kruizing with kikukat

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chap Chae in December

 The month of December here in Hilo has been rather cold.  Its not unusual to have nights dipping into the lower 60s.  Although I enjoy having soup, its not something that I'd want every night.  Enter Chap Chae.  Chap Chae is a Korean noodle dish that can be eaten at room temperature.  The December chill is great for cooling down Chap Chae.

Chap Chae can be practically anything you want it to be . . . all depends on what you have in your vegetable bin and what kind of protein you'd like to add.  It can be made in under an hour, but the flavor of the beef (my protein of choice) improves the longer it sits in the marinade, so I would start soaking the meat the night before or earlier in the day.  

Most people think Chap Chae is made with long rice (cellophane noodles, glass noodles, bean threads, etc.), but its actually made with a sweet potato starch noodle, dang myun.  Dang myun can be found at Asian stores.  I don't think all supermarkets have it.  KTA didn't so I got my pkg. from Kilauea Market.  Don't be thrown off by the gray color.  It will become clear after it is cooked.

To begin making Chap Chae, marinate beef in sauce for at least 30 minutes. 

Marinate softened dried shiitake mushrooms in sauce for about 30 minutes.  When done, squeeze mushrooms dry and slice in 1/4" pieces.

While mushrooms are marinating, prepare vegetable ingredients.  Carrots and onion can be julienned.  

If using spinach or other leafy greens (I used bok choy), blanch first, drain well, then cut into 2" pieces.

Cook and drain dang myun.  See, I told you it gets clear when cooked!  For ease in serving, take a kitchen shears and make several cuts through the tangle of dang myun.

This part comes together really quick.  In a wok or large pan, saute beef until cooked.  Remove from wok.

Saute vegetables for a few minutes and remove from wok.  Add noodles and oil to wok and toss lightly.  Add sauce, cooked beef, and cooked vegetables.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds. 
Chap chae is normally served at room temperature, although I have trouble waiting long enough for it to cool.  It makes a great potluck dish, especially in December, where the natural air temperature makes it cool faster.

click on recipe title for printable recipe

Beef & Marinade:    1 tbsp shoyu
                               1 tbsp sugar
                               1 tsp sesame oil
                               1 tsp minced garlic
                               1/4 tsp pepper
                               1/2 tsp sesame seeds
                               1/2-3/4 lb flank steak or other beef, sliced very thin

Combine all ingredients and marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Shiitake & Marinade:  7 shiitake mushrooms, soaked and squeezed dry
                                   1/2 c shoyu
                                   1 tsp sugar
                                   1 tsp sesame oil

Combine all ingredients and marinate for at least 30 minutes.  Squeeze shiitake again and cut into 1/4" slices.

Assorted vegetables:  carrot, julienned
                                   bok choy, blanched, drained & cut into 2" lengths
                                   bell pepper, julienned

Noodles & Sauce:  1 pkg. dang myun
                              2 tbsp oil, divided
                              2 tbsp shoyu
                              1/4 c sugar
                              1 tbsp sesame seeds

Cook noodles as directed on package (about 7 minutes).  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Cut into shorter lengths.  Combine shoyu and sugar.  Set aside.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in wok.  Saute beef until cooked.  Remove.  Saute shiitake and other vegetables.  Remove.  Add 1 tbsp oil and noodles to wok.  Toss together.  Add sauce (shoyu & sugar) and return beef and vegetables.  Toss until heated through and sauce has soaked into noodles.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Day Shortcuts and Lessons

Happy Thanksgiving!!!  No big party for me this year.  Just enjoyed a quiet lunch at home with ma, pa, D1, D2 & The Help.  Tough crowd, easy food:  turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing (if you grew up in Hawaii, you know it as stuffing), cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.  Very traditional and very un-fussy, especially since I took some major shortcuts this year.

kamado-smoked turkey
cranberry sauce
wild rice dressing

Shortcut #1:  One picture that is missing from my Thanksgiving photo cache this year is a glistening, golden-brown turkey.  I just didn't feel up to brining and smoking a full bird, even an organic, free-range bird, so bought a Butterball turkey breast roast (all white meat . . . de rigueur for most of my family).  I did the usual thing of brining, a non-negotiable component when cooking turkey in a kamado.  I used the same brine recipe I've been using for years:  8 qts water, 2 c rock salt, 1 c honey, 8 garlic cloves, 1 bunch thyme, 1 tbsp cracked black pepper.  Had an easy time because the turkey and brine fit easily in my fridge.  I didn't really read the pkg directions so I'm not gonna blame the Butterball folks, but nobody told me the meat was encased in netting for GOOD REASON. 

