It's Rough Being an Alaskan

It's Rough Being an Alaskan
King Crab stock with Kaffir Lime & Coriander for Thai Bisque

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Food for Thought

The past month has been a bit of a catering feat, and have FINALLY come up for a gasp of air! I keep thinking every day, "I need to post" and now weeks have passed. The legislative session is basically kicking my rear end and all our teams' with a bevy of receptions, conferences, parties and more and more. My poor staff were drooping like wilted tulips at the end of last week. I never saw such excitement at the mention of a two-day weekend!

Am currently sipping a yummy cup of hot chocolate and dipping a homemade ginger molasses cookie in it, as I have been slacking on my Two-a-Day-Cookie-Quota.

All-in-all it has been a busy stretch including the following events....

Number One: A small grease fire in which I panicked in front of my staff and proceeded to forget the safety meeting tips I had just learned the previous day (so that was exceedingly embarrassing!), hence we had another safety fire meeting the next day.

Secondly, we received a Letter of Recognition from United States Senator Mark Begich at a Chamber of Commerce event we catered, which was very supportive, complimentary of our business and congratulating us on our Fifth Year Anniversary!

Thirdly, am honored to be a featured speaker at the Alaska Women's Expo on April 6th at Centennial Hall with my mother as a local story of supportive mom and career driven daughter!

In closing, I love to hear feedback so if anyone has comments or even questions on our catering, tips for your own event, recipes you need assistance with, I am here to help!

Here are a few foodie pics to tide you over until next time...uh, oh my stomach is growling now.

Alaskan Amber Battered Halibut n' Chips with Cucumber Dill Aioli

White Ale Poached Prawns

Salted Caramel Cupcake


Gimme Some Dessert Please!

Blueberry Cheesecake with White Chocolate Mousse
                                                     Dark Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Bourbon Pecan Tart with Brown Sugar Shortbread Crust
Coconut Lemon Cake with Fresh Berries
Warm Dark Chocolate Torte with Wildberry Sauce

Elegant Outdoors

It was a beautiful sunny day at Skater's Cabin, where we catered a wedding dinner
next to the icy cold Mendenhall Glacier!


Crazy for Chocolate Chip Cookies

The scent is buttery, sugary and the texture is chewy yet gooey. When you bite into it the chocolate slowly melts in your mouth, coating it with cocoa butter fat and brown sugar. You immediately long for a glass of cold water or perhaps 2% milk.  Sometimes you end up with chocolate coating your fingers and knuckles.  I really don't care what anyone thinks or says about the humble cookie but in my book it's "King" (or shall I say Queen?). Hands down the chocolate chip cookie is my favorite dessert that I could eat every day until the day I die.

Since it was Valentine's Day this past week our bakery has been hustling and bustling with loads of cookies, dessert bars, tortes, truffles and more. How about lemon vanilla shortbread, peanut butter double chocolate, pecan tea cake or an almond linzer cookie to try? If I saw another red velvet cupcake or raspberry passion fruit tart or chocolate cheesecake that day I might scream. So that's why when Rhonda, our baker, threw in the oven a batch of Giant Chocolate Chip Cookies for "Staff Consumption Only," I felt my heart melt with liquidy chocolate happiness.

The air became perfumed with the scent of Madagascar bourbon vanilla that we add in excessive tablespoons to our batter. There is a roasted caramel smell that Chocolate Chip Cookies give off while baking that you really can't recreate in any other dessert.

We waited with anticipation for the chime of her timer to go off. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Like people who had been trapped in the wilderness without food or water for 30 days, the dishwashers, cooks and servers fell on the Jumbo Cookies of Love stuffing them in their faces and then swishing it all down with milky coffee. One guy horded his in a napkin, hiding it on the corner of our staff table and would walk by repeatedly look both ways before breaking a piece off, and then munch contently. He really didn't want to share.

After that it really was the perfect Valentine's Day.

P.S. Here is our big trick to Chocolate Chip Cookies from Heaven: You MUST refrigerate the dough overnight before baking it. This changes the complete structure of the dough and is what gives the cookie shape, chewiness and that extra oomph.


