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Some not-so-secret ingredients to great dishes

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Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 12:10 am | Updated: 12:09 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS - Flannel pajamas, a roaring pellet stove, a good book, and plenty of comfort food (with a healthy flair, of course). Ah, winter! I am hoping for enough snow to protect the septic system, but not enough that I have to shovel the roof. Not too much to ask?

I’ve been working on a few new recipes to share. A few of them didn’t cut the mustard, so the speak. I’ve tried steamed buns, homemade mustard and I’ve been working on a variety of new taco ideas. So far, none are print-worthy — especially the mustard. Not all great dishes are a success the first time you try them, and sometimes it’s impossible to recreate a great dish. The pros and cons of culinary creativity! I suggest writing things down when you’re experimenting.

I enjoyed a spectacular carrot cake last week. I followed a recipe from a text book that we use at the UAF/CTC Culinary Institute. Walnuts, pineapple, coconut, not too much flour, and it was good. It’s always fascinating to research “special ingredients” or “secret ingredients.”

Of course, with the Internet, nothing is too secret any longer. Some people say the key to a great batch of barbecue cocktail wieners is to put in a dollop of grape jelly. There are as many “secret ingredients” as there are websites that feature them. If you’re curious, Google “secret ingredient in insert-recipe-name” and see what you come up with. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. Have fun, be creative, and be bold when experimenting with food.

This first recipe calls for superfine sugar. You can easily make super fine sugar. I use regular granulated sugar and simply grind it in a mortar with a pestle, or you can use a mini food processor or even a blender. The goal is a finer, smaller sugar crystals that will dissolve more easily in your recipe.

Pumpkin Mousse

1 can of pumpkin (15 oz.)

3 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup super fine sugar

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Ginger snaps, for garnish

Combine pumpkin, 1 cup of cream, sugar and spice in a medium saucepan. Simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes. Cool fully.

Whip remaining heavy cream and vanilla to soft peaks and fold into cooled pumpkin mixture. Pour into a serving dish and crumble the ginger snaps over top before serving. Makes 8 servings.

This second recipes uses the terms soft peak and stiff peaks. Soft peaks are when you lift your whisk and the peaks slowly form back into themselves, stiff peaks do not.

Chocolate Mousse

1 2/3 cups heavy cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate melted and cooled

Chocolate shavings for garnish

 In a large bowl whip the cream, vanilla and salt until you have stiff peaks, and chill. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and slowly add the sugar, continue beating until soft peaks form. Fold in the melted chocolate until almost incorporated and then fold in whipped cream. Divide into serving cups and chill, garnish with shaved chocolate. Makes 4 servings.

As always, please contact me for any food-related questions, comments, or concerns. I enjoy hearing from you.

Darryl Allan is food and beverage director for Fountainhead Hotels, which includes Zach’s Restaurant at Sophie Station Hotel. He enjoys sharing his passion for fun, creative and great-tasting food. E-mail him at

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