This morning, I figured I'd cut the net off so the skin could brown, and this is about where things fell apart, literally.  So instead of a football-shaped turkey roast, I ended up with odd-sized pieces of turkey breast to roast.  Selecting the largest, fattest piece, I stuck the remote thermometer probe in the middle of it. 

It cooked in just over an hour in the kamado (tried to keep the heat around 325 degrees.

The finished product was actually very tasty.  Just the color sucked big time.  I've had no problems in the past when smoking a whole bird, so I'm attributing the lack of color to the lack of skin real estate on the meat pieces.

Lesson  #1:  try a different turkey breast roast.  KTA sold 3 different turkey breast roasts this year.  One was a roast which contained both light and dark meat (don't ask me how a breast roast can contain both light and dark meat . . . thats a question for Butterball).  Another roast contained rib bones.  And the third, which is the one I bought, was boneless.  Next year, I'm buying the one with the bones (no dark meat).  I think these pieces are probably what I was expecting this year, just the turkey breast, like a big chicken breast.

Shortcut #2:  Buy a pumpkin pie.  We are fortunate in Hilo to have Short n Sweet, a gourmet bakery that specializes in fancy wedding cakes (how many places in Hilo can actually boast being endorsed by Brides Magazine?).  The Help treated us to a Maple Pumpkin Pie.  At $17.99 per pie, its definitely not the cheapest pie in town, but for homemade crust, its definitely worth it.

Lesson #2:  Homemade is not the ONLY choice.  This pie totally restored my confidence in supporting local businesses.  I appreciate the time and effort that goes into making something from scratch, and I think its great that there are others who also don't think the gargantuan pumpkin pie at Costco is the cat's meow (sorry, Desi & Kenni).

Shortcut #3:  Make cranberry sauce ahead of time.  I made the cranberry sauce on Tuesday evening.  
cranberries, apples & ginger

I located this recipe on the internet.  I found it in 2 places, so theres no telling how many other sites have it.  I assumed that because it was published twice, it was a good recipe.  This year, I decided I wanted something with "bite", something more complex than the orange marmalade cranberry sauce I normally make.  

 The recipe seemed easy enough:  cook together a bag of fresh cranberries, sugar, cider vinegar, grated ginger and some apples.  Easy.  

The sauce stayed in the fridge until about an hour before we were ready to eat.
Lesson #3:  Fix this recipe!!!  The cranberry, apple & ginger flavors go well together, but I like my cranberry sauce to be sweet.  This was a little too puckery for me.  Will fix for the next round.

Lesson #4:  Don't take too many shortcuts.  And thats why I put my efforts into making Wild Rice Dressing.  This had several steps, as the croutons in the dressing had to be "made" ahead of time and the wild rice needed to be cooked before the entire dish got baked.

I had a bag of wild rice I bought from the liquor store in Waimea.  It came in a canvas bag and looked like authentic Minnesota wild rice.  But the recipe called for 2 cups so I had to supplement with wild rice from the natural food store.

The lighter colored rice is from the Waimea store.  The darker colored rice is from Island Naturals.  There is a big difference:  the lighter colored rice will cook in 25 minutes.  The darker colored rice takes longer to cook, maybe 35 minutes.

Once the wild rice is cooked, its tossed together with sauteed mushrooms, onions & celery.  I managed to find fresh shiitake mushrooms at Island Naturals, so I bought a handful of those.

fresh shiitake mushrooms
The addition of  minced fresh sage, pecans and dried cranberries round out the flavor profile. This dressing is definitely something I will make again.  The recipe can be found on the Simply  Recipes website.

With no plans for dinner, I think I can close the book on Thanksgiving 2010.  This was one of the least complicated Thanksgivings I've celebrated in my adult years.  Having a HUGE, killer work week next week, I just didn't have it in me to throw together a huge family get-together this year.  But the coziness of this year's meal allowed me to test out new dishes with captive, albeit, unappreciative, tablemates.  

Three of my tablemates this year really set the bar low . . . tablemate #1 was presented a bowl of from-the-freezer soybean rice and ate only that, in spite of the Thanksgiving fare that was set out before her.  Tablemate #2 chose to eat two servings of just mashed potatoes and gravy.  Both remarked that the only turkey they ever CHOOSE to consume is prepared in the school cafeteria by large people.  And Tablemate #3 said the food was ALRIGHT, although he did remark that the maple pumpkin pie must've been expensive since the pumpkin layer was so thin.  Sigh . . . that's why I said "tough crowd" at the beginning of this post.