Calm Before the Dinner Storm

"Are you crazy?" I laughed loudly when one of my awesome chef friends who helps us at large events and makes the most fabulous sushi said that to me a few years ago. I will always remember that question as we stood next to each, sweat pouring down our backs while we garnished plates with braised short ribs with a parsley-orange gremolata for 300 guests, one after another like production soldiers of food. Service staff are running around us filling water pitchers with ice, dishwashers are ripping though huge piles of dirty salad plates and cooks are frantically pulling salmon fillets out of the oven.

Many people say that with questioning eyes when they hear how many events we cater in one day or take on feats such as barbecuing in the middle of the wilderness for 100 police officers and firefighters or plating a dinner for 450 people in a location that is not equipped to accommodate such an event at all.

We get that a lot. Sometimes in the quest for business and problem with saying "No," we bite off a Big Hunk. However, there is nothing as satisfying, exhilarating or adventurous than our catering expeditions (well to me anyhow)!

This week we catered a plated dinner for 150 guests at Centennial Hall, a convention center in downtown Juneau. The event was for JEDC's Innovation Summit. Inside the ballroom, people are listening to speakers and clapping. There are smiles everywhere, guests are sipping their wine and it's generally very quiet except for the sound of the speaker's voice. Then you tiptoe down the hall, open the kitchen doors to the left and there is the crew and I in full action...crashing, rushing, pushing. We're hauling spicy tiger prawn skewers out of the roaring oven, stirring basil-scented orzo and tasting the delicate saffron sauce to pair with grilled garlicky chicken. I'm looking at the clock every five minutes, gesturing for the prep cooks to pull out serving utensils and making sure the plates are getting hot in the warming box, which is set to 175 degrees F.

As we run around like hopping baby chicks, lining up the food, getting ready to plate, there is a sense of urgency, barely contained restraint and then like a giant puzzle, all the pieces come together in one final ultimate moment.

After the whirling storm, it's a nice peaceful line of staff, doing their one specific job given to them to make sure each guest gets a delicious, carefully arranged, warm plate of food.

So yes, maybe I am a little crazy, but it's so worth it.


It's a Chicken Thing

Thai chicken curry, Tuscan chicken, Filipino chicken adobo- you get the gist! We prepare a plethora of chicken at the Kitchen, it's cost effective, quick to cook and everyone likes it (generally). This coming week we are going through 200 pounds of the famed poultry in about four days. Our prep cooks will probably momentarily dislike me and shoot evil glares my way as they trim fat, makes gazillions of satays and grill the beastly bird for hours on end! We have several conferences, receptions and parties featuring the American protein in some form or matter. Do we ever get tired of it? I tend to. Hence, I'll take a "chicken vacation"and then before I know it am wondering "what's for dinner?"

About 7 p.m. on a cold rainy Wednesday night last week, I'm puttering around the Kitchen, dragging ass a bit, and finishing a few projects for the following days events, when I suddenly realize I'm Super Hungry. Not just for a bowl of soup or a sandwich, but something soul satisfying. I wrench open the meat side of our three-door silver fridge and behold...there are two whole chickens sitting there in their unassuming packages.There is nothing so quick and easy as roasted chicken (if you have about 2 hours of waiting time that is!). My favorite way to roast them is rub 'em down with olive oil and then sprinkle with fresh garlic, chopped fresh thyme, sage, rosemary, coarse salt, pepper and finish with paprika and the juice of a fresh lemon. You can't beat the taste of fresh products. At most grocery stores they carry a great product called "The Herbed Bird." It's a bag of fresh rosemary, thyme and sage sprigs. And, seriously it lasts a long time and is about five bucks. So try it, the results are worth it!

Why roast just one chicken? Save the second for soup,
a casserole or chicken salad sandwiches!
My trick on getting to the Supreme Chicken Being is I add 1/4 cup white wine or water in bottom of pan. The liquid creates a little steam and makes it own pan juices while baking. I roast on the convection setting at 350 degrees for 30 minutes and then reduce to 325 until it's 163-165 degrees in the the fatty part of the breast or the thigh, about another 40-60 minutes depending on your oven. Another way to tell the chicken is done is if the juices run clear when pricked and the leg easily jiggles. Also make an effort to turn the roasting pan every 30 minutes for overall even cooking. The most important part is waiting at least 10 minutes once you remove the chicken from it's hot chamber, so the meat relaxes and the juices can redistribute throughout the carcass.

