In a large dutch oven, brown the sausage over medium-high flame, breaking it up into chunks as it cooks.

Add olive oil, onion, celery and carrot and sauté until onions are soft, about 7 minutes.

Pour in the stock and cream of chicken soup and bring to a simmer. In the meantime, drain the mushrooms – reserving the liquid – and chop. Add the mushrooms and their water to the pot.

Add the basil, granulated garlic, oregano, thyme and parsley. Turn heat to low, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.

While soup is bubbling, bring a pot of water to boil. Cook tortellini according to package. When there are 5 minutes left on the pasta, add the kale to the soup pot. Drain the tortellini and add to the pot. Turn off heat and stir in the cream cheese. Once the cream cheese is melted you’re ready to go!

Serve with pecorino romano cheese and sourdough bread.

Italian soup with sausage, tortellini, kale and beans | from Alaskaknitnat.com

How hobbies help our brains

A guest post by Maria Cannon

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Between working, keeping a tidy house, making meals and allotting time for family activities, our schedules certainly seem full; however, nearly everyone finds time for leisure activities. In fact, 96 percent of people age 15 and older engage in a leisure activity, which is defined as watching TV, socializing, exercising, reading, using computers for leisure or playing games.

The Stats

The amount a person spends on activities varies by age, sex, employment and whether the individual has children. Even the busiest group – employed adults living in households with a child under age six – reported engaging in leisure activities for 3.4 hours per day. People over the age of 75 spend almost eight hours every day, while adults between the ages of 35 and 44 devote four hours. With nearly everyone participating in leisure activities, how are they spending their time?

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Watching television is the most popular leisure activity, capturing nearly three hours a day overall. Socializing is the second most common activity but accounts for only 41 minutes. The amount of time spent reading varies greatly by age; people over the age of 75 read for an hour and spend 20 minutes on games or computer time, while those between the ages of 15 and 19 only read for eight minutes and spent 1.3 hours on games and computers.

While making time for leisure activities is important, the quality of the activity is equally as important. Sitting back and turning off our brains for a little bit is okay, but we should switch around the ratio of time spent reading versus watching television. Some hobbies are scientifically proven to help improve our health, and we should opt for those over mind-numbing activities such as binge watching a show.

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Creating Music

Creating music can benefit our brains. The more years someone makes music, the more he or she benefits, and beginning musical training before the age of nine provides the greatest long-term benefits. However, even older people profit from taking up an interest in music.

An assistant professor of music education studied the impact of individual piano instruction on adults between the ages of 60 and 85. After six months, she found that those who had received piano lessons showed more improvements in memory, verbal fluency, planning ability, speed of information processing, and other cognitive functions than those who had not received lessons.

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Arts and Crafts

Arts and crafting activities induce a calm, happy, and focused state, which is called flow. Flow occurs when we are so engaged in a complex task that our brains are forced to forget other stresses. When you are involved in creativity, sense of time disappears, and you lose yourself in the moment. The effects of flow are similar to those of meditation.

Creating art and engaging in crafting activities involves distinct brain areas, including those involved in memory and attention span, visuospatial processing, creativity, and problem solving. Using these areas can improve cognitive function. Crafting and creating art also reduce stress, increase happiness and protect the brain from damage caused by aging. People who suffer from anxiety, depression, chronic pain, or addiction also notice improvements through these creative outlets.

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Reading

Reading fiction material positively affects brain health and function. Reading is a highly complex task that requires several brain regions to work together. Neuroscientists discovered that reading a novel appeared to help enhance connectivity in the brain, and the enhancement continued for five days after an individual had completed the novel.

Other hobbies have benefits too, including cooking, completing puzzles and playing sports. Playing hours of video games or consuming hours of television after a long day is tempting, but you’ll reap more benefits from pursuing a hobby that’s shown to provide health benefits. You’ll enjoy yourself while you also reduce stress, improve brain functioning, and even make new friends.

Maria Cannon has suffered from depression and anxiety for years. Her hobbies–quilting, sewing, knitting, and more recently, gardening–play a major role in maintaining her mental health.

Poblanos with corn and cream

Every year my family takes a trip down to Nayarit, Mexico to my parents’ vacation home, Casa Colibrí. Their housekeeper, Moña, is an expert cook and I look forward to her authentic Mexican dishes every time we visit.

I have tried to replicate several of her recipes in the past, including fried cauliflower and guacamole. I’ve attempted other dishes but there’s something about the fresh ingredients of Mexico that I am unable to replicate many of her recipes.

Here is one more attempt at one of her classic dishes, chiles rajados con elote y crema, or in English, sliced chiles with corn and cream. In Mexico, crema is a thick consistency, almost like yogurt or sour cream, but with a sweet cream taste. I’d say crème fraîche is the closest thing here in the states, but I have a hard time finding that in Anchorage, so I’m trying it with heavy cream.

Moña serves this for breakfast or lunch. It can accompany fried eggs or rice. It’s a versatile dish that’s got a slight amount of heat, which is mellowed out by the sweetness of the corn and cream.

Poblanos with corn and cream | An authentic Mexican dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner | recipe from Alaskaknitnat.com

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 poblano chiles
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon chicken or vegetable bullion
  • 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Poblanos with corn and cream | An authentic Mexican dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner | recipe from Alaskaknitnat.com

Slice the peppers into strips and remove the seeds and pith. Add oil to a pan and heat over medium-high flame. Sauté the peppers and onions until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook till fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the corn and cream and bring to a simmer. Sprinkle in the bullion. Turn heat down and simmer for a few minutes until sauce has thickened slightly. Salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle cheese on top and serve. 

Poblanos with corn and cream | An authentic Mexican dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner | recipe from Alaskaknitnat.com

Oliver baby blanket

I’ve said it before – I’m a short-attention-span crafter. If I can’t finish something in a few hours, I probably never will unless I’m really determined.

When my friend Kasandra had her first son, she asked me to knit him a blanket. It took me months to make and although it’s been much loved I vowed I would never knit another blanket. It’s just too monotonous.

So when Kasandra told me no one had yet made her second boy, Oliver, a special blanket, I decided to keep my vow and crochet him a blanket.

The Oliver Blanket | an easy crocheted baby blanket with vertical stripes | free crochet pattern from Alaskaknitnat.com

This pattern was simple and quick. I made the whole thing in a couple of weeks. The vertical stripes are unusual and the gaps between the crocheted spaces aren’t too big so it’s a nice piece of fabric.

Continue reading Oliver baby blanket

Wild porcini, bacon and spinach quiche

It’s been a helluva good mushroom season so far. This week I found three primo porcini in my yard. I wanted to try something different from my typical porcini and pasta recipes. Quiche sounded about right.

I’m not familiar with making quiches. I know it’s a crust, some egg, cream, cheese and filling, but beyond that I have to follow a recipe. When I asked my coworker, Allison, today if she has ever made quiche she gave me a resounding “yes.” She had a few quiche tricks up her sleeve and was happy to share them.

Instead of following a recipe, I winged it using Allison’s advice. What came out of the oven was smoky, mushroomy, fluffy and not overly eggy.

Wild porcini quiche with bacon and spinach | a recipe from Alaskaknitnat.com

Continue reading Wild porcini, bacon and spinach quiche