Moral of this post:  be thankful for what you have . . . the means to put food on my table, darling daughters, doting parents and a goooood friend (those of you who know me and my family well are probably on the floor laughing hysterically now) who are able to share a meal with me.  May we have many more of these occasions to celebrate.

I am also thankful that I had the foresight to buy and prepare another all-white meat turkey roast which will allow me respite from cooking during the busy time between now and Christmas!!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

D1's Favorite Meal

Everyone has a memorable dish tucked away in a cozy corner of their heart.  My dish of honor is the humble Chicken Broccoli Casserole.  We have had a love-love relationship for over 25 years.  This blog, at one time in my life, could very well have been titled "Kikukat's Favorite Meal".

When I was in high school, my mom made something for dinner that was very well received by me.  A coworker had told her about a recipe in a Honpa Hongwanji cookbook called Chicken Divan.  It was basically a  casserole consisting of a layer of broccoli, covered by chicken shreds, some creamy sauce, shredded cheese, and topped with breadcrumbs.  I loved it from first bite.

When I went away to college, a friend (also from Hawaii) came over to my apartment to visit my roommate and immediately asked what I was preparing for dinner.  I told him I was making a casserole with chicken and broccoli.  "Oh, Chicken Divine.  I know that", was his response.  

Fast-forward to the middle-1990s.  I'm married now, in my own kitchen, and making what my then-hubby referred to as Chicken Broccoli Casserole.  And that is pretty much where this story begins.  Mr. Dependable (ex-hubby) loved Chicken Broccoli Casserole. . . of course, there were the usual complaints from him:  not enough broccoli, not enough sauce, too much chicken, curry taste is strong, etc.  Eventually I got tired of listening to him bitch, as he was never satisfied with what I'd make.  If I didn't make something, he'd say, "why don't you make___.".  If I made something he requested, he'd say, "You should ask __ for the recipe.  Hers is waaaaay better than yours."  I finally realized that my recipes weren't wrong.  He was.  Oops, I think I got carried away.

Anyway, after Mr. Dependable  moved out, I was free to cook what I wanted, as I wanted, and everything else that goes along with that privilege.  So I started to make Chicken Broccoli Casserole once again. . .on MY terms.  I use the amount of mayonnaise called for in the recipe, white meat chicken (Mr. Dependable would insist we buy ONLY dark), and 2 cans of cream of chicken soup.  In the process of making this fantastic dish more often, D1 has grown to love it.  She requests it whenever she is asked for a "chicken" suggestion.  She has even requested it as a meal to serve to her friends who spend the night.

Normally, I buy a tray of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, poach them, then shred the meat.  But this past time I had some leftover Costco roast chicken.  I shredded it up and used it.  It was delicious.

Out of fairness to those of you who choose to "do your own thing" rather than follow instructions, I feel it necessary to share a bad experience I've had with this dish.  While I was still living with my parents, my aunt, who was living with us at the time, volunteered to make this for me.  The 2 pictures below show what this looks like before and after baking.  Even in my younger years, I knew very well what this was supposed to look like before digging in.  Unfortunately, my aunt didn't pay much attention to the recipe.  Instead of sprinkling the cheese and then sprinkling bread crumbs over, she did the opposite.  The finished product looked like orange lakes spreading over golden brown sand.  It looked awful and not even remotely like the pictures below. 
before baking
after baking

It was also very difficult to eat, given the fact that one had to cut through the quick-hardening goo to get to the broccoli and chicken.  Please do not cook like my aunt!

So with Thanksgiving coming up, many people will have loads of leftover turkey.  Although my recipe is for chicken, I'm sure turkey could be substituted without any problem.  And because of the mayonnaise content, using fat-free soup is not a problem.

This year for Thanksgiving, I decided against roasting a whole turkey.  I'm roasting 2 boneless turkey breasts.  I'll let you know how it turns out.

click on recipe title for printable recipe

     1 pkg. frozen broccoli, thawed completely and drained
     shredded, cooked chicken
     2 cans cream of chicken soup
     1 c mayonnaise
     1/4 tsp curry powder
     1 tsp lemon juice
     1 c shredded cheddar cheese
     1 c bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a 9 x 13" pan, layer broccoli.  Sprinkle chicken evenly over broccoli.  Combine soup, mayonnaise, curry powder, and lemon juice.  Spread evenly over chicken layer.  Sprinkle cheese.  Sprinkle bread crumbs evenly over all.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lion Cut

Now that things have calmed down since D1 returned from Japan, I finally had time to take care of domestic things. Imagine my surprise when I picked up Desi and noticed that she was full of "lumps". Those lumps turned out to be mats, lots and lots of mats.