I served the chicken that night with a lemony arugula salad and a quick saute of vegetables including asparagus, zuchinini, tomatoes and basil. I sat on our wooden black Kitchen stools, the white commercial lights blaring down at us amidst shining stainless steel counters and humming refrigerators. Yet, when taking  a bite of the juicy, tender chicken and sopping it in fragrant herb-infused pan drippings--all I could think of was HOME, my blue flannel pajamas and our soft fluffy couch. There really is nothing as satisfactory as roast chicken. So hale to the Bird, and don't ever estimate the power of chicken!


The Smell of Apricots

Today my flexible pastry savant/prep cook baked off a slew of English cream scones, Jumbo cookies, cupcakes and more. Our baker's racks were lined with massive amounts of goodies in every shape and size. I tried really hard to eat only one gooey chocolate chip cookie, but I have issues with restraint. My reasoning is that I have to make sure it's good enough to sell! My skin is perfumed with the smell of sugar, vanilla, chocolate and butter. M'mm hmm, that's right! Somehow I need to figure out a way to bottle that up. People walk by the Kitchen and tell us that the smells outside are tempting them. We have a hood vent over the oven that sucks up all the delicious sweet smells and blows wafts everywhere behind the commercial building our Kitchen is located in.

It's funny when people smell baking and sugar, I think it reminds them of home or their grandma or maybe an aunt who liked to bake. A few days ago, Rhonda, our new baker, and I were talking about how great apricots smell while she was mixing our Apricot-White Chocolate scone dough, and before we knew it we were both reminiscing on apricot turnover memories. And they are good ones!

My grandma, Zerelda, used to make them for us when were kids. She was a wonderful woman with bright blue eyes and gray hair always pulled in a bun, and one of the hardest working women I have ever known. Her rough hands, tan and weathered, but so able, would roll out a thin pastry dough (made with shortening only!) on her flour-dusted counter top. She would cut out rounds and then fold in a blob of apricot paste. The paste was made with old-school sour apricots that are dry and leathery, the skins are thin and a dark burnt persimmon color (unlike the plump sugary ones in my picture posted). She would boil them with water and sugar until they broke down into a soft bright orange mush. The kitchen windows would fog up with the apricot steam wafting up from the stove.

After filling the rounds of pastry dough, she would fold them over in a crescent shape and use the tins of a fork to crimp the edges.The turnovers then sat lined, white half-moons on an old blackened sheet pan.

Sometimes she would fry them in a shallow cast iron skillet, and as her and grandpa Gene became more cholesterol conscientious she just baked them. Afterwards if we were going on a picnic, she would wrap each turnover in wax paper. Opening the wax paper slowly, hearing it crinkle, my eyes would light up with glee and anticipation. Hands would appear, darting out and grabbing them--they were always gone in about 10 minutes. She would laugh and shake her gray head at our greedy impatience.

Either way we would hunker into the flaky rich pastry and it shattered into a crisp floury goodness in your mouth and all you could taste was the tart-sweet, mouth watering apricot flavor.

Now every time I bite into our Apricot White Chocolate scones, I smile and remember grandma Zerelda.


Back to Blogging! Wow it's 2013

Dear Readers,

After a much prolonged absence, I have decided to start blogging again. Time has swept by during catering seasons and I missed sharing about our company. I am excited to blog new updates, recipes, photos and stories of Abby's Kitchen in Juneau, Alaska.

Our company has grown in the past few years and we are celebrating our Fifth Year Anniversary! I can't imagine doing anything else than cooking and serving to the community of Juneau. It's the best feeling to put your heart and love for the craft in the shape of food and watch it make people happy.

February is one of our busiest months and we are bustling around Juneau in our catering vans serving the community with a bevy of conferences, private parties, receptions and more. Last night we were honored to provide treats at the Governor's Mansion including Fresh Mint Watermelon Kebabs, Taku Smokery Lox Canapes with dill and citrus, Thai Coconut Peanut Satay, Alaskan Smoked Porter BBQ Riblets, French Boozy Truffles and all sorts of delicious goodies. Uh oh, my stomach is growling. I'm hungry now!

