The Fourth of July holiday weekend is going to be here in a flash and we recently were treated to the Summer Solstice, a day Alaskans treat with the same respect due a national holiday. This time of year Anchorage enjoys well over 19 hours of daylight — it never gets completely dark, and the prolonged twilight makes it possible to read a newspaper outdoors at 3 AM, mow the lawn, chop firewood, or do any number of other outdoor tasks. But forget about doing chores. Summer days that never end are perfect for cookouts.

This year I made a decision to craft summer burgers using my own recipes, with my own choice of meat. There will be no commercially processed “scrapburger” hamburger made from leftovers and grocery store floor sweepings of heaven-knows-what served at my home. I want to be in control of the meat.

While preparing for summer I perused recipes and ratios used by both chefs and home cooks. Chef Michael Symon went on a funny but dead-serious Facebook/Twitter tirade earlier this summer when he proclaimed that the words “turkey” and “burger” should never be used in the same sentence. A man after my own heart! Chef Symon scored additional brownie points (beefy points?) when he shared his personal tips for burgers. He said he prefers to use equal parts of brisket, sirloin, and short-rib, all coarsely ground twice and then lightly hand-packed into patties.

Fresh Ground Beefy Bacon Burger & Brew | Alaska Food & Wine

It sounded like a match made in heaven until I tried shopping for the ingredients. In my part of the world beef short-rib is at times difficult to find. When it is available it has, for some unknown reason, become frightfully expensive. Often I can find top New York steaks at a lower price than short-rib, with less waste and far more edible meat per pound. So if short-rib wasn’t an option for my meat mix, what could I add to sirloin and brisket to make my burgers juicier more flavorful? The answer hit me at breakfast one morning — bacon.

Bacon is a perennial favorite for topping burgers. Why not add it into the mix? Burgers made entirely of ground pork are listless, always in need of additional spice or toppings. But adding pork – in the form of smoked bacon – to my ground beef seemed to be the perfect answer. Bacon adds flavor. It also adds the fattiness that’s required to keep burgers juicy and keep them from hitting the Hockey Puck Pitfall.

Enjoy your burgers and the holiday!

Fresh-ground Beefy Bacon Burgers

1/2  pound beef sirloin
1/2  pound beef brisket

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During my Saturday sojourn to the farmers’ market I scored a beautiful piece of rosy Copper River sockeye salmon. If you’re not familiar with Alaska’s famed Copper River, fish from that area are considered by many to be the rock stars of the salmon world. Think of them as being rich, eccentric, and somewhat elusive, and – just like a rock star – bringing one home for dinner is guaranteed to provide you with a memorable evening.

When I was planning the rest of the weekend menu it seemed only fitting to pair my salmon with another elusive ingredient, “forbidden rice.” Forbidden rice is more commonly known as Chinese black rice (not to be confused with Thai black rice). Stories vary, but one legend claims the rice was believed to have unique powers and was grown to be eaten only by Chinese emperors — consumption of the grain by mere commoners was forbidden. Legends aside, this rice is indeed special and it’s utterly delicious.

Chinese black rice has a very short grain with a deep purple-black color, and when cooked it develops a rich, nutty flavor that matches well with its slightly chewy texture. Trust me, it’s worth the hunt — I checked several stores before locating the rice at New Sagaya Market in Anchorage. If you don’t have an Asian market in your local area, check with an online supplier and have a bag shipped to you. You won’t regret it.

Confession: I didn’t discover forbidden rice until a trip to Hawaii where I dined with friends at Roy’s Waikiki Restaurant. My dish of misoyaki butterfish arrived nestled deep in a bed of Chinese black rice … and it was love at first bite. Now please don’t get me wrong — the butterfish was sexy and absolutely divine, but it was the seductive quality of the black rice that added a dimension to the dish that would not have been present had any other variety been used.

Copper River Sockeye Salmon, Black Rice and Red Pepper Coulis | Alaska Food & Wine

Copper River Salmon with Forbidden Rice and Red Pepper Coulis
Serves 4

You can make this dish with another variety of wild Alaska salmon if necessary, but please don’t substitute farmed salmon. If you’re going to stoop to using farmed salmon, don’t bother with the Chinese black rice or the coulis — just whip up some Uncle Ben’s white rice and call it a day.


4  6 ounce pieces of Copper River sockeye salmon fillets, skin-on, scaled, and with pin-bones removed
1 Tbsp canola oil, divided
2 Tbsp butter, divided
1  large red bell pepper Continue Reading »

If I had to choose just one meal to eat three times each day, breakfast would win hands down — but only if it included bacon and eggs. Sorry, I realize that isn’t politically correct, but I simply cannot fathom the idea of dining on granola with flax seed and yogurt as a steady diet for the rest of my life. Yes, I might live longer. But I wouldn’t be happy.

When I was a child we sometimes had pancakes or scrambled eggs for dinner. I guess my mother was ahead of her time in celebrating Meatless Mondays, decades before it became a trendy practice. Or perhaps she started the trend? Hmm … let me give that some thought.

Scrambled eggs were always on the top on my list for childhood meatless dinners. Mom perfected a method of stirring the eggs that allowed them to form large curds that were still thoroughly cooked inside. We initially nicknamed them “Casper Eggs”  – after the amorphous cartoon character – but we always looked for other shapes to emerge. “Look, that one is a rocket ship!” It was kind of like looking for images in the shapes of clouds. Or like taking a Rorschach test. But I digress.

Recently I wrote about retro cocktail parties and shared a recipe for Spinach Parmesan Crostini. The crostini topping is based on an updated recipe that can double as a spinach dip for veggies (for your next healthy cocktail party). I recently discovered another use for the leftover creamy topping — a hearty breakfast to kick-start the morning.

Creamy Scrambled Eggs and Spinach

Creamy Scambled Eggs with Spinach

Since it can be made with leftover creamy spinach, this quick but elegant dish is nice for a weekend breakfast or easy dinner. You can also double or triple the recipe if you happen to be serving brunch to guests. Just add freshly baked muffins or bagels with smoked salmon lox. And bacon.


4 large eggs Continue Reading »

Not long ago I wrote about retro cocktail parties and shared some recipes for a few  classic cocktails. Several readers asked, with all due sincerity: What type of appetizers does one serve when hosting an old school cocktail party?

For those of you who are young and perhaps didn’t come of age watching parents host cocktail parties (I didn’t) – or come of age reading old cookbooks (I did) – there are myriad options. Classics include Angels on Horseback (made with scallops rather than oysters wrapped in bacon), Swedish Meatballs,  Angelic Stuffed Eggs, or these classic Spinach Parmesan Crostini

Spinach Parmesan Crostini | An Alaskan Cooks

I believe that having a few classic appetizer recipes on hand is just as important as knowing what goes into crafting traditional cocktails. While some of what I wrote about cocktail parties was tongue-in-cheek, I actually do, on occasion, enjoy a fancy drink served in a martini glass in lieu of a glass of lovely wine. I also confess that I enjoy playing dress-up at times. It’s fun to ditch the denim and classic rock, dig out my little black dress, put on a pearl necklace, and swoon to old Sinatra tunes. Ahhh, Old Blue Eyes … he was always my mother’s favorite. But I digress.

Back in the 1960s the word “crostini” was unfamiliar to most of Middle America. The term is still not known to everyone, but back during the early Viet Nam era this appetizer likely would have been referred to simply as Spinach Dip on Toast. I think the name “Spinach Parmesan Crostini” sounds a bit more elegant and, in my opinion, elegance and glam are part of the very foundation of a retro-style cocktail party. Oui?

You can, of course, serve these crostini with wine or beer while wearing denim and flannel — but I think they taste best while wearing pearls.

Spinach Parmesan Crostini

This is the made-from-scratch version of my recipe. For those who get a bit faint of heart when reading multiple steps, I’ve included several short-cuts in a section below that will allow you to make a “semi-home made” version of this recipe. By doing so, please do not in any way confuse me with the rather ditzy blond woman from the Food Network who throws dishes together using only short-cuts and then has the audacity to call it “cooking.”


1 1/2 lbs fresh spinach
1/4 cup water
1  egg yolk
2  cloves garlic, finely minced Continue Reading »

Like most Alaskans I enjoy cooking and eating salmon and other seafood, but I have a confession — I crave red meat. Beef, pork, and lamb often win when I’m faced with the choice between a protein that had hooves versus one that had fins. Yes, I know some readers may deem this stance to be politically incorrect, but I am a meatetarian. It is part of my genetic makeup.

It would be easy to limit my red meat coverage to recipes that focus on high-end gourmet cuts. Who doesn’t enjoy a juicy rib steak or flavorful pork chops? (Vegetarians, you might as well stop reading now. You are unlikely to find much of interest in this essay or the recipe that follows – other than how to make a roux – but I’ll write something specifically for you in a future column. I promise.)

Yes, New York steaks and rack of lamb are delicious and a cinch to prepare, but easy preparation isn’t as interesting as perfecting the techniques needed to properly cook inexpensive or less-tender cuts of meat. Truth? The inexpensive cuts are often far more flavorful than the pricey ones, as long as they are handled with care.

Enjoy slow-braised beef brisket on a crusty kaiser roll, topped with caramelized onions, sautéed red peppers, and greens -- create a wonderful lunch from leftovers.

Despite being inexpensive, brisket rarely made an appearance on our table when I was growing up in the Midwest, probably because low, slow cooking methods weren’t my mother’s forte. When it did appear, it was in the sad form of thin, dry slices of beef leather. I remained convinced that I didn’t like brisket until I was well into my 20s and living in Texas. That was when I discovered how flavorful and delicious brisket can become in the hands of a knowledgeable cook.

For me, brisket was the first in a series of culinary epiphanies. The recollection of luscious, tender brisket and beef ribs lovingly slow-smoked by Goode Company Barbeque on Kirby Drive in Houston can still make me swoon, and are some of my favorite memories from my years in Texas. Ribs! Brisket! With such rich, deep-in-the-heart-of-Texas flavor, no sauce was ever needed — the meat could stand alone. Ah, but I digress.

At the risk of riling up my Texas friends and starting yet another Texas versus Alaska feud, I’m going out on a limb with this next proclamation. Great brisket can be prepared without – yes, I said without – using a smoker or barbecue grill. Yes, I hear the howls of dissent. But before you discount other methods for cooking brisket, keep in mind that I live in a place where winter can last for 7 months and temperatures can easily reach 20 below zero. Indoor cooking is easier in Alaska. Cooking is also one of the ways I keep my sanity during the long, dark months of winter.

Beef brisket, in my opinion, is one of the more misunderstood cuts of beef. To the uninitiated it appears similar to steak, a deception that tricks far too many cooks

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Regardless of one’s religion, spring is seen as a time of rebirth and renewal, and nothing shouts “spring” to me like beautiful decorated eggs.

When I was a child growing up in the Midwest, my mother would hard boil vast cauldrons of eggs in the week leading up to Easter. Once the eggs cooled we’d drizzle vinegar into coffee cups filled with boiling water, add a few precious drops of food coloring, and then carefully dip in the eggs using teaspoons. For variety, sometimes we’d use crayons to write or draw on the eggs before coloring them. Trust me, we’re talking basic, home-spun creations, not decorator eggs. Eggs should never be too pretty to hide — hiding is eggs’ raison d’être.

The home-spun look belies the flavor of these Angelic Deviled Eggs

I still remember the thrill of being a small child filled with serious determination, hunting for the egg creations after my mom hid them. It was extremely important to find all of the eggs, especially when inclement weather forced the hunt indoors. Why? Mom usually forgot where she hid the eggs. If we didn’t find all of them, there would be serious repercussions a few weeks later when nature inevitably took her biodegradable course.

Egg hunts back in Nebraska were nothing like those here in Alaska. Real spring comes far later than in other parts of the country, but people here see themselves as tougher and hardier than folks Outside. Halloween costumes are designed to fit over snowsuits and boots. Easter egg hunts take place outdoors. Don’t even think about moving an egg hunt indoors – no matter the weather – it simply isn’t done. That means Easter egg hunts in Alaska are fraught with a different set of risks than you’ll find in any other part of the country.

A few years back the snow at a local park was so deep that children were stuck waist-deep hunting for eggs. Several kids were reported missing and police were dispatched to try to round them up. That was before a 1,500 pound bull moose Continue Reading »

Recently friends and I were comparing our salmon recipes and reached the consensus that there are far more salmon recipes than there are cooks in Alaska. We also agreed that many commercial salmon-bakes fail for one simple reason – the fish is overcooked, it dries out, and the flavor of the salmon is lost. This is one reason many visitors to Alaska think they don’t like salmon.

A good basting sauce is one trick that helps keep salmon moist. There are many variations for a Southeast Alaska salmon-bake, but this recipe from the Taku Lodge south of Juneau is considered a classic. Here it’s been tweaked to create a marinade for the fish that then doubles as the basting sauce. I recommend using a good quality white wine for the marinade and basting sauce, but I prefer to serve the salmon paired with a nice Oregon pinot noir.

Southeast Alaska Salmon Bake

8 – 6 ounce wild Alaska salmon fillets

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup dry white wine Continue Reading »