Category Archives: Cooking

Cast iron chefs show their cooking mettle

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Ray Wall, of Anchorage, visits with a spectator at the Soldotna Progress Days Dutch Over Cookoff on July 25 at Soldotna Creek Park.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Ray Wall, of Anchorage, visits with a spectator at the Soldotna Progress Days Dutch Over Cookoff on July 25 at Soldotna Creek Park.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Olive rosemary asiago cheese rolls, paella with saffron rice, caramel pecan cinnamon buns and three varieties of tenderloin, stuffed with everything from asparagus and spinach, to pine nuts and lemon zest or feta cheese and prosciutto.

It sounds like the menu from a fussy, five-star establishment. That wasn’t quite the case July 25. Picture, instead, the breeze shooing off mosquitos in Soldotna Creek Park, gingham-patterned plastic drapes over picnic tables and disposable utensils.

As for the setup to produce such fine cuisine? No state-of-the-art kitchen with all the latest gadgets here. In fact, only one gadget was used, and it’s been in roughly the same state since its invention in the last 1700s. Enter the humble, but honored Dutch oven.

Wall checks the pork roast he planned to serve with sushi for his team’s main course.

Wall checks the pork roast he planned to serve with sushi for his team’s main course.

“Anything you can cook in a kitchen, on a range or a regular oven you can cook in Dutch oven,” said Rod Hutchings, of Anchorage, who, along with Ray Wall, was one of five teams competing in Soldotna’s annual Progress Days Dutch Oven Cooking Competition.

Wall recently submitted paperwork to start a new Dutch oven cooking chapter in Anchorage, and was half of a team representing Alaska at the International Dutch Oven Society World Championship Cookoff in Utah last year. In regional competitions, as in the state-level event at the Alaska State Fair and the world cookoff, each team makes a bread, a dessert and a main dish, and everything has to be prepared and served to the judges in a Dutch oven or on its lid.

“In this particular case I’m looking for 17 on the top and seven on the bottom, which will hopefully get me about 350 degrees. It’s very particular. (Counts to 15.) So I’m two short,” Hutchings said.

It’s part exact science, and part best guess.

“It’s fairly predicable but it depends on the wind. Like right now the wind’s picked up so that’s probably blowing a lot of our heat off,” said Stefanie Ferguson. Continue reading

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Taste of success — Chefs battle for fame, raise fortune for food bank

Photos courtesy of Mark Pierson, www.facebook.com/MarkPiersonPhotography. Steve England, a chef with Kenai Catering, examines his ingredients in the entrée round in the Clash of the Culinary Kings fundraiser held Saturday at the Challenger Center of Alaska in Kenai.

Photos courtesy of Mark Pierson, www.facebook.com/MarkPiersonPhotography. Steve England, a chef with Kenai Catering, examines his ingredients in the entrée round in the Clash of the Culinary Kings fundraiser held Saturday at the Challenger Center of Alaska in Kenai.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Needing to make a quick meal with whatever is on hand isn’t that unusual a premise for home cooks. It can go surprisingly well — like discovering that pulverized Doritos makes a great breading — or turn into something best labeled as “surprise.”

But the circumstances Saturday were a bit more stressful. For one thing, the ingredients were odder than most cupboards offer, including puffed rice for an entrée dish and creamed corn to use in dessert. The consequences for getting food to the table late weren’t just whines from the family about being hungry. And the diners were far more judgmental than even the pickiest 6-year-old. But the rewards for success — delicious, creative, well-executed dishes presented elegantly and on time — were much greater than a stack of scraped-clean dishes.

There was foodie fame and fortune at stake, as this was the Clash of the Culinary Kings cooking competition, held Saturday at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai.

Fortune for the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, as the event was a fundraiser for the organization. And fame for the winning chef — temporarily, at least. The winner’s trophy, created by Metal Magic, will never spoil, but the event was such a success that the bragging rights might expire with a second competition next year.