Our tantalizing spread at the Governor's mansion, if only every meal could be this pretty!
This weekend we will be selling our Jumbo cupcakes at Wearable Arts. Yummy! Nothing better than a soft fluffy cupcake with decadent frosting to float across your lips while enjoying the awesome show!

We have a great team at Abby's Kitchen with the old and the new, and are very excited to welcome Rhonda, Sabrina and Maggie, my new Triple Power Girls! They can bake, frost, dice and chop like no ones business. My boys (that's what I call them no matter how old they are) are feeling outnumbered, but it's fun to jostle up the mix sometimes.

So now publicly I have made a promise to keep up with the blogging. Please feel free to leave comments or questions I can answer about food, recipes, our company--you name it. I look forward to a new year of 2013 blogging!


Your fellow Alaskan Chef, Abby LaForce Roha


The Joy of Comfort Food

Comfort food: who doesn't love it? Easy to inhale, non-figure-friendly, often cheesy, buttery, carb-laden, saucy, meaty--that's comfort food to me.  Lately on television and in foodie magazines the main focus has been heart-warming foods but not really heart-healthy foods, but let's not go there right now! You name it: Mac n' cheese, pot roast, pork chops, fried chicken, bbq brisket, banana pudding--the list goes on. Competitive cooking show winners do seem to score points on innovation but most frequently, foods that remind one of home.

When I close my eyes and think of my mom's cooking I remember the yeasty smell of fresh baked cinnamon rolls loaded with apples, raisins and walnuts and the warm heat clouding our windows from moose or chicken stews brewing away all day on our stove.  But I hated the acrid garlicky smell of beans cooking because we dined on plain pinto bean soup at least once a week. It tasted like pasty sludge in my mouth. To this day, I can barely tolerate bean soups unless they are "savvy" like Italian White Bean, Sausage and Kale!
I would say to my mother, "why can't I have a normal sandwich like the other kids?" as I grumpily stuffed my handmade hummus, cucumber and tomato sandwich on fresh whole-wheat bread into my bag. Oh, how I longed for a sandwich with packaged white bread, American cheese and soggy bologne slathered with greasy mayo. Huddling on the bench at lunch-hour, I would wolf the sandwich down as humanly fast as possible; it would be so embarrassing if my friends saw the offending matter!

Then at night after my parents lazily climbed into bed, my sister and I would creep downstairs like little black cats into the kitchen pantry and pull out our beloved secret stashes of M&Ms, Cheese Whiz on Ritz Crackers and Shrimp Cup o' Noodles.
I was such a horrible child. Who does that?

As an adult, who basically makes comfort food all the time for a living, and has learned the significance of mass appeal, I laugh inside. My Filipina-Chinese mother makes the best homey delicious food of all time, and I know that now! I look forward to her cooking like Pork Adobo, thick with soft onions, fragrant ginger, coconut vinegar, cloves, bay leaf and a whaft of cinnamon stick (no one knows this so I just spilled the "beans"), and dishes like her Chicken Curry with creamy potatoes, basil, lime juice and the ever present fish sauce, all served on a mountain of steamed Jasmine rice. This is our food.

Today, Chef Tony, told me he made Chicken and Dumplings for some clients, brimming with chunks of tender chicken, herbed gravy, and root vegetables. He said, "I saw it on 'Diner, Drive-ins and Dives!'" See what I mean? Warm, pillowy and cozy, I'm practically drooling just thinking about it. Every restaurant on Guy Fieri's show is based on their personal interpretation of comfort food no matter who they are or what country they're from.

We make a lot of dishes like such--chicken pot pie, braised beef and mushroom burgundy, chunks of cornbread lathered with honey butter, and they involve some serious eye-closing savoring moments. What's ironic is that Comfort Food is the simplest and honest food a person can make, yet the most craved.  No matter how fancy, trendy, modern or innovative we can be with our offerings, no one will ever get tired of Comfort Food.  I bet my gravy on that!

(Afternote: There are so many recipes out there valiantly trying to re-make your favorite childhood foods into low-fat, dairy-free or wheat-free. It will never taste the same as you remember. I would honesty just make something else that's sauteed, poached, roasted or steamed. Replace butter with a little olive-oil or grapeseed oil, and use the freshness of herbs, greens and vegetables to shine through. Just call it your "New Food" and save the "Comfort Food" as a treat for here and there.)


Always be Thankful for your Dishwashers

It's Sunday: clean-up day! And, it's my least favorite day to work. Sometimes we get it off, most often not. My husband and I start off our day with a big hearty breakfast, heavy on protein and carbs. This morning we had hash browns, pan-seared lamb sirloin with garlic and rosemary, over-easy eggs for him and pan-fried rockfish glistening with fresh lemon, sauteed mustard greens and sprigs of cilantro for me. We don't normally eat such heavy fare for breakfast, but I had to use them up before the proteins went bad! I snarfed down a crispy Braeburn apple, so I didn't feel so guilty. And, after watching some trashy television, swilling down a few mugs of coffee, off to work we go.

Not one, two but three of our vans are usually full of dirty dishes after a busy Saturday and loaded to the brim for our dishwasher's hard-working hands. Some people think catering is exciting, some think it's easy, but not really. Off-site catering (what we specialize in) is an immense amount of physical labor from days of prep in the kitchen to our caterers hauling vans of equipment to location and then back again. The glue that holds it all together (besides me barking at them of course) are the dishwashers who clean, load, fold laundry, sweep, mop, wipe, scrub, chop, and the list goes on. Catering is not for the faint of heart.
I get irritated with TV shows that promote culinary positions like it's some sort of glamorous career. It's physically exhausting, stressful and packed with long days standing on your feet, sweating. Some chefs I know have feet issues, cracked dry hands, tempers, weight issues, knife scars, burn marks and are severly over-worked. Oh dear, this is starting to sound scary! But of course, most chefs and bakers I know do it for the deep love, drive and passion of their trade. I really mean it!
Today is Joey's birthday one of our newer dishwashers--so of course, we bought him a case of the nasty yet addictive Rockstar beverage, his one "true love." I'm not sure what the correlation between kitchen staff and caffeine loaded beverages are, but it happens. I'm baking Joey some lava fudge filled chocolate-raspberry cupcakes, which I'm sure will be a big hit.
After I wander around the kitchen aimlessly today pretending to work and checking my email, and my husband enlists our main guy Damon his never-ending list of projects, we will enjoy a small part of Sunday over dinner. It's funny that food is what brings us all together, every single day of our lives.
I feel like we need a Roast Chicken Moment, so that's the menu for tonight with my one "true love," mashed potatoes with rich chicken jus gravy. I would probably choose mashed potatoes and gravy as my last meal on earth. Creamy, earthy, garlicky--as the Barefoot Contessa likes to say, "it doesn't get better than this!"

Restaurant Style Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Serves 4
2 Pounds Red Potatoes

Chop potatoes in medium dice with skin-on and place in heavy-bottom pot. Fill with cold water until just covered and add 2 tsp. kosher salt. I like the taste of the skins, but you can peel them if you desire. Bring to boil, stirring here and there and cook until the potatoes are extremely soft. Drain potatoes thoroughly and then put the pot back on the stove, cook for 2 minutes on very low heat until all the excess water is absorbed from bottom of pan.
Using your hand masher or ricer, mash the potatoes until they are super smooth and creamy.
Add in:
1/4 cup peeled garlic cloves roasted with 1/2 cup olive oil and sprig of thyme
(30 min in oven in small dish until soft and tender), drained and pureed until smooth. Save the garlic oil for making salad dressings, cooking steaks, brushing on bread, etc.
Pour in:
1 cup Heavy Cream heated until scalding with 6 tbs. Butter
Stir until absorbed and silky. Season to taste with fresh ground Pepper and Salt. For a little freshness add in 1 tbs. chopped chives or parsley.
If you are trying to be healthy or low-fat, don't bother even using this recipe and substituting items: it's not the same! I would recommend just enjoying some oven roasted potatoes instead.

Our very silly prep-cook, utility and do-it-all guy, Damon Kay
His shirt motto "It's funny how you think I'm listening!"