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!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Texas Time and Splendaville- Dining Out Reviews

I'm sorry I don't have pictures of my own, but I thought I needed to do a couple small reviews to clear the backup of posts I have waiting to go up. In the last couple weeks I have been to several places including these in posts to come: P.F. Changs and Soul De Cuba Cafe.

Molly's Smokehouse- Texas Style BBQ, Wahiawa
Randy the fiance is from Texas and ever since the sad close down of Deb's Soul Food in Kailua, we had been looking for a southern food place to chow down at. When I found this restaurant online and read the reviews, I immediately put it on my list of places to go, but because it was way out in Wahiawa, it had to wait for a day trip to the North Shore. We went a couple of weeks ago, late morning, with our stomachs prepared and eagerly rumbling. To my surprise the place is sit down and though it boasts southern hospitality, the dining room was rather sterile and plain to me. The one standout addition was the large black meat smoker outside, in the front of the diner, that released smoke with a savory aroma.

Photo of Sweet Tea from
We wanted to try a bunch of different things (including the kolaches that had been written about in several newspapers), so we ordered a combo plate of spare ribs and brisket that came with sides of cole slaw, corn bread, baked beans, and corn on the cob. We also ordered an extra side of fried okra, and 3 kolaches "to go". To drink, we shared a large sweet tea. The first to come out was the warm corn muffin, and though we were splitting the meal, it would have been nice if they would have given us two without us having to ask. The cornbread was average and the sweet tea was perfect in Randy's Texas opinion, but too sweet for me; so much so that I had to water it down. The good thing about it was that there was free refills!

When our meal came, we were ready to eat. The meat smelled good and had a good flavor. I liked the smokiness of the beef brisket, but didn't care much for the ribs. I love BBQ sauce and unfortunately this sauce was too spicy for me. Actually I was expecting the meat (especially the brisket) to be a lot more tender and fall apart, but it was tough and because of this, I didn't really like either entree. Randy agreed that they weren't as supple as the slow cooked brisket he had at home, but he still loved it. The sides were my favorite, I liked them better than the meat. I guess that's because I'm not a southern girl. The corn was average (it would have been nice if it had been Kahuku corn), but the cole slaw was fresh and not too soupy, it had the perfect amount of the sweet cole slaw dressing. The fried okra was really great, I hadn't had some if so long and I think it might have tasted better with some sort of a ranch dip. My favorite side was the baked beans that were both sweet and savory, and went very well with the corn bread muffins.

Of the kolaches, I really enjoyed the pulled pork. I had never had a kolache before and though the flavoring of the meat was different (and WONDERFUL), the bread texture and slightly sweet flavor reminded me of a baked manapua. The sweet kolaches on the other hand (we got blueberry and cream cheese) tasted like a bun version of those prepackaged danishes you can get at gas stations and continental breakfasts. Because of this, they didn't stand out to me as something I would order again.

Would I come back? Probably only for the savory kolaches, and only if I was out at that side of the island to begin with.
Sweet Nothings Bakery
Randy and I have discussed many times the possibility of the military (or some other organization) tapping our brain and stealing our brilliant ideas. This happened first with Randy's idea of different kinds of butters made out of seeds and nuts (like peanut butter). And sure enough there is now sunflower butter and cashew butter (I think). With the advent of Splenda, the baking sugar substitute, I thought it would be a great idea to make a sugar-free bakery that offered sweets accessible to people with diabetes or on diets. And sure enough, today I discovered a bakery called Sweet Nothings.

This bakery located less than a block away from Ala Moana sells only sugar-free items (except for a couple of soft drinks) including some commercial candies and snacks that are sugar free. Made in the bakery are pies, cakes (including cheesecake), chocolate dipped strawberries, turnovers, muffins and cookies. Along with this spectacular line up were napoleons of puff pastry filled with a generous piping of luscious white cream and several flavors of chocolates that are (of course) sugar free.

Randy and I were so interested in what the items from this shop would taste like (since I use Splenda a lot at home), that we had to order a couple things. The products are a little more expensive than their full-calorie counterparts but we didn't mind too much. He ordered an eclair and I ordered a raspberry pinwheel. The raspberry pinwheel was an adorable shape, made out of crispy pastry dough and filled with a tart raspberry jelly like filling. There was also a really sweet drizzle of icing over the top and I couldn't tell at all that it was sugar-free at all! The eclair was light and airy and the chocolate was sooo good, very dark and sinful. The cream filling was so creamy and flavorful, and I only detected a hint of Splenda. It seemed like the entire flavor of the pastry was focused on the flavors of the eclair rather than sweetness that often comes with pastries.

You guys should definately go check this place out!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Some Banana Lovin'

A couple weeks ago, it was my step-mom/Godmom's birthday. And every since I was little I have remembered that she loved banana cream pie. If ever we were at a restaurant and she felt like dessert, that's what she would order.

Now that I am cooking and baking I thought it would be a great surprise to show her that I remembered that. I found a recipe I liked on Recipezaar, but I wanted to make it my own, so I incorporated her other favorite, DARK CHOCOLATE. I came up with a dark chocolate bottomed banana cream pie, and then put ANOTHER twist on it by using apple bananas (shorter, more tart version of a banana). And then, I decided this really need to be a banana cream pie, not just a cream pie with sliced bananas, so I mashed in a banana with the homemade cream pudding.

Everyone RAVED about it. Unfortunately it had been refrigerated overnight with the whipped cream on top so it was oopy goopy when we tried to serve it, but it tasted heavenly. Here's the recipe for you to try:

Black Bottom Apple-Banana Creme Pie
Makes 6-8 Servings

3/4 Cup sugar
1/3 cup AP flour
1/4 tspn salt
2 cups milk (I used skim)
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 Tblspn butter or margarine
1 tspn vanilla extract
1 ripe, large banana
4 firm apple bananas
1 graham cracker or Nilla premade pie crust (or 9 in baked pie shell)

Favorite Ganache recipe

tub of cool whip or whipped cream to garnish

1) In a saucepan, combine sugar, flour, and salt; stir in milk and mix well.
2) Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil; boil for 2 minutes.
3) Remove from heat. Stir a small amount of cream mixture into egg yolks to temper them; return all to saucepan.
4) Cook for 2 more minutes, stirring constantly; remove from heat.
5) Add butter and vanilla; mix well so that butter melts, and allow to cool slightly. Mash 1 regular banana and mix well into cream mixture.
6) Make ganache, allow to cool and pour and spread over pie shell so bottom and sides are covered. Slice the apple bananas and place evenly over the chocolate in pie shell. Pour cream mixture gently over bananas.

7) Cool in refrigerator until more stable. Before serving garnish with whipped cream or cool whip, an apple banana slice, and a shake of cocoa powder.
8) Refrigerate any leftovers...but I can promise you there won't be!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

A Quick Recap of April Recipes...

I am so behind in this thing its not even funny. I'm afraid though, that if I post something new, nobody will read the older don't forget about them. There are some lovely other posts in this blog, including a GREAT one about CHEF MAVRO.

I am just going to post some pictures of some great recipes I tried towards the end of April. And as you can see, I changed layouts...hope you folks don't mind...I wanted more room for pictures and with the other layout I had to squash them significantly.
This is a photo of Apple Cider Stuffed Pork Chops with Apple and Cinnamon Raisin (the homemade bread I made) Stuffing. The plate on the left shows the inside of the pork chop and the plate on the right shows it smothered in that saucy dressing. This was really an outstanding recipe and the apple cinnamon raisin stuffing was just sweet and savory and perfect with the flavor of the chops. I only made two pork chops that night which is why my gravy was so chunky; I made the full amount of stuffing.

Pork Chops with Apple Stuffing
4 Boneless pork chops
6 Tblspn butter or margarine, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
3 slices cinnamon raisin bread, crumbled in large bread crumbs
1/2 a lagre apple, peeled and chopped (can use pears too...that might be good)
3/4 tspn salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup water
2 Tblspn all purpose flour
1 cup apple cider

1) Cut pockets in chops, set aside. Heat a large skillet over medium heat; add 3 tablespoons butter. Add onion; saute until tender. Remove from heat. Add raisin bread, apple, salt, pepper, and egg; mix.

2) Spoon stuffing into pockets, reserving 1/4 cup. (If your pockets cut all the way through, secure unwanted holes with toothpicks.) Secure pockets with toothpicks or kitchen twine. Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat; add remaining butter.

3) Add chops to skillet and cook for about 3 minutes per side. Add water. Cover and simmer, turning once, over low heat for 30 minutes or until chops are tender. Remove chops, keep warm.

4)Blend flour into skillet drippings. Stir in cider and reserved stuffing. Cooking, stirring continuously, until thickened. Serve over chops.

Serves 4

These were my birthday pancakes. Regular pancake batter with shredded apple and pear in the batter. With a little bit of Spiced Apple Butter on top, these were heavenly!

This was another amazing dinner (I'm always still surprised when something I cook turns out great). It is Apricot Chicken and next to it is the Double Corn Cornbread Muffins from Peabody's site. This meal was another one both sweet and savory and the slow cooker made the chicken just fall apart on my tongue; heavenly!

"Super-Easy" Apricot Chicken
Adapted from the Magazine "All You"
12 or more (I probably used 16) dried apricots
8 medium chicken thighs (about 2 1/2 lbs)
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbspn unsalted butter
2 Tablspn vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced
1 cup chicken broth

1)Rinse apricots and scatter them in a slow cooker. Pat chicken dry; season with salt and pepper. Melt butter in oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook thighs until golden brown (3-5 minutes per side). Brown in batches to avoid crowding skillet. Arrange over apricots in slow cooker.
2) Pour off all but 1 Tbspn of fat in skillet. Add onion and cook until just soft, 2 to 4 minutes.
3) Add broth to skillet; turn heat to high. Bring to a boil, loosening browned bits stuck to pan from chicken.
4) Pour contents of skillet over apricots and chicken. Cover and cook on low heat for 4 hours (or high heat for 2).
5) Carefully transfer thighs to a serving dish (they'll tend to fall apart easily); cover with foil to keep warm. Pour remaining contents into a saucepan. Boil, stirring often until reduced and thickened, about 10 minutes. Pour over chicken.

Serves 4
Per serving: 380 cals, 23g fat

I also did a half recipe of the famous Self-Frosting Nutella Cupcakes for a bunch of birthdays (not mine) that were around the middle/end of April. These are great, not too sweet and the Nutella makes a great frosting. I'm assuming everyone loved them, but I only heard from Randy who managed to eat the first one. Almost every food blog recipe site has this recipe posted, but you can find a version of the recipe here: BakingBites

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Long Awaited Chef Mavro Post also known as The Best Meal of My Life

For those of you who don't live in Hawaii, I pity you. For those of you who do, and have not yet made it to Chef Mavro, I pity you as well. I hope that all of you at one time in your life will get to experience that which is the Magic of Mavro. For those of you who have been, with you I share this precious secret and I hope that your experience was in every way as wonderful as mine.

This restaurant is located on king street, right around the corner from a gay bar, and in the company of such restaurants like Jack in the Box, and mom and pop local food walk ins. This is very literally, a diamond in the rough. You'll know by the many month long waiting list and valet only parking that this is not a place to wear your beach clothes to. This is quite possibly the fanciest restaurant in the state and has been voted by Fodor's as one of the top ten restaurants in the world. It has also been named by Gourmet Magazine as the one place you should go if you had only one night in Honolulu. I was so excited about going, I could hardly sit still and the entire time I dined, I could NOT wipe the stupid smile of anticipation and childish delight off of my face.

Inside it is cozy, maybe less than 20 tables, and it is decorated in deep warm hues of rose, mauve, and pumpkin with splashes of green foliage against a stark white. The windows are frosted in an abstract design, preventing diners from seeing the average bustling street outside, and transporting them to a place where tastes are the main event. During the course of the evening, we were never once left ignored by a waiter as there were 5 different waiters attending to us throughout the night. They were very accommodating, polite, gracious, and everything a server should be. They were knowledgeable about the food, where it came from, how it was prepared, and about every wine that was paired with our courses. They said their knowledge came from the menu trial when the chef would cook up all the different menu items, and then as a staff they would taste several different wines with each dish and vote on the best pairing. These was never a moment that our water glasses were empty and it only took a few breaths before our cleaned plate was taken from before us.

Each season the Chef comes up with a new menu that features a 3-course, 4-course, and 6-course price fixe menu. There is also a possible Chef's Table dinner that features every single item from all the price fixe menus in an 11 course tasting dinner in miniature quarter portions. Wines are paired with each menu and since it was my birthday and the dinner was a gift from my dad (God Bless him), I did as he said and took the opportunity (that I may never have again) and splurged. Let's just say, the bill was well over $400 for my fiance and I; but it is something I will NEVER forget.

