Set the Net

Recipes and snapshots of life in Bristol Bay, AK

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For several months now I have had an obsession of the cheesecake variety. I wanted a rich, creamy, not overly sweet, decadent cheesecake. I wanted it mini, I wanted it to stand up to a variety of toppings, and I wanted it easy… but real.

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Now I don’t think this too much to ask of a cheesecake but every recipe I tried just wasn’t quite there. They were too sweet, not thick enough, not cream cheese-y enough and just well, not right. So I took the aspects of the recipes I did like, combined and tweaked and with no complaint in this household, I made them enough times to be sure they will work for you each and every time. Because really at the end of the day if you are making cheesecake it’d better be worth it!

The kids also got really into this project, crumbling crackers and carefully measuring. Of course they all taste tested and gave their approval. It helps when dessert is already an individual portion, no one is arguing who got a bigger piece. Except after the kids go to bed and you eat two more because one isn’t cutting it, and for good measure you have another for breakfast because god forbid you leave an odd number in the pan.

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I couldn’t decide which I liked best as far as toppings go so you’re getting the how to for all three. You’re Welcome.

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It is late August here in Bristol Bay and like our family most fishermen have hung it up for the commercial season. The major processors have left and only a few die hard direct marketers are still at it, including my sister in law’s family down at Ekuk Beach in the Nushagak District. The Ekuk Wild Salmon & Halibut Co. is a new endeavor of the O’Connor clan who have fished the beach for generations, and in the age of knowing where your food comes from, and knowing your fisherman, you can’t get any closer to your dinner unless you caught it yourself.

Fall fishing is a bit of a different animal from the fast and furious fishery that is the sockeye season in Bristol Bay. Instead of striving for the ultimate poundage and having your net out whenever directed allowable by the ADF&G, fishing is at the discretion of the fishermen. For the O’Connor’s this means at each low water switch of the tide the net is deployed off the beach, just out the door of their cabin, and into the surf. Where they, in waders, stand in the bay and, pick the salmon as they hit the net. Immediately the fish are bled and put into an ice water slurry where they chill until filleted, vacuum sealed and frozen within mere hours of being caught. This father/daughter trio is a well oiled machine of picking hooks, sliding totes, flashing knives, water sprays, banding machines, and scales.

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Salmon Pie. Two words that inspire hunger in this household and everyone down to the tiniest mouth will ask for more. Often called pirok or even kulebyaka if your Russian is up to par. Basically it is a Russian dish that Alaskan’s have taken on as their own, and I have flipped into my own style of cooking.

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The pirok is layers of wild Alaska salmon, a medley of rices, baby Portobellos, purple cabbage, red onions, and fresh thyme, along with gooey cheeses all inside a flaky puffy perfect crust. This dish is one that offers comfort on what feels like Fall days already around here. It is also a show stopper at potlucks or dinner parties. Actually I have decided anytime you make something in a pie plate it is guest worthy and this is no exception with the easy homemade rough puff pastry dough to really wow the crowd!

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I like to use Chum in this recipe as we tend to get some in our subsistence net each summer and I feel it performs well when baked into dishes such as this. You can use whatever type of salmon you have on hand, just remember friend ask for wild never farmed. King salmon will be a bit richer, sockeye will impart a slightly stronger fish flavor, Coho a more mild taste, and I have not made this with pink salmon but I’d imagine if that is what you have it would do just fine!

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It is no secret around Set the Net that salmon plays an integral role in our livelihood. We eat Bristol Bay wild Alaskan salmon 8-12 times a week from dinners, to snack-times, breakfasts, and in lunch boxes. Salmon was both of our daughter’s first food. But it’s not just the eating of the salmon that makes it important to us, it is the lifestyle that swims along with it.

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Lately it seems everywhere I look I find fresh fruit and herb combinations that are insanely delicious. Some favorites I have had lately include a gorgeous tarragon, rhubarb, and strawberry galette and an incredibly yummy blueberry basil catsup. So when a friend offered me some Lemon Verbena from her garden I eagerly said yes!

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I had never encountered this herb before and it’s fresh fragrant lemony smell is intoxicating and earthy. Our raspberries are equally abundant as the fish and other berries have proven to be this year and preserving them at their peak for midwinter treats with some of this herb seemed a natural collision.

This jam is a simple no pectin preserve that comes together quickly in a small batch and is easily halved, doubled, or tripled depending on the quantities you have on hand. It also caused my four year old to inhale deeply and repeatedly ask “Mama, what smells so good?!!” when it was cooking!

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Along with jam excitement, Bronson and the F/V Sea Breeze have returned to port after what proved to be a safe and successful sockeye season. My brother in law Dustin snapped a great shot of them after a large round haul that, while is a bit grainy, shows what is likely the best feeling that happens on the water!

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All around our small neighborhood where right of ways have been cleared, stumps and tree limbs were piled to decompose. It is in these piles that Bristly Black Currants (Ribes lacustre) are growing rampant. My mission this coming Fall is to try to successfully transplant some more of these bushes into our yard before the lots are developed for sale.

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Prior to then I will try to pick the bushes clean and preserve this tangy, sweet, juicy, and slightly bitter berry in all manners possible.

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Hands down this is my favorite way to eat a chocolate chip cookie. Period.

The fresh mint in the soft buttery cookie with chunks of chocolate imparting a sweet crunch… I can’t ask for more… Except perhaps a glass of milk or mug of coffee while sneaking one for breakfast. That is assuming they make it to breakfast time.  Continue reading

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