Monday, April 30, 2012

Ocean Harvest

When returning home from an adventure, I usually take my time in reminiscing. Thinking over the smallest but usually most wonderful details.  I was thinking about my most recent visit to the warm and wonderful, Florida. I was in or on the water everyday, the water being the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf Coast. I paddled kayaks and paddle boards. Enjoyed the quiet sail aboard a catamaran, and perused the coast in a fishing boat.  I ate epic portions of seafood, all of which was caught fresh right under our noses. We ate grilled gulf shrimp, Jamaican jerk hog fish, conch ceviche, conch fritters, fresh tuna salad, stone crab claws, blue crab cakes, amazing lobster bisque, and the best smoked fish dip I have ever tasted. This smoked fish dip was made by a very magnificent woman named Theresa. She has Minnesota roots, but has been in Key West for years now. We stayed with Theresa and her husband Mitch, a fishing guide. Mitch took us fishing out on his boat one day, and it will be tough to beat that fishing trip. I never landed the monstrous Tarpon that I was fishing that day, but I had one on my line long enough to realize that the strength and endurance in the genetics of this fish might just outweigh my own. I was lucky to have had this experience, and even more lucky to have watched as hundreds of Tarpon rolled past our boat as they migrated into the keys. I have never seen such large schools of fish! Unfortunately their appetite dwindles after their long migration, and they spend most of their time filling their air bladders full of oxygen, which is how they breathe. If they aren't allowed to access to the surface, they will die as they are air breathers. I sat in that boat with my wind tasseled hair and sun-kissed skin, reflecting on my journey. How vast and wild the ocean can be reminds me of the great Lake Superior. The specimens lingering below the surface, the waves keeping me in suspense, and the joy of being on the water is still an unbeatable joy I cherish.

Smoked fish is a staple here in Grand Marais. Smoked by local fisherman, with their fresh catch of the day, it is impossible to beat. I was just in the local fish market where they had fresh smoked salmon, whitefish, and cisco. We are often given smoked fish from our neighbor, right out of the smoker, lightly glazed with maple syrup they've made themselves as well. It's the most incredible treat. We usually eat it straight up, but if there are leftovers, we made smoked fish dip. You can slather this dip on crackers, bagels or toasted baguette slices. It is also great dolloped in scrambled eggs or avocados. There are a slew of ways to alter the recipe, but here's how we do it:

1 pound smoked fish, cleaned (skin removed, de-boned, and flaked)
2 Tbl fresh chopped chives or scallions
1/4 cup greek yogurt- the unsweetened variety
1/4 cup mayo
generous pinch of cracked black pepper

Mix above ingredients together. If the mixture seems dry, add a bit more mayo. It's all about personal taste like I mentioned before. If you  had some garlic scapes, they would make a great substitution for the chives. Some folks really like fresh dill and/ or fresh tarragon in the mix as well. Those would make great additions! I've just been keeping the recipe very simple since the ingredients are superb. Belly up!!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Chocolate Bundt Cake

 I came across a chocolate bundt cake recipe from The author talked about how well the cake seemed to hold up during some traveling, a feature that I love to discover about foods. If it travels well, then the chances of me tucking into my backpack and going for a stroll are very good. I love having homemade treats to share with a friend as we sit on a park bench and watch the seagulls.Or as we sit atop a boulder, legs dangling below, and enjoy a sunset. This cake, once completely cooled, frosting set, and cut into thick wedges does travel pretty well. It certainly wouldn't withstand a rigorous back country backpacking trip, but a day hike or a road trip would welcome this cake!

 I had a thick, chocolatey, spiced stout in my fridge which aided in my a hankering for this chocolate cake.
The cake calls for simmering stout or porter into a slightly thicker and reduced syrup. You then blend the stout with a hefty amount of cocoa and a not so hefty amount of butter which creates a fantastic, chocolatey cream to fold into the cake batter. The cake is sweetened with a dark brown sugar, which yields the highest percent of molasses, and honey and/or maple syrup. You could skip the brown sugar and increase the honey or maple syrup if you'd prefer. The cake also uses a blend of whole wheat and all- purpose flour, which I really like. You could use one or the other flours in full quantity as well.

Chocolate Bundt Cake:

2 cups porter or stout
8 Tbl butter, plus more for the pan
3/4 cup natural cocoa powder
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp sea salt
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups plain whole yogurt
3/4 cup maple syrup or honey

Chocolate Buttermilk Icing:

3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup natural cocoa powder
2 Tbl buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350F/ 180C, with a rack in the center of the oven.

Butter and flour (generously) an 11 or 12 cup capacity bundt pan (or equivalent). You can bake this in other cake pans, just be mindful to avoid filling the pan(s) more than 2/3- 3/4 full. Adjust the baking times as well- baking until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, and the center tests clean when you insert a knife.

In a saucepan simmer the beer down to 1 cup. Remove from heat, add the butter and stir until melted. Stir in the cocoa powder, mixing until smooth, then set aside to cool, stirring occasionally to let off heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, sugars, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, yogurt, and maple syrup or honey. Whisk well, until nicely blended and uniform in appearance. Gradually add the (cooled) stout mixture, stirring all the while. Stir until well blended. Add the flour mixture, folding until just blended, using as few strokes as possible.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for 35-45 minutes if using the bundt pan, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. You really don't want to over bake this cake- err on the slightly moist side if anything. Remove from the oven, and turn out onto a cooling rack after several minutes.

In the meantime, make the icing by whisking together the powdered sugar, cocoa, and buttermilk. Really go at it for at least a minute. The icing should end up smooth and creamy looking, adjust with a touch of powdered sugar or a few drops of buttermilk if you want to tweak the consistency at all. When the cake is completely cool, run the icing around the top with an offset spatula and let set. I actually frosted when the cake was still warm, so the icing oozed down the sides of the cake a bit. I preferred this over just a layer of frosting over the top, but either way is great!

Serve sprinkled with a bit of flaky sea salt. Belly up!!