The first thing to arrive at our table was an amuse bouche of cool carrot soup with creme fraiche topped with a sprinkle of cumin powder on the top. This was served in an adorable little shot glass with a thick straw to "slurp" it up (yes they instructed us to slurp at a fancy restaurant). This was creamy and the tiniest bit sweet and the cumin gave a great kick at the end. Let's just say it was VERY slurpable. Another thing about the restaurant, each dish comes with a new plate and all the courses come previewed and paired with a lovely wine. (except the amuse bouche and palate cleanser)

The first "course" was a Beignet of Oyster flavored with Garam Masala, served with White Gazpacho, with a Tomato and Fine Herbs Relish. The gazpacho was a bit salty and I tried to figure out what it was..cauliflower perhaps. Whatever it was had a creamy texture, almost like a bisque, and the light drizzle of oil and crisp diced cucumbers on top balanced the flavors wonderfully. A beignet is usually a French doughnut found in New Orleans, but this wasn't sweet at all and the outside almost had the texture and look of a hush puppy. Inside was a warm juicy oyster that slid down my throat with aphrodisiatic passion. The relish beneath the beignet was made with tomato and herbs and maybe even some onions and tasted similar to the saltiness of lomi lomi salmon (a Hawaiian salmon salad dish with similar relish ingredients). The wine served with this was one of my evening favorites, it was a Cuvee Anne-Laure, 2005 Gewurtzraminer, from Alsace France. It was sweet but not overly so, and it went well with the oyster flavor.

For the second course we had Spiced Bigeye Ahi seared, with a Salad of Sumida Watercress, Hearts of Palm, Red Radish, and Garlic Watercress-Essence. This was one of my fiance's favorite dishes. The seared outside of the fish was dusted with curry powder that unless you put it in your mouth just right, overpowered the sashimi taste of the raw-melt-in-your-mouth-like-butter ahi. Eventually I got it right. There was a green pesto(I really should have taken notes instead of relying on my memory but I was so intent on savoring every moment that I didn't want to cloud it with worrying about every tiny flavor) and though I'm not a big watercress fan, I rather enjoyed the salad. The wine paired with this dish was a Grof Degenfeld, 2004 Muscat Lunel Tokaji, from Hungary.

This meal was full of firsts for me, including my first time having Foie Gras. This course featured a Foie Gras Wrapped in Nori, Yuzu Kanten topped with a Ruby Grapefruit-Korean Pear-Shizo Pickle relish, and garnished with a Brioche Crust. Now the foie gras (said the waiter) was prepared in a slightly untraditional way (my stupid memory forgot what was the difference), but I was very surprised how much I enjoyed it. The nori wrapped around it gave it a slightly fishy taste that I didn't care for after a while, but the flavor and richness of the foie gras was incredible. It literally tasted like a meat version of butter and disintegrated likewise on my tongue, melting away in indescribable goodness. Yuzu Kanten was something else I had never tried and it was a jelly like substance that was very sweet and sour. It had a strong flavor and went well with the foie gras. The brioche was nothing more than a light crisp and gave a little crunch to the dish. The wine with this was a very sweet Dr.Pauly Bergweiler 2005 Riesling, from Mosel-saar-ruwer, Germany.

Course number four was a Day Boat Catch (sorry-blanking out), Fish Chicharron infused with Anise Seeds, Fricassee of Baby Fennel, Zucchini, Maui Onion, Lemon Thyme and a Greek Aioli. This was my least favorite of the two fish dishes (the next one coming up), its taste wasn't one I preferred and the texture was a bit like scallops. Though I don't love garlic, the sauce went well with fish and the vegetables underneath were some of my favorites. The fricassee of Fennel was a little bit salty, but tasted wonderful and the fish skin was crisp and interesting. The wine with this was a Chateau de Tracy, 2003 Pouilly Fume, from Loire, France.

I loved this fish dish! It was a Confit Hamachi Escabeche with Baby Carrot, Turnip, Shallot, Marinated with Coriander, Garlic, Thyme and Chervil, with Fried Celery Leaves topping the dish. I have discovered that I adore ANYTHING confit, tomatoes, duck, etc., they are all so flavorful. In this case, the fish was in an acidic sauce that complimented the tiny mushrooms and vegetables perfectly. The fish fell apart when I cut into it with my fork and the crispy leaves of celery tasted delightfully like celery with a light-salty chip like taste. The wine that paired with this was a Black Bart, 2005 Marsanne Kabinett, from the Stage Coach Vineyard in Napa.

The last seafood dish was a Keahole Lobster a la Coque with Sauteed Leeks, Garlic Shoots, White Asparagus, Avocado Mousse, and Star Anise Lobster Essence. Ironically I liked the green parts on the plate better than the lobster, though I am not huge on lobster and crab. To eat this dish you had to pull the meat out of the shell. It was very good and the fun lobster foam gave an interesting addition and deflated in my mouth. The reason I loved the vegetables and avocado mousse was the very obvious lime flavour that came out in both dishes. It was a great contrast to the buttery lobster flavor with sharp citrus notes and the different textures of smooth mousse and slightly crunchy sauteed vegetables. The wine served was one of the sommelier rare wine selections, of a Domaine Paul Pillot, 2004 Chassagne Montrachet, from Burgundy France.

This was my second favorite dish and my fiance's favorite. It's funny because usually I would prefer duck (though I've only had it a few times) and he would fall for the beef. This outstanding course consisted of Roasted Sonoma "Canette" Duckling, with Gingered Baby Beets, Kumquats, Beet Tops, and Citrus Duck Jus. This was so amazing with a warm (as opposed to bright or sharp) citrus taste that was deeply sweet and came from the kumquats (another first for me). The sweet flavor of the beets really matched the citrus well and the warm, thin, tender strips of duck were a perfect marriage with the fruit salad. The small strip of skin attached to the duck gave a great texture to the meat. The wine was another sommelier rare wine selection of a Vincent Girardin, 2002 Pommard 1er cru "les epenots", from Burgandy France.

This course was without a doubt, the star of the night. It was indescribable in flavor and consisted of Snake River Farm Kobe-Style Beef, as Roasted Bavette and Braised Short Rib, Pancetta Brussels Sprouts, Truffle Accented Celery Root Puree, and a Pinot Noir Sauce. The short rib (pictured on the right) was juicy and was beautiful in flavor with the pinot noir sauce. In the center of the photo are the brussel sprouts, something ELSE I had never tried, and I liked them and the saltiness from the pancetta brought out the flavors in the beef. The BEST part is pictured on the left and consisted of a slow cooked cut of beef that fell apart in my mouth with the most seductive flavors imaginable. It sat upon a celery root puree and had a garnish on top that only furthered the incredible taste it had. The rare wine paired with this is a Jordan 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, from Alexander Valley California. Lets just say I could have eaten this dish for the ENTIRE meal, and it brought me to a savory version of a chocolate mouth-gasm.

This was my other least favorite dish (that's not to say I didn't like it) but I don't particularly like the flavor of lamb itself. I let the waiter know about my aversion to this meat and though he said it was a cut of lamb that had less of the intense flavor, he would substitute a different dish if I didn't like it or didn't want it brought at all. But what kind of foodie would I be if I didn't take daring steps into the unknown. This was a dish of Roasted Mountain Meadow Lamb Loin with Spiced Green Olives, Chickpea Puree, and a Confit of Big Wave Tomato. I guess this was the chef's take on a Greek/Mediterranean inspired dish with the chickpea (hummos like) puree, lamb, and olives. The sharp olive flavor and smooth subdued chick pea flavor helped me to enjoy the lamb more than I would have if I had eaten it by itself. I saved the tomato for last and it was so soft, juicy, and sweet-savory from being cooked for 14 hours to perfection. It left an amazing taste in my mouth that went well with the rare 2002 Lalande de Pomerol wine from the Bordeaux region of France.

Sorry the picture is so dark. The last savory dish was a Big Island Goat Cheese Mousse with Fougasse Croutons, Granny Smith Tomato Marmalade, Basil Essence, and a Baby Greens Bouquet. This mousse had a very strong flavor that my fiance didn't particularly care for, but I liked when it was paired with each flavor in the plate. There were flecks of herbs in the mousse and the wafer thin croutons sandwiched it insuring a crunch in every bite. I loved the sweetness in the marmalade and it took away some of the unfavorable flavors of the Goat Cheese. The wine paired with this was a red wine of Tardieu-Laurent, 2001 Saint Joseph Vieilles Vignes from France.

This palate cleanser came in a small chilled glass bowl and consisted of four fresh and juicy watermelon balls suspended geometrically in a champagne jelly with miniscule strips of mint. It was light and very refreshing.

Here were the three wines served with dessert. From the left we have my other favorite wine from the evening, a Coppo 2002 Brachetto D'Asti from Italy. It ironically was a wine that I had bought from The Wine Stop, a small wine boutique shop where I often go for tastings. I had bought it around Valentines day to save and open on my birthday. The nose is pure strawberries, as is the taste, light, sweet, and bubbly. The middle wine is from Blandey's, a Malmsey Madeira, aged 5 years from Portugal. It had a sweet spicy flavor that went well with its food pairing (to come). That final wine on the right was a 1995 Layon-Chaume, from Chateau Roulerie in the Loire region of France. It was very aromatic and sweet, and tasted a bit like a sherry I have, but stronger and richer with deep flavors of caramel and fig.

The first two (of many desserts) are shown here. On the left there is the Cherry Clafouti resting in an Orange Blossom-Almond Milk topped with Hawaiian Vanilla Infused Creme Fraiche. On the right is an adorable Lilikoi Malasada (the Chef's specialty dessert) with Guava Coulis and Pineapple-Coconut Ice Cream. I had never had Clafouti before though I have encountered countless recipes for various fruit variations (including a cherry one). It had the texture almost of a bread pudding, though softer, and there was a sweet brittle on top. The milk it was soaking in was lightly flavored with almond and only faintly sweet and balanced out the tart tang of the cherries. Malasadas are a Portuguese doughnut fried and rolled in sugar, that have a less cakey inner doughnut texture. This mini Malasada had a filling and flavor of Lilikoi (a tarter version of Passion Fruit), though not as much filling as I would have liked. The sweet guava sauce balanced out the likikoi and tart-sweet pineapple of the icecream. This was a perfect harmony of all the tropical flavors I love.

The other dessert on the menu was a White Chocolat-Raspberry Parfait accompanied by Chocolate Marshmallow, a Dark Chocolate Ganache Sauce, and an Orange Crisp atop the White Chocolate Parfait. This was my favorite dessert and though I didn't care much for the marshmallow (it was fine, I just wanted all the parfait) I adored the white chocolate raspberry and traded my portion of the marshmallow for Randy's bites of the raspberry partfait. The parfait was a carefully constructed log of mousse like white chocolate filled with a tart raspberry filling. This tart and mild sweetness was wonderful with the dark rich chocolate of the ganache. I savored every moment of this bite. According to Randy the marshmallow was denser than commercial marshmallows and had a very subtle chocolate taste.

This is not a good picture of the things to the right of the chocolate dessert which were complimentary candies: a Caramel, rose flavored Turkish Delight (I had never had this before), and two Dark Chocolate Truffles. The caramel wasn't intensely sweet but was milkier, the turkish delight was unbelievable in flavor and had a texture that was a mix between chichi dango mochi and jelly/gummi candy, and it dissolved in my mouth with a touch of rose. It was funny because as I was eating the Turkish Delight, I kept thinking of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, "This way for your num nums.." The chocolate ganache truffles were positively sinful and tasted like the ones I made for Valentines day with Chambord, but without the raspberry flavor. Randy said that the ones I had made were better and though I am in love with Chef Mavro's cuisine, I would have to agree. I liked the truffles so much that I wished that I had saved them, to be the last rich taste in my mouth as I left. While I was in the bathroom, Randy mentioned this to the waitress and when I returned there was another set of the truffles to fulfill my wishes.

As an additional birthday treat, the waiters brought out an Opera Gateau Cake like dessert with a candle, and though they didn't sing, it WAS a surprise. I was having such a great time I had forgotten I was in a real restaurant and that restaurants do special birthday things. It was good but nothing like the other desserts and my favorite part of it was the dark chocolate topping. The only thing that could have made the night better would have been to meet the master behind all the culinary magic, but he had left the building earlier in the evening. I don't blame took us an entire 3 hours to finish this meal. I LOVED it! Just to sit back and go through this adventure that changed with every course and left me breathless. I didn't check the clock once, and by the time we left I was pleasantly full and just a bit tipsy. Let's just say I will remember this my whole life long and it was one of the best birthdays EVER!