“It was a great event. We’re super happy to be involved in this, and we’re looking forward to next year. We’ll have to have a rematch,” said Steve England, of Kenai Catering.

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Sushi nets awards in salmon cook-off — Guide takes gold for treatment of red meat from silver fish

Photos courtesy of Phil Hilbruner Phil Hilbruner won the judge’s award and people’s choice award in the third annual Cooper Landing Salmon Cook-Off with his spicy salmon inside-out roll.

Photos courtesy of Phil Hilbruner. Phil Hilbruner shows off his trophies for winning the judge’s and people’s choice awards in the third annual Cooper Landing Salmon Cook-Off.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

It seems blasphemous to consider, but even firm-fleshed, processed-fresh Kenai River salmon can be too much of a good thing when the volume of fillets in the freezer far outnumber one’s recipes for preparing it.

Salmon patties, salmon salad, baked salmon with lemon and dill or grilled salmon with garlic and seasoning salt are all good at the start of the season, but can downgrade to all right come midwinter when they’ve been regulars on the weekly dinner menu.

Phil Hilbruner knows that firsthand. When he moved to Alaska nine years ago to work as a fishing guide, first as a hired guide then starting his own guide business, Catch-A-Drift Guiding, salmon was his staple sustenance. Repetition eventually wore the shine off even dime-bright catches.

“I was kind of a broke trout bum for a handful or years. To make ends meet I ate a fair amount of salmon. I kind of got burned out on seared salmon and grilled salmon,” he said.

Though he enjoys cooking, salmon isn’t often on his menu. In recent years he’s only kept a few sockeyes and silvers to smoke or use for sushi, not thinking much beyond that about their culinary possibilities. Until last August, that is, when he attended the second annual Salmon Cook-off in Cooper Landing. The variety was impressive and the creativity inspiring. Even the familiar dishes — salmon dips, salmon cakes and the like — were prepared so expertly to make them taste like a whole new take on Southcentral’s staple fish.

The event, held as a fundraiser for the Cooper Landing Library, was such a good time that he decided to attend again this year. Until his friend Lynda Nugent, who spearheads the event, talked him into competing in this year’s cook-off, held Aug. 9.

Nugent manages the Princess RV Park and General Store, and the first cook-off came about as just a fun thing to do around the RV park and a way to use up some of the sea of salmon Cooper Landing was swimming in that year.

“We started it that first year because there were so many fish. It was like, ‘Well, what can we do here to have some fun?’” Nugent said. “It grew to, ‘Oh, let’s do something better with this.”

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Home-cooked notoriety — Nikiski mom stirs up Internet following

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Maya Evoy works on a recipe for strawberry lemonade at her home in Nikiski to post to her food blog, Alaska from Scratch. Evoy has been blogging since fall 2011 and has seen rapid, exponential growth in readership.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Maya Evoy works on a recipe for strawberry lemonade at her home in Nikiski to post to her food blog, Alaska from Scratch. Evoy has been blogging since fall 2011 and has seen rapid, exponential growth in readership.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

When the Evoy family left Bakersfield, Calif., for Nikiski in 2011, Maya Evoy was looking forward to the different flavor that small-town Alaska would impart to her family’s lifestyle.

They’d strain out the stress and hustle of life in a busy, crowded city, swap their commute times for equal parts quality time at home with the kids, season liberally with fishing, gardening, berry-picking and their other new favorite activities, and savor the sweetness of life boiled down to a concentration on their priorities. It would mean Maya could trim the fast-food drive-throughs and convenience meals from the family’s menu to get back to cooking herself, from scratch, for her family of five.

Like a soufflé blooming out of its pan, all those aspirations rose to Maya’s expectations, and then some. And then some more. Especially that last one, as these days, she’s cooking for about 200,000 a month.

It’s still just her immediate family at the table being actually nourished by her culinary efforts, but these days thousands more all over the world also devour what she makes, savoring vicariously through her cooking blog, Alaska from Scratch. She started it in October 2011, feeling tepid about the whole thing at first, but interest heated to a boil as quickly and unexpectedly as an unwatched pot of water.

“First, I never imagined I’d be a food blogger, and, second, I never imagined it’d be so popular,” Evoy said. “I think people are so interested both in Alaska and the Alaska lifestyle, and also are interested in real food, and from-scratch cooking is popular and on trend right now. I didn’t know that when I started, or didn’t strategically say, ‘This is how I want to do it to get followers.’ I was never in it for that. I just live out here in small-town Alaska with three small kids and I’m a pastor’s wife, just a normal person, and yet I have readers all over the world. It’s really caught me off guard, and I’m really humbled and honored by it.”

Jason Evoy took a job as pastor at Nikiski Nazarene Church in order for the family to slow down and simplify their California lives. The church he worked at in central California had about 1,000 parishioners, compared to Nikiski Nazarene’s 75 or so in the winter. More in the summer, but not so many more that Jason loses track of people’s names or needs.

“It’s fishing families and miners and teachers and nurses — just great Alaska people in our church. They love each other and the community, and we wanted to be a part of that,” Jason said.

“We were looking to simplify, we were looking to really reprioritize our lives and be more self-sufficient and really focus more on our family and community and all those things that we were missing in California,” Maya added.

Their three kids — sons Brady, 10, and Connor, 8, and daughter, Kelty, 5 — seemed to be spending more and more time being shuttled around, and less roaming around. And Evoy didn’t have time for her hobbies anymore — photography, writing and, particularly lacking, cooking.

“Cooking in California for us was more about convenience. More store-bought ingredients, more drive-throughs and not so much cooking from scratch, cooking real, wholesome food, which is where my heart really was. It’s just our lifestyle didn’t lend to it. Parenting three young kids, it was just about what was easy,” Evoy said.

But that’s not how she grew up. Not easy, in a sense, since she came from a family that struggled financially. But where they were scant in a budget for convenience ingredients and eating out they had a generous helping of knowledge in making the most of what was available.

“I always loved being in the kitchen, that was kind of my safe place when I was a little girl. My grandma put me in the kitchen on the countertop and we would make homemade bread together,” Evoy said. “We were really poor growing up and a lot of my cooking skills came from necessity, just learning to make a lot with a little and to cook with what was on hand.”

Her new home, though far from Southern California in many ways — availability and affordability of some ingredients, for instance — still has a lot in common with Evoy’s culinary upbringing.

“In a lot of ways that works with Alaska because a lot of time we don’t always have everything on hand or fresh produce or things, but then we have some amazing resources to work with — like salmon and halibut and razor clams and mushrooms and berries — so I think my background lends to the environment up here,” she said.

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Going Dutch — Teamwork propels chefs to success in cast-iron cooking competition

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Stephanie Ferguson whips up a batch of “NeeNee’s rolls” while Jamie Doremire prepares coals to heat a Dutch oven during the cook-off Saturday. The team, with Molly Noyes, called itself Buns in the Oven, a play on their shared interest in cooking and their jobs as nurses in the obstetrics department at Central Peninsula Hospital.

Redoubt Reporter

In their home lives, Stephanie Ferguson, Molly Noyes and Jamie Doremire all enjoy cooking. In their professional lives as nurses in the obstetrics department at Central Peninsula Hospital, they’re used to working together, shouldering a lot of responsibility, staying calm under pressure and performing complex, detailed tasks with care, compassion, efficiency and — where appropriate — a good dose of humor.

When those two realms come together, as they did in a cooking competition over the weekend, the results are success, though through some unorthodox means.

“Molly massaged the chicken,” Ferguson joked in explaining how their roasted chicken won the highest score of entrees in the Alaska State Dutch Oven Cooking Competition, held Saturday as part of Soldotna’s Progress Days festival.

Saturday was the third annual Dutch oven cook-off, though it was the nurses’ first time entering, much less even cooking in the cast-iron pots, which were a staple of wagon trains and cowboy camps in the era of Western migration. They’ve lived on in family traditions and Boy Scout camping skills and have seen a resurgence in popularity across the country in recent years.

Longtime Scout leader Dr. Nels Anderson and his wife, Carla, of Soldotna, founded the Last Frontier chapter of the International

Dr. Nels Anderson and Lane Kreiger won first place in the adult division. The win entitles them to compete in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championship Cook-off, held in Utah.

Dutch Oven Society and organized the first Alaska Dutch Oven State Championship in 2010 as part of Soldotna’s Progress Days celebration. They were looking to spark interest in a style of camp cooking that is perfectly suited to the hunting expeditions, road trips, boating journeys and myriad other types of camping outings in Alaska, for those who want more than the standard hot dogs and warmed-up cans of beans for dinner. Anderson, an OBGYN, sparked the interest in the nurses, as well.

“We’ve never done it before. But Dr. Anderson, who delivers the most babies at the hospital, comes and hangs out sometimes and chats and he talked us into it,” Ferguson said. “So he’s responsible for this. We decided, we cook in a kitchen, we’ve cooked over a campfire, we’ve cooked on grills, how different can it be?”

Vastly, yet not much, as it turns out. The nurses were surprised to discover that Dutch ovens can cook absolutely anything a kitchen oven can — stews, roasts, baked goods, etc. — and even has some skillet capabilities, for browning meats, crisping bacon or frying up potatoes.

“We realized it was a lot more versatile than we thought, and it’s something I decided that I would do again in the future whenever we go camping, because then we’re not restricted to just cooking over a campfire, when sometimes you don’t want to get ashes in your food,” Ferguson said.

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Going Dutch — Cooking competition joins old technology with new cuisine

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Hungry onlookers feast their eyes on the desserts made by participants in the youth division of the Last Frontier Dutch Oven Society’s cooking contest, held during Progress Days in Soldotna on Saturday.

Redoubt Reporter

Johnathon Kreider and Kaleb Henderson knew they had a strong recipe to prepare for their main dish in the youth division of the second annual Last Frontier Dutch Oven Society’s cooking contest, held during Progress Days in Soldotna on Saturday — a pork loin cooked with apples and cranberries. But in an effort to give it a little extra oomph, they employed a culinary tactic well known to chefs twice to three times their age:

“We wrapped it in bacon,” Kreider said. “And we added some seasoning. We looked up online what would go good with it. We tried it and it was awesome, so we decided to keep it.” Continue reading

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‘Iron chefs’ serve up high marks in cook-off

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Robert Love. Carla Anderson, right, of Soldotna, and her daughter-in-law, Allison Anderson, of Anchorage, work on a dish in the 2011 World Championship Dutch Oven Competition from March 17-19 in Utah. The Anderson team was Alaska’s only representatives in the cook-off.

Redoubt Reporter

The dishes presented in the final round of judging March 19 were fitting of a world-class cooking competition — prime rib with garlic bleu-cheese dressing and twice-baked potatoes artfully arrayed on a bed of crisp greens; lightly golden braided bread with flecks of dill and yielding hunks of softened-but-not-runny feta cheese nestled within; mocha mascarpone cake enshrouded in a shiny chocolate veneer studded with buxom, vibrant berries and frothy dollops of cream.

The level of flavors, preparation and presentation of food was already at a gold standard of culinary arts, for any kind of cooking competition. Then take into account that the dishes were prepared in nothing more than simple round, lidded pots with smoldering coals as the only heat source and it becomes an entirely different standard of cooking — the cast-iron standard.

“The caliber of competition was so high. We learned a real lot of stuff going and participating and seeing how people do things at the top level,” said Carla Anderson, of Soldotna. Continue reading

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