I managed to get her an appointment with the "in-house" groomer at the vet (the person who does the shaving before animals go into surgery).

By posting the picture on facebook, I got a whole lot of comments from "friends" that ranged from how adorable she looks to folks who were just appalled.  It was actually quite alarming as to how many people lack feline knowlege.  In case you are reading this, and you happen to be one of those who posted some vile comment, no worries . . . nothing personal . . . but I think its important that people are aware that long-haired cats require some assistance in grooming.

My cousin Lori lived on the mainland for years, rubbing elbows with yuppie-types in the metropolitan areas of Chicago and the Big Apple.  It  was certainly no surprise to her that Desi got a lion cut.  She said a few of her friends keep their cats in a lion cut year-round to keep them comfortable. . . mats pull cat fur in all directions, making small, simple movements very painful.  Aha!  Someone who understands.

Anyway, I'm hoping we do a better job of grooming Desi so she will not need a lion cut for a while (or ever).  But like my friend Andrea so kindly mentioned, she DOES look really cute.  I think so too.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Back To Work

I feel like I've been gone for a while so thought I'd post something and tell you why I've been semi-neglecting this blog.  As you know, this is the first REAL summer vacation I've had in nearly a decade, and in spite of nearly 20 years in the DOE, this might be just my 3rd summer where I've really had a vacation.  Vacation has been nice, but part of my time was spent wondering what to do.  Of course, the kids helped answer that question with all my chauffeuring duties.

About a month ago, I got a call from my new boss lady, "asking" me if I was interested in going to Honolulu to attend a Model Schools Conference.  Some of you may remember this conference, as a few years ago, the Hawaii school superintendent got in major kim chee for allowing LOTS of Hawaii teachers to attend this conference in Orlando, Florida.  This year's Model Schools Conference was held in Honolulu@Hilton Hawaiian Village (conference room rate of $149), so I saw it as an opportunity for several things:  ho'olauna w/boss lady, hooking up with some great friends, eating ono food, and, my ultimate favorite, SHOPPING.

The timing of Model Schools Conference coincided with the end of D2's Summer Academy.  I was a little disappointed because I had been on her all summer to complete her work, and I didn't want to let up in the last week.  D2's teacher and I had built a very trusting relationship over the summer, and I wanted to send her the message that I was there to support D2.  But with work calling, I put my trust into my parents' hands.  Not gonna say much about how that went.  If you know my parents, you can pretty much guess what happened there.

Anyway, in the flurry of emails which went back and forth between me and D2's teacher was the request (from the teacher) for me to share my Browned Butter Biscotti recipe with her.  D2 had taken a few pieces to school for her, and she thought her parents would enjoy having some with their coffee.  I assured her that while the recipe seemed complicated, the end product would be well-worth it.

The basic process for making biscotti is to place your dough in a straight line of even thickness.  This is easiest done with a template.  Trace a long rectangle on parchment paper, then turn the paper over and follow your marked rectangle when placing the dough.

Also try to get the dough to an even height.  This ensure a nice, even log after the first bake.

Using a serrated knife, slice the baked logs on the diagonal just as soon as the logs are cool enough for you to handle.  If you let them cool too much, slicing will be more difficult.    Place each piece on its side for the 2nd bake. 

Remove them from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack. 
WARNING:  These will disappear in no time.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Happy Fourth of July!!!  I'm spending my day basking in co-dependence, rather than celebrating independence.  I'm co-dependent on all my animals to keep me happy.  Just finished cleaning house for Joy & Davi. I just love the smell of Soft-sorbent Lavender bedding!  Also finished cleaning the litter robots.  I'm getting tired of the Scoop Away smell, so if anyone has cat litter suggestions, please pass them on . . . looking for something with a light, fresh scent thats not too perfume-y.  Also, it HAS to be the clumping type in order to use in the litterbot.

For everyone who thought I was nuts, this is just gonna prove it.  I added to my family yet again.  Hmmmm, now what could it be this time?  We already have dogs, cats, fish & mice.  Could it be a Jackson's Chameleon?  If you know me, you'll know geckos scare the shit outta me (and Dee), so there is NO WAY a stinking reptile will be added to my 'dependents' list.  No, Akira is not reptilian.  Akira is AVIAN.  He is a 5-month old Jenday Conure and he hails from Pearl City.

Akira has been keeping me busy.  He is very comfortable being handled, so he requires continued socialization to keep him happy.
Even though I could never get into any of the Harry Potter or Twilight books, I've been able to get into reading all I can about conures and what keeps them happy/alive.  One big no-no is allowing non-stick cookware to overheat.  The fumes can be deadly to birds.  Luckily, most of my cookware is stainless steel Calphalon (remember, Co?) so just need to be sure the food fumes aren't too strong.

With Akira around, I've been trying to have a variety of fruits and vegetables on hand.  Akira enjoys some kind of fresh fruit or vegetable daily.  He loves apple slices and cannot get enough of merliton.  The munched piece at the top of the skewer is a merliton slice after Akira had his fill. 

I wanted to give him some watercress, but since he is rather tiny, there was no way he could eat the whole bunch, so I had to think of something to make with all the watercress I had.  After buying a bag of pre-soaked beef teriyaki from George's Meat Market, I decided to make Korean Rice.  Turned out great, even though I forgot that I needed kim chee.  I just ate the rice along with some taegu (Man Nani brand is my favorite).

I know most of you don't have birds, but you can still make Korean Rice.  I don't have any pictures of the finished dish, but it would be great to mound the rice in a shallow bowl and take to a party.  I'm thinking that when I reheat the leftovers (yes, I had TONS of leftovers, as I cannot eat 4 cups of rice by myself), I might make an over-medium egg for a homestyle bi bim bap.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Merliton for SueBee

Since one of my previous posts was dedicated to cuzn Co, this merliton tribute goes to sis SueBee.  Thanks to her, I've been bombarded with fond memories of last year's merliton craze, along with moments of LOL (when I think about the effects of SueBee not following mom's advice of peeling the merliton's under water).  At this very moment, I have a nice merliton sitting on my kitchen counter, just screaming to be prepared.  A few years ago, I would've just turned my nose up at these things, but now, these green nuggets are sought-after treasures.  I actually REQUESTED one of these from mom, and she came through.

The picture below is something you might have seen before.  These are merlitons which have taken the "low road".  They are being sacrificed into procreation.  Rather than providing a yummy bite, these are on their way to becoming plants.  I've been told they are very hardy and can be grown anywhere.  Anywhere but my backyard, that is.  I've planted three of them, and not a single plant survived long enough to pro-create.

If you grew up in Hilo, you might know a merliton by two other names, pipinola or chayote.  If you are from the Land Down Under, you might be familiar with "choko".  For you linear people, merliton=pipinola=chayote=choko.  In Hawaii, we see two varieties, one with wrinkled skin and another with smooth skin (less common).  The mature fruit in the picture above are the smooth-skinned variety.

My soul sister SueBee developed a strange affinity for merlitons after sampling some of mom's pickles.  Made in the style of pickled mango, merliton pickles stay crunchy longer. I was just telling SueBee that I haven't had merliton, in any form, in ages, but I just realized that I lied.  Just last month, at the garage sale, the same garage sale where I sold the li hing lollipops, I sold bags of mom's pickles.  While the pickles didn't sell out at the garage sale, the club advisor ended up buying all that mom made in the two weeks following the garage sale.  He admitted that he had developed some kind of pickle addiction, adding that the pickles reminded him of the pickled mango his family used to make.

The lone merliton from mom was not pickled, nor did it become a plant.  It became a delicious side dish for dinner.  This quasi-recipe came from my friend Jill.  Its quick, easy, and requires very little effort.  Peel merliton under running water (SueBee can provide pictures of what happens when this is not done).  Slice 1 cm thick, digging out seed fragments as necessary.  Rinse and pat dry.  Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides.  Dust with flour.  Pan fry in shallow oil until brown.  Some of you may recognize this method as the way many local people cook eggplant.

I love this with "local dressing" (mayonnaise/shoyu).  When cooked, the merliton flesh still holds its shape, so don't cook it to the point where it is saggy and falling apart.  The kids refuse to have any of it, and that's just fine with me since 1 merliton doesn't yield a whole lot anyway.  After I peel the merliton (under running water - did I mention this already?), I slice of the ends and give them to Akira.  He cannot get enough!

And SueBee, in case you're wondering, I'm planning  additional merliton blogs when I get my hands (not peeling because I listened to mom) on the pickle recipe.  Of course, all merliton posts will be dedicated to you.  Luv ya!~

Monday, June 14, 2010


My pal Kendra has been by my side a lot these past few days.  I paid for one cat, but it feels like I have seven cats.  Wherever I go, Kendra is right there.  If I go outside to check on Rain and Sammy, Kendra is in some window sill along the way.  She just celebrated her 2nd birthday last month.  How time flies!  But sometimes, its seems like it doesn't go by fast enough.  For example, the past four days have been dragging on and on. 

Since I was under house arrest (self-imposed for good reasons) for about a week, I decided to console myself by having my kind of comfort foods:  strawberry shortcake, grilled cheