Monday, July 9, 2007

Come out, Come out, Wherever You Are....

Calling all readers, skimmers, lurkers, and commenters! For all of you who have stumbled across my blog and have taken a peek for the first time and for those who regularly keep tabs on my cuisine consumed- I would like to know!

I am curious to know who reads and enjoys this blog and would like you to leave a comment here on this post and on you favorite post so far to let me know how I'm doing. As much as I like to write, I'm not doing this blog just for myself, I'm doing it for you! So please reciprocate the love! I always enjoy hearing from fellow bloggers/bakers/etc.! Also if you've tried a recipe of mine, I'd love to know how it went!

Hope to here from you!

(photos courtesy of my Mango Tree at my childhood home)

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Willows- A Restaurant Review

I went to The Willows with Randy a while ago with one thought in mind... To preview it as a possible place for our rehearsal dinner for our wedding next year. Because we may book the place, our meal was complimentary. I had eaten there only once before and didn't really pay much attention to the food, so I was very gracious for the time to closely scrutinize the dishes.

The ambiance and surroundings of the restaurant are amazing. The moment you step inside you are no longer in the busy University area of Honolulu, but are transported to a place where tropical meets Asian, and where lush waterfalls and streams meet brightly colored foliage. It truly is a place for aesthetics and if I were to book based on atmosphere, I wouldn't have a second thought. There is even a chapel where people get married- At the restaurant! Randy's favorite was the jumping fountain that sprays water vertically out of the cement, 8 feet into the air, in patterns and designs that are random. I have been told children love to run through it and get soaked. My favorite was the small barge like platform in the middle of the koi pond. It is a special seating area for no more than 10 but gives one the feeling that you are floating down a serene river.

Unfortunately though, the food was hit and miss. I had high expectations from everyone about the food, but I found myself somewhat disappointed. We went for the weekday lunch, a limited buffet compared to the dinner buffet spreads.

I liked the salad spread and I headed there first. I really enjoyed my three choices from there, shown in the upper left corner of my plate are the Bean Sprout Namul, a tomato salad, and what seemed to be like a Greek salad. Though it mentions online that the Greek salad comes with pita bread, I didn't see any, but that didn't matter much. The salad was lettuce, chick peas, cucumber, onions, tomatoes, and feta cheese with a great Italian-like dressing. Come to think of it, that was probably their house salad. But it sure had a lot of ingredients and was really good!

The entrees were so-so. My two favorites that I got seconds of were the Misoyaki butterfish and the Mochiko chicken. (shown bottom/middle of plate) I was looking forward to making a bowl of curry and adding all the condiments, but it wasn't that good either. Even with my favorite toppings added (raisins and mango chutney), the flavor was average and I wasn't compelled to even finish my mini cup. (shown below)

I was really looking forward to the quality of the Hawaiian food because many of the wedding party (Randy's family) will be from out of state and will have never tasted Hawaiian food. This is what my decision was banking on, and I have to say I was unimpressed and disappointed. Poke (raw fish salad) is one of my favorite foods and the poke here didn't have much kick to it in regards to flavor. Also, the raw fish didn't look too fresh in it, maybe because it had been sitting out in the buffet line for a while. Let's just say I enjoy the poke made from local supermarkets better than this one. The flavor of the lomi salmon was a little "off" as well- meaning it didn't taste like the traditional Hawaiian style I love. I enjoyed the poi and the savory lau lau (chicken wrapped in taro leaf and slow cooked), and if all the other Hawaiian foods had been up to par with them I would have been happy. Another downfall was the Kalua Pig (salted smoked pork, essential to Hawaiian luau food). The pig didn't have the almost-too-salty-to-bear flavor traditional of the dish and that is what makes it signature- the fact that you must eat each bite with a scoop of rice.

Finally onto the desserts! There were bite sized pieces of several different choices that all were average if best. (sorry no picture) I am such a dessert person that its sad when I don't feel compelled to eat all of the serving I take, and that is what happened with most of the desserts on my plate. I was excited to try the fried Haupia (coconut custard, almost the consistency of creamy thick jello), but found it flavorless and unappealing. The bread pudding with pineapple was pretty good in flavor, but somewhat dry with too much bread and not enough pudding. The soft serve ice cream machine was out of order (which made me sad-that's usually my favorite) and I wasn't impressed with any of the following: chocolate mousse cake, tiramisu, and cheesecake. My favorite on the dessert tray was the fresh fruit, interpret that how you will.

I'm glad the lunch was complimentary because unless I was treated by someone else, I'm not sure I would go again. Though the setting was lovely and a few dishes shined, the majority was not the quality I had in hopes for my future in laws and their first taste of the islands.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Just a Little Bit Patriotic...

Hey everybody, I know I'm a day late, but I still have a special 4th of July treat for you to make. So, you can wait until next year, or make it with all the strawberries and blueberries you have left over from your flag cakes.

This is a little patriotic, a little healthy, and very tasty! You can substitute frozen berries for fresh ones but make sure they're 100 percent still frozen when mixing them in, or you'll get colored batter. The cake will still be a small bit doughy around the strawberries because of the moisture, but its not too bad and it's barely noticable. If you want to fix this, maybe leave the cake in a little longer than suggested but keep checking the consistancy after every few minutes so you don't overbake.

Red, White, and Blue Breakfast Cake

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter or margarine softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 generous cup fresh blueberries
1 generous cup fresh strawberries, sliced or halved
1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl.
2) Cream softened butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in egg.
3) Place blueberries and strawberries in an additional small bowl and dust with a small amount of flour mixture. Toss to coat.
4) Add remaining flour mixture and milk alternately to creamed butter mixture, mixing after each addition. Gently fold berries into batter.
5) For topping, mix flour, sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut in butter until crumbly.
6) Spread batter into a greased and floured 8 in. square baking dish. Sprinkle topping over batter. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until topping is golden brown and toothpick comes out rather clean. Cut into squares and serve warm.

Serves 9

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Who Makes Tiramisu Without the Alcohol?

For a friend's birthday a couple months ago- yeah that's how behind I am. I chose to make a chocolate tiramisu cake (because that is one of her favorite desserts). But when I got into the recipe, I found that it didn't call for any alcohol! What? That's the whole fun of tiramisu! (I'm a big fan of the Tiramisu at Bucca Di Beppo that is so alcohol laden that you get up from the table almost feeling tipsy.) So I decided to experiment.

I added about a shot (maybe more) of kahlua to the molten lava cake mix and a tablespoon of rum to the "frosting". I got this recipe from an All You April issue - and it was awesome! Not too rich for my tastes but it was for an 18 year old's birthday so some of them thought it was a little too rich and alcohol heavy. Maybe for an adult new years party it would be good, or you could omit the alcohol all together. I baked it towards the longer amount of time suggested so the outside of the cake was a little tough, like the crust of a brownie. For a softer cake and more molten inside, I suggest using the shorter end of the baking time window.

Rich Chocolate Tiramisu Cake

1 package (9.4 oz - I think mine might have had more) chocolate molten lava cake mix, prepared according to package directions (but not baked)
2 oz of Kahlua added to prepared lava batter
8 oz light cream cheese
1/4 cup strong coffee, brewed then cooled
2 Tblsn sugar
1Tblsn rum
White chocolate and dark chocolate for garnish

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-in springform pan and line bottom with parchment paper.
2) Pour prepared lava cake batter into pan. If separate fudge sauce packet is in box, squeeze sauce onto batter. (Mine did) Bake until just done, 25 to 30 min. Cool completely on a wire rack. Run a knife along inside of pan to loosen cake. Remove pan sides from cake and gently pull parchment to slide cake off pan bottom. (I just left mine on pan bottom for fear of breaking the cake)

3) In a medium bowl stir together cream cheese, coffee, sugar, and rum. Spread onto top of cake.

4) Hold white chocolate bar and dark chocolate bar over cake and using a vegetable peeler scrape shavings onto cake. If chocolate starts to melt stick it and the peeler in the freezer for a couple minutes. Refrigerate cake until ready to serve.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Gettig to know me!

Several weeks ago I noticed this interview meme on Cheryl's site and asked to be interviewed...and I feel bad for taking this long to answer it. But here it is...none the take notes, cause there WILL BE a test! lol

1- What is the best and worst thing about living in Hawaii?
The very best thing? Everything! Well at least the environment/surroundings. I think Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and about as close as you can get to heaven on earth. It has everything you could want from a snowy capped mountain, desolate desert area, to lakes, jungle, and of course the beach! I live for the water and because I grew up only 2 blocks from one of the most uncrowded, crystal blue beaches on the island, I'm spoiled and will not be able to survive very far from the ocean (which is why I'm moving to LA and not Idaho). Included in the surroundings are the people- the perfect mix of every culture brought together in paradise to make one big melting pot. And what comes out of the melting pot? Food! The selection here is mind blowing from authentic regional cuisine to unique local creations like the manapua (pork filled steamed or baked bun) and loco moco (see earlier post).

The worst is being on an island that is the most remote island (farthest from any large land mass) in the world. That means our gas and food prices are high (because they have to be shipped here). When I was growing up, my biggest complaint was that no bands that I liked ever made it out here, and that holds true today. A few of my many favorite musical groups have made a once in a lifetime appearance (to put on a concert here) but it's rare. I was a pop-lover (back in Jr. High) and I had to wait 8-9 years to see the Backstreet Boys live in concert. Other than that though, my complaints are minor. I get a little itchy to travel every so often, but I wouldn't change my HOME for the world!

2- Everyone is getting this question, just because I wanna know! If you were told that you could only have 5 foods and 1 beverage for the rest of your life - what would they be?
Hmmm...This is hard.

The first would have to be ice cream....this was always named as my favorite food growing up. But don't make me name a specific flavor. If I had to pick it would be one of these: Gold Medal Ribbon (from Baskin Robbins-simple never tasted so good), coffee fudge ripple, Birthday Cake Remix (from Cold Stone Creamery), or either Fish Food or that Oatmeal Cookie Batter with Chocolate chunks (from Ben and Jerry's).

The next food (I'm assuming I can name dishes as well) would be a perfect Waldorf salad with mixed greens, crisp apples, sweet grapes, crunchy candied walnuts, feta cheese, and a great dressing. My two favorite places for these salads are Dave and Busters and California Pizza Kitchen.

I would have to include my step dad's Eggplant Parmesan, that I have yet to perfect. He is Italian and his grandparents are from Italy. His recipe is a family tradition and I still haven't figured out how to slice the eggplant oh so thin that it falls apart in your mouth. Oh, so heavenly!

I would have to show my local side and mention my love for raw fish. Either as sashimi or in the local sea-salad poke, it is a great weakness of mine, and if I were to live on only these foods, I would have to have some protein somewhere. I love a nice cut of fresh ahi sashimi straight or on a ball of rice as sushi with a nice shoyu (soy sauce) based sauce to add a touch of flavor and saltiness. Seared is alright, but I could clean a plate of the raw sashimi in no time!

I have to name another sweet-since I am a dessert gal...and that would be chocolate anything. Actually, I would just eat it plain- but none of that white or milk stuff...that's too sweet for me to eat plain. Give me a semi sweet, or a 70% cacao dark bar of good quality chocolate that will soothe me with just a taste. Dark chocolate has me by the soul and it won't let go.

For a drink, I'm going to be practical and name something that is a necessity for the last food listed, milk. An ice cold 1 or 2% glass of milk is perfect to wash down a rich bite of Godiva. I grew up having a 'sip' of milk to calm me before I would go to bed at night as a child (I think it got started when my mother was weaning me), but ever since then I've had a love for this wholesome drink. And I could add this to my first choice in food (ice cream) and get a milk shake...another favorite drink of mine! Okay-for the record, if I wasn't being practical, and chose an alcoholic drink, I'd pick a Bellini with Chambord on the bottom.

3- If you got to work for the Food Network, what would your show be called and what would it be all about?
I not only love the Food Network, but I also love the Travel Channel, so it would be a mix of Samantha Brown's Passport shows, Taste of America with Mark DeCarlo, Giada's Weekend Getaways, and Rachel Ray's Tasty Travels. That's to say I would love to get paid to travel to different places and taste the local cuisine, review the areas, and learn about the cultures and their food. It wouldn't be as crazy as Bizarre Eats with Andrew Zimmerman, but I would like to step out of my comfort zone. It would also give me an excuse to travel and wander past the tourist friendly sights and get to know the people of the area. I don't know what it would be called though, maybe something like "Tasting the World with Anuhea".....hehehe.

4- Tell us your worst baking/cooking disaster, and your biggest success.
Well since this is so fresh in my mind, I'll share with you what helped to make my day yesterday so horrible. I had been given a bag of Chinese candied coconut and had wanted to do a variation of a coconut and lime cupcake including the coconut pieces in the batter and adding a little bit of coconut rum to the frosting. It was a great idea.....only, I decided to improvise on a recipe I found and instead of using 1 and 1/2 cups homemade yogurt, I used 1 cup and added 1/2 a cup of sour cream. I definitely learned my lesson. The cupcakes came out dense and almost rubbery and stuck to the paper cupcake cups when I tried to taste one. The taste wasn't bad, but the texture was and I was so upset that even though my fiance said he liked them and would eat them all...I had already wasted 2 1/2 cups flour and 1 1/2 cups sugar and would not waste more to attempt and fail at frosting as well. Though I've added too much butter or too little sugar in other baking experiments...disappointments like these are as bad as they get and I haven't had a huge "disaster" yet (knock on wood).

When I cook (since I've only been doing it for about a year now), everything that goes right feels like a giant success because I'm so new at it, but then it also feels like I shouldn't take credit because I'm just following directions. I think one of my biggest successes was when I made crepes for the first time (that's a post that will come in a few days). From what I heard, it was hard to make the paper thin pancakes, but I found it amazingly easy. Another thing I was exceptionally proud of was my Black Bottom Apple-Banana Creme Pie since I made that recipe up myself and it tasted so amazing.

5- You work in the travel industry, what has been your favorite place you have ever visited, the worst? And where would you like to go that you haven't?
Every place I have visited has a special place in my heart. It's because I tend to fall in love with the things that make that place unique. I have had the luxury to travel at least once a year growing up, and it's hard to pick a favorite. I really enjoy Mid-California where I spent a couple weeks with my fiance last year strolling around Carmel by the Sea, exploring wineries, biking in Monterey, and riding roller coasters on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. I also love playing in the snow in New England, mountain cabins in Georgia, horse back riding over rolling hills in Wyoming, and all the beautiful National Parks I've seen like: Grand Canyon, Zion, Yellowstone, Sequoia, Grand Teton, name a few. I really love the beauty and culture I found in Australia, and though it was only for a little over a week, I explored rain forests, held a koala, took in the amazing Sydney Harbor, and ate crocodile. Other fabulous out of country destinations I have been are: Bali in Indonesia, Tijuana in Mexico, and Sweden and Denmark (when I was five- so I don't really remember). I can't say I've had a worst place...there are good and bad things everywhere, but what really saddened me the most was the living conditions in Tijuana. (I was there 3 different times to do mission work and build houses with my high school youth group.)

I would want to visit Alaska, the Caribbean, South name a few. But the thing I most want to do is tour Europe. I would love to spend a couple months just exploring France, Italy, England, and most of all Scotland and Ireland. I love foreign accents (they make me melt), and to be immersed in so much beauty and culture would be a dream of mine.

1. Leave a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. Beware, I'm not shy of asking personal questions! Please make sure I have your email address.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Cream Liquors

I love alcohol that doesn't taste like alcohol, and some of my favorites are the cream liquors. I'm sure you are all familiar with Irish Creme and some may know the delish new flavors Caramel Creme and Mint. Not many people know of the following though, and I hope that they will become favorites of yours as well.

Amarula Cream liquor is a unique drink that is made from an African tree fruit called the Marula fruit. It is harvested and made into marula wine which after two years is mixed with fine cream to create this rich, succulent, and sweet aperitif. It tends to be a little pricey (selling for a little under $30 for the bottle shown), but if savored it can last you a while; this particular bottle lasted me about a year and a month. Once refrigerated it can stay good for two years and alcohol content is 17% or 34 proof. It is wonderful alone, in mixed drinks, over ice cream, and with other desserts. I definitely recommend trying this exotic treat!

Take a look at this cute video that shows what happens when the wild African animals consume the fruit. It really happens!

This pretty pink drink on the rocks is none other than Tequila Rose, a creamy strawberry flavored liquor. Another drink that's perfect alone, mixed, or in desserts, this is a mix of strawberry creme liquor and tequila. It tastes just like strawberry creme, and you can't even tell there is tequila in it! The alcohol content is 15% or 30 proof and it lasts awhile as well (refrigerated of course). The Tequila Rose company also has Java Cream and Cocoa Cream products as well, but I haven't tried them. This a perfect girls night out/in drink, but my fiance can't say he doesn't enjoy it as well. For any strawberry fan, try some of this, you'll be hooked!

Here are some posts that I'm working on that will be put up soon:
Strawberry filled crepe recipe
Chocolate Tiramisu cake
Mele Mac cupcakes
Maui Tacos Restaurant Review
The Willows Restaurant Review
The Original Pancake House Restaurant Review

Using Up Apples

If ever you have too many apples, just look for recipes online. They are such a versatile fruit and bake so well! Here are a couple things that helped with my apples.

These Almond Apple Bars were something I saw on several foodie blogs and I had to try it. The bottom crust of almond flavored shortbread-like cookie was nice and crunchy and contrasted with the creamy cheese layer. I don’t think I used enough cream cheese, but it was still very good with the soft cooked apples and nutty almond topping. It was very crumbly when I cut it though and I lost a lot of the topping.

You can find this recipe for apple bars at Alpine Berry's blog.
This next dish, a rich apple pudding pie was first made in the fall/winter and my fiancĂ© and I both fell in love with it. It is a mix between a streusel crumb topped apple pie and a warm bread pudding. I highly recommend this as a comfort food, but only if you have people to share it with…because I know how easy it is to consume with only three people.

Apple Pudding Pie
Adapted from a Better Homes and Gardens Recipe

1 unbaked 9-in pastry pie shell
3 eggs
1 cup applesauce
1/2 cup fat-free vanilla yogurt
1/2 a cup granulated sugar (or 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup sugar substitute Splenda)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup rolled oats
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 slices bread cut/tore up (about 3 cups)
2 medium apples (I used Braeburn or fuji)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 AP flour or whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons margarine

1) For crust, line unbaked pie shell with a double thickness of foil. Bake in a 450 degrees F. oven for 8 minutes. Remove foil. Bake for 4 minutes more. Remove from oven. Reduce oven temp. to 350 degrees.
2) For filling, peel, core, and slice apples. In a medium mixing bowl stir together eggs, applesauce, yogurt, granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, oats, and cinnamon. Stir in bread and apples. Set aside.
3) For topping, in another mixing bowl stir together 1/4 cup brown sugar and flour. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in nuts. Pour filling into the prepared pie crust and sprinkle topping over filling. Cover edge of crust with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 30 minutes more or until top is golden and fruit is tender. Serving suggestion, serve with vanilla ice cream.

Makes 8 servings

Thursday, June 14, 2007

This Place Has Soul - Dining Out Review

I have never been to Cuba, or had Cuban food (except for maybe a homey version of Cuban Chicken), so I couldn't wait to come here and expand my horizons.

Inside the tiny restaurant are maybe 10 tables with chairs and a bar, enveloped in deep earthy red, gorgeous and funky artwork, and high ceilings. Some of the tables are bar tables with tall rattan chairs that give the casual feeling of being out doors at a tropical Cuban cafe. There are many different art pieces including several different brightly colored renditions of Mary, and bold paintings of an African feel. On two televisions on opposite sides of the restaurant are black and white slide shows of personal pictures of Jesus Puerto, the owner and founder of this restaurant.

His story, written out on the backs of the menus, is nothing short of amazing. It tells of his dream of owning a restaurant getting crushed when he was diagnosed with spinal meningitis and told that he would either die, or lose his sight or hearing. Miraculously he recovered and set out to do various volunteer work to make something of this life he was grateful for. While spending time in the Peace Corps he worked with various restaurants which eventually gave him the skill and drive to realize his dream of starting a restaurant. This is his second location, his first being in New Haven, Connecticut.

While we were eating, a nice group played live music and after asking for suggestions, played our request of Santana's "Smooth". I wasn't facing the window, and after a few drinks the guitars and ambiance had transported me to somewhere completely different.

We began the meal with drinks, a Mojito for my dad (that was too strong for my taste) and an enjoyably fruity El Presidente for myself. We also ordered the Soul Sampler as an appetizer. This came with 'Deviled crab', fried crab meat in a crispy shell; Emapanadas, one beef and one veggie; and some 'Camarones Bailando' or dancing shrimp marinated in a Cubano-chinois sauce (not pictured). We each had our favorites, mine was the empanadas drizzled in a slightly sweet sauce, my father enjoyed the crab, and Randy is always the shrimp lover.

We each ordered different entrees promising to share. I saw many things on the menu that came with some type of fruit relish and I love the idea of a sweet fruity sauce on a savory entree. I had my eye on the Pollo Soul de Cuba (that I had heard great things about), but because someone else wanted it I went for the fish cooked with the fresh mango salsa served over white rice with black beans and fried bananas. The fish had a good flavor and though I was really excited about the mango salsa, I was dismayed to taste the strong flavor of cilantro. As some of you may know...cilantro is my nemesis, I can't stand the flavor, so I had to hand this dish over to my father. It was fate too because both the other dishes were awesome! My favorite part about my plate and everyone else's were the fried bananas. They were so amazing, crispy on the outside and sweet and soft on the inside. I thought it was such a clever plate garnish.

Randy got the Pollo Soul de Cuba, and the plate was just as bright and colorful as mine was. His entree consisted of a breaded and fried chicken breast topped with a beautiful salsa of mango, guava, pineapple and rum. Though the salsa was delicious and gave texture to the dish, the different flavors didn't stand out against one another, but blended in a sweet relish. I thought that because it was fried it would be oily and fatty, but instead it was good and crisp. Each dish came on a bed of fluffy moist rice that was way too much for anyone to each but gave a nice background for the colors to pop out on and soaked up the juices and flavors nicely.

The dish my father ordered was (I think) the fricassee de pollo, another chicken dish that included chicken marinated and sauteed in green peppers, onions, and Spanish olives and stewed with spices. This meat had the best flavor of all the dishes despite the lack of tropical fruit. It was moist and a bit oily, but very tasty with a nice golden color. We took this dish home, but it was savored the very next day.

For dessert we indulged and got two dishes and a dessert drink. The drink was made from one of my favorite liquors, Amarulla, a creamy sweet drink made from the African Marula fruit tree. The drink was silky and satisfying, and though it was pricey I would recommend trying it at least once. My dad got a key lime cheesecake slice that was tart and rich, and Randy and I shared the guava empanadas. The empanadas were warm and had a smooth and sweet filling of guava puree, but I wish there had been more filling, or a bigger empanada. It came with plantain rum ice cream that was barely sweet but very refreshing. Neither flavor (banana or rum) really popped out, and that was a little disappointing.

The prices for dinner are pretty reasonable but I think I would come back for lunch instead. It was a nice experience with the combination of the great service, exotic ambiance, and live music. I would recommend this place to anyone who is curious about the Cuban experience.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

You'll Get Pie in the Sky...

Summertime really is time for pies. I mean my mother didn't cook much, and as I was growing up, the only real time I had pie was around Thanksgiving, but lately I've seen pie recipes blooming up all over! I guess for you people on the mainland, that's because spring and summer is berry season, and what's better for pies than berries...right? But here in Hawaii, it costs us at least 5 dollars for a tiny pack of fresh blueberries, and since we have all these tropical fruits here, we don't really go with the berry/pie craze like people on the mainland do.

With that said, I don't think I have ever tried strawberry pie. A restaurant here is famous for them, but when I went there to try it, they hadn't made any because it wasn't strawberry season (see how much I know about berries?!). So before I could replicate my sub-par trip to try it, I cam across a lovely recipe at Claire's blog, Cooking is Medicine.

Because I gave you the link above, I'll just let you go to her site to get the recipe, but she not only gives you the recipe for the pie, but for the crust as well (unfortunately my crust was pre-made)! I LOVED this pie and won't be going to any restaurant to have a strawberry pie, for I am a firm believer (even though I've tried just this one) that THIS is the best strawberry pie EVER! I loved the lightness of it and I did use diet 7-up, though I can't remember if my jello was sugar free. Anyways, for a great lip-smacking summery treat, try this recipe. I might just do it again because Costco has a big sale on strawberries!

For a Savory Pie....

I turned to my Better Homes and Gardens - 75 Years of All Time Favorites cook book I found at a garage sale (so far it's supplied DELICIOUS recipes). This recipe debuted in the magazine in 1974 and though it doesn't use very many fresh ingredients, it still tastes amazing. I tinkered with it a big, and the recipe you see below is my finished product. I can see this becoming a favorite in a family with kids, but we didn't have to have kids to mark this as a repeat! Let's just say in a family of three, I was looking forward to having some as leftovers, but by the time I got home from work, it had disappeared!

Spaghetti Pie
6 ounces packaged dried spaghetti
2 Tblspn. margarine
1/3 cup (or more) grated Parmesan cheese
2 well beaten eggs
1 lb ground turkey
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped green bell/sweet pepper
1 cup (7 1/2 oz can) tomatoes, cut up
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. dried oregano, crushed
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
dash of salt (to preference)
1 cup small curd cottage cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1) Cook the spaghetti according to package directions; drain (should have about 3 1/4 cup cooked spaghetti). Stir margarine into hot spaghetti. Stir in Parmesan cheese and eggs. Form spaghetti mixture into a "crust" in a buttered 9 to 10-in pie plate.
2) In a large skillet, cook the ground turkey, onion, and sweet pepper until meat is brown and vegetables are tender. Drain well. Stir in the undrained tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, oregano, garlic powder, and salt. Heat through.
3) Spread cottage cheese over spaghetti mixture in pie plate. Top with the meat mixture. Bake, uncovered, in a 350 degrees oven for 20 minutes. When done baking, sprinkle mozzarella cheese over top and bake 5 minutes more, or until cheese on top melts.

Makes 6 servings

What to do with Jack Sparrow? Cover him in ice cream and smother him with more rum!

I just thought I'd share with you an idea for dessert using the Jack Sparrow Rum Cake (from a previous post). Now this is a dessert guaranteed to knock your socks off; not at all a dessert for the kiddies or the light-weights.

I have made bananas (and pineapple once) foster several times, enough to know that it would be amazing with vanilla ice cream and this already rum heavy cake. So unless your smart enough to stay at home when eating this, you might truly take a....

Walk Off the Plank Bananas Foster Dessert
2 Tblsp. butter (I use margarine or low cal butter- not like it helps much in this recipe)
4 bananas, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup dark or spiced rum (I like using Captain Morgan Tattoo Dark rum)

Vanilla ice cream

Four generous slices of Pirates of the Caribbean Rum Soaked Cake

1) Melt butter in skilled over medium heat. Add brown sugar and stir until dissolved.
2) Add bananas and cook 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
3) Pour rum over bananas. Using a match, carefully ignite liquid, basting bananas until flame dies out. (You don't have to ignite, just pour the rum over and baste)
4) Pour bananas over one slice of cake and vanilla ice cream in individual serving dishes.
5) Make sure you're seated when you enjoy! :)

Serves 4

Thursday, June 7, 2007

I got to use my pastry bag and tips!

I used this recipe to make mother's day cupcakes last month, but I would definately make it again. I gave these cupcakes to everyone, and everyone liked them! I used box mix and a store bought frosting (to use it up), but I bet if you made it from scratch, it would taste a lot better.

I followed the recipe on the back of the cinnamon swirl cake mix box for an orange cinnamon swirl cake, and improvised with the Duncan Hines (?) cream cheese frosting adding triple sec liqour. The non-sweetened orange rind curls on the top were a nice bite of bitter flavor amonst the sweetness of the frosting. The cupcakes themselves were very aromatic and smelled deliciously of cinnamon, orange, and cream cheese. (Oh and I liked this cream cheese frosting much better than the betty crocker one). The cake was very moist and fluffy and I enjoyed eating and giving these cupcakes!

Cinnamon Orange Cupcakes with Tipsy Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
1 Box of Betty Crocker Super Moist Cinnamon Swirl cake mix
1 1/4 cup orange juice
2 tsp grated orange peel
Vegetable oil and eggs as called for on cake mix box
1) Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease pan.Make, bake, and cool cake as directed except use orange juice instead of the water and add 2 tsp of grated orange peel.

For Frosting:
Just add 1-2 teaspoons triple sec liqour slowly to one container of Cream Cheese Frosting (I used Duncan Hines) and bit by bit, stirring after each addition (to make sure the frosting doesn't get too liquidy.) Color frosting with equal (I used a little more yellow than red) amounts of yellow and red food coloring. Shave small curls of orange rind for decoration on top of cupcakes.

This is a funny picture of what our orange turned out looking like after using curls and zest for the cupcakes:

**Please check out a new post I made (and had saved as a draft) on 05/24/07 about yummy pasta dishes**

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Mainland's Take on Chinese Food

I had read a poor review in a newspaper (I don't remember which one) about P.F. Changs shortly after it had opened, and it lead me to a good point. Why go to a mainland-owned Chinese chain restaurant when we are much closer to China and have great authentic local Chinese cuisine? But my co-workers (both originally from the mainland) wouldn't stop raving about how much they loved the P.F. Changs on the mainland and how they were glad it finally took up shop here in Hawaii. On top of that, one of them gave me a gift card to the restaurant for my birthday. I had no plans to go this restaurant until I was given the opportunity to decide for myself which hype to believe.

(Sorry for the pictures, I wasn't prepared and only had my camera phone on me-I will put in more photos from elsewhere)
If nothing else, the inside of the restaurant is beautiful. The color scheme is great, done in bright and warm hues that match with the golden light coming from Asian lanterns. Separating the bar area from the rest of the restaurant are large blown glass figures strung on poles that look to me like giant vertical beaded necklaces. We sat as far away from the entrance and outdoor dining area as possible in a booth.

(From the Honolulu Advertiser)
Our waiter was pleasant enough, though nothing to rave about, and we decided on an appetizer to split while we sipped on a Reisling (Randy's choice) and Gewurtstraminer (my choice). The wines were great and went well with our appetizer choice, Seared Ahi Tuna. The description the menu gave was that the tuna was rolled in Chinese spices, wok seared, and served cold with spicy mustard. This was the best dish by far, and the tuna was cooked great leaving the inside with a nice sashimi texture, though it may have worked better if they were warm instead. The generous drizzling of the mustard could have been lighter, but the flavors went well together and were balanced nicely with the sweet wines we had ordered. It came with a little sprout salad which Randy didn't care for, and I felt indifferent about.

(Seared ahi)
I should stop here and make a point about the bugs. As soon as our dishes were placed in front of us, the bugs came. I did happen to mention that we were as far away from the open seating as possible in the restaurant, but the bugs came anyway. They were irritating little flying things, sort of like fruit flies, that would buzz around our plates and faces. I found this very unfavorable as I have eaten in countless restaurants both indoor and outdoor and have not had this problem (maybe a few normal flies, but only when I was truly outdoors). We told the waiter and he asked us if we would like to move, but where would we have gone? Closer to the outdoors and the flies? He mentioned it might be because of the trash they put out and it left me thinking that they should keep better control of their trash so as not to bother diners.

For and entree we shared the Cantonese Roasted Duck (something that I had been wanting to have-Duck with plum sauce, but was having a hard time finding it on local Chinese menus). The duck was served with steamed wheat buns, cucumbers, scallions, plum and hoisin sauces. The buns were good, and the duck had an alright flavor, but was too try for my personal liking. The cucumbers and scallions were good garnishes, but the sauces weren't to my liking. I had tried plum sauce at The Elks Club before, and liked it much better. This version didn't have the sweetness I so enjoyed from plum sauce.

We got a vegetable to accompany this main dish and decided on Coconut Curry Vegetables. The dish was a mixed vegetable dish that was stir fried with tofu and peanuts in a coconut curry sauce. To me this dish tasted more Thai then Chinese, because of the peanuts and curry. Though it was pretty good, the coconut flavor didn't really come out and this was a dish that we couldn't eat too much of because the flavor got tiring (do you know what I mean?). We had to take it home and I ate it the next day.

(from Waikikinews website)
I think what I enjoyed most about the restaurant was the large Chinese stylized horse statue out front- that is to say I probably won't be returning. I am grateful for the giftcard and chance that I had to try this restaurant out, but even with the card, we paid a steep bill for the mediocre meal we had. My friend has dined twice there and said though the first time was below average, the second was great and changed her opinion about the place. Too bad for me there won't be a second time. This just goes to show that my reviews are my personal opinion and you never know how things are gonna go until you try it yourself! With that said, I think the flies should have helped with the bill because they enjoyed it more than us.

Friday, May 25, 2007

In honor of Jack Sparrow...

Last night I made a rum cake in the honor of the new movie Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Unfortunately I didn't go see it, but the cake was good! Maybe I'll go today. If anyone knows the first two movies, Jack Sparrow is always wondering why the rum is gone, and now I know! 'Cause I put it all in this cake!

I didn't take a picture, but as I was looking for photos to accompany this recipe, I came across a Caribbean product called Tortuga Rum cakes. In the movies, Tortuga is the infamous pirate-run island that Jack visits many times (evident by his many lady friends there). Not only does it exist, but it makes rum cakes!

I first tasted this particular recipe at church and being the cook/baker I now am, asked my mother to get the recipe from the lady who made it (she knows almost everyone at the church). I finally got it, but to my dismay, it just listed ingredients and a few steps- leaving out several things. So I made it up as I went and it turned out very well. The cake is soft and moist, and the soaking sauce gives it a feel somewhat like the tres leches cake (as the bottom is soaked through with the rum sauce). The rum sauce called for 1 cup of butter, but I reduced it, and you could reduce it even more if you wanted. Also it maybe would get denser and more soaked if you left it overnight. Another thing about the sauce, it is VERY rum heavy in flavor, you may want to reduce that as well since it doesn't get cooked out. But I liked it!!!

The Pirates of the Caribbean Rum Soaked Cake
1 box butter pecan cake mix
1 package (4 serving) instant vanilla pudding
4 eggs well beaten
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup dark rum (I used Meyers)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional-I didn't put these in)

1) Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease bundt pan with pam spray or butter. Sprinkle nuts on bottom of pan evenly.
2) In large bowl mix all ingredients with an electric mixer until well combined. Scrape bowl occasionally. Pour into prepared pan.
3) Bake for 38-40 minutes (I did for 38 minutes-this kept it very moist on the inside and outside). Cool for 5-10 minutes in pan.

For Rum Soaking Glaze:
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup of water
1/3 cup sugar (I used partially Splenda)
1/2 cup dark rum

1) Melt butter over medium heat. Stir in sugar and water, bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in rum. Once cooled, poke top of cake (while still in bundt pan-so technically it will become the bottom) with fork or knife all over, 1/2 in from each other. Pour rum sauce slowly over top, allowing it to soak into cake. Let cake sit a couple more minutes before inverting onto serving plate.

I hope this recipe works well for you! Have a piratey day!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Italian at Heart

I love pasta and most Italian food but unfortunately I don't eat it as much as I'd like for fear of the deadly carbs. When I do, I like it interesting full of yummy add-ins like veggies. Here are a few pasta dishes I made in the last few weeks.

This dish was discovered on a fellow foodie blog, and it's called Drunken Pasta. Now WHO can resist a name like that? I followed the recipe and minimized the salt, but at the end, found that I needed to add more. I guess it's better than having too much salt by putting it in throughout the recipe. Alongside is a sugar snap pea salad with onions and lemon. You can find the recipe for the pasta here.

For a deliciously light and healthy pasta dish with shrimp, I found this great summer recipe in a Good Housekeeping May 2006 issue. It is chock full of fresh veggies like asparagus, carrots, and snow peas, plump pink shrimp, and a surprisingly light cream sauce. The only problem I found was getting the sauce to reach all the noodles and ingredients, it tended to sink to the bottom of the serving dish, so make sure you toss well, or continuously.

Pasta Primavera
1 package (16 ounces) medium shell or bow-tie pasta (I used spiral/rotini pasta)
4 medium carrots, sliced diagonally into 1/8-inch-thick slices
2 cups broccoli florets (half a 12-ounce bag) and/or 2 cups 2-inch pieces asparagus (8 ounces)
6 ounces snap peas or snow peas, strings removed, or 1 cup frozen peas
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon peel
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1 pound uncooked frozen or fresh shelled and deveined large shrimp, with tail part of shell left on if you like
3 plum tomatoes or 2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 cup loosely packed mixed fresh herbs such as basil, mint, dill, and/or parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

1. Heat large covered saucepot of salted water to boiling over high heat.
2. Add pasta to water in saucepot; heat to boiling over high heat. Cook pasta 3 minutes. Add carrots, broccoli, and snap peas to pasta; heat to boiling. Cook pasta and vegetables 3 minutes longer. Remove 1/2 cup pasta cooking water; set aside. In colander, drain pasta and vegetables; set aside.
3. In same saucepot, heat cream, lemon peel, reserved pasta cooking water, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to boiling over high heat, stirring occasionally. Add frozen shrimp and cook 5 minutes or just until shrimp turn opaque throughout. (If using fresh shrimp, cook only 2 to 3 minutes.)
4. Add pasta and vegetables to shrimp mixture in saucepot. Add tomatoes and mixed herbs and toss to combine; heat through.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Yes I know the Muffin Man...

Hello all, ready for some more delayed and belated recipes? I love muffins, and always like experimenting. Several weeks ago I was browsing through my recipes as I always love to do, and found a lemon poppy seed bread recipe. I had just bought some poppy seeds and decided to give it a go, but I wanted personal sized servings, so I instead turned the bread into muffins. Because I used the same recipe, the muffin was more dense and less moist and fluffy than regular muffins, but they still were very good. I got inspired by another food blog to put half a strawberry in each before baking but wasn't prepared for the surprise explosion that resulted in holes through the top. They were still tasty and I look forward to modifying the recipe someday.

The next muffin is now famous throughout the food blog circles. It is called the Snickerdoodle Muffin but now affectionately renamed The Refund Muffin. Peabody, being the most amazing baker she is, originally posted these delectable muffins. To everyone's shock, someone had the audacity to write Peabody saying that it was a horrible recipe and they wanted a check for the money they spent making it!! I am now submitting my official approval that these muffins are THE BEST and that person was completely out of their mind! Peabody deserves all the credit for these muffins so please visit her site for the recipe. They were moist, cakey, and tasted exactly like the beloved Snickerdoodle cookie. My whole family adored them!

I must post another recipe on here that fits the "breakfast" theme. It is a great recipe of a dish I see popping up in every cooking magazine, Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes. These are made with a chunky blueberry sauce and are very healthy, not to mention delish! The ricotta taste didn't stand out but kept the dish soft with almost a creamy texture inside, and the blueberry sauce had just enough sweetness.

Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup part skim ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons canola oil divided (I used extra virgin olive oil)
3/4 cup fresh or frozen (not thawed) blueberries

1) Whisk whole wheat flour, AP flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and nutmeg in a small bowl. Whisk ricotta, egg, egg white, buttermilk, lemon zest and juice in a large bowl until smooth. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined.
2) Brush a large nonstick skillet with 1/2 tespoon oil and place over medium heat until hot. Using a generous 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake, pour the batter for two pancakes into the pan, sprinkle blueberries on top of each pancake, and cook until the edges are dry and bubbles begin to form, about 2 minutes. Flip the pancakes and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes more. Repeat with remaining oil, batter, and berries, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent burning. Keep finished pancakes warm in a 200 degrees F oven if desired, while cooking the rest.

Makes 4 servings, 2 pancakes each

Chunky Blueberry Sauce
(good on yogurt, ice cream, or cottage cheese)
2 cups fresh or frozen (not thawed) blueberries
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Stir together blueberries, honey, lemon zest, and juice in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, at least 15 min. Let cool for 10 minutes; serve warm.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Viva Mexico!

Cinco de Mayo was so much fun, and VERY tasty and I'm sorry I took this long to post it. I made a beef (using turkey) taco skillet, baked tortilla chips, and my first ever Tres Leches cake. We had yummy margaritas too, and I love Mr and Mrs T Margarita mix.

I pulled this recipe from a magazine, it was part of a Campbell's add. This was super easy to make, and so amazingly delicious, we all LOVED it!

Ranchero Taco Skillet

1 lb ground turkey
1 can Campbell's tomato soup
1/2 cup salsa (I used a peach pineapple salsa of medium heat that gave each bite a hint of sweetness)
1/2 cup water 8-9 small corn tortillas (or 6 six inch flour tortillas), cut into one inch pieces (strips or triangles-I did both)
1/2 cup (or more) cheddar cheese (or mixed cheese blend, I used cheddar and Monterey Jack)

1) Cook turkey in large skillet until browned, stirring to break up meat. Pour off fat.
2) Stir in soup, salsa, water, and tortillas. Heat to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 5 min. Stir, and top with cheese. Makes 4 Servings.

I made my tres leches cake from a recipe I found on the website "Diana's Desserts". There were two different was to make a topping for the cake, and I chose to make the whipped cream topping instead of the Meringue. This cake was very moist and the texture of the milk soaked cake reminded me of tiramisu. It was a little difficult to measure because I wanted to third the recipe since I really didn't need or want 9-12 servings hanging around. I used a small loaf pan for the cake and it turned out fine. You can find the recipe here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

These are My Obsessions

I have been in a love affair that has lasted almost a year in a half now, and whenever I am near them I just melt into pure bliss. Who, do you say gives me such heavenly pleasure? It's not who, but what.....Dates. I am in love with these natural candies of the dessert and buy them whenever possible. I have tried a couple different brands, but my heart belongs to Sunsweet Pitted Dates. Just biting into one makes me feel relaxed and almost as if I am in a dessert oasis with the warm breezes caressing me as I savor the sugary goodness of each succulent fruit.

My new favorite snack and way to eat them is dipped in or stuffed with just the right amount of cream cheese. This is how I first tasted dates and was amazed by the contrast of the sweetness with the rich creamy flavor of the cheese. You need to try this, all of you, and discover why I ate 12 of them in a row when I got home from work yesterday!

Another new beloved addiction of mine has become Caribou Coffee Granola bars. They taste like dessert, but are only 140 calories. I have tried the mocha, caramel, and the mint. These are granola bars made by General Mills, and they are just amazing. Each bar has the aroma and taste of coffee, complimented by the chewy and crunchy granola and accompanying flavors. The top is drizzled with a flavored "icing" of sorts, and the bottom is dipped in dark chocolate studded with ground coffee beans. The Mint Condition flavor smells like coffee and has a hint of coffee taste, but truly tastes like a bar version of mint chocolate chip ice cream. So if you're on a diet and are missing the sweet flavors of those coffee house Frappuccinos, pick up a box of Caribou Coffee Bars and never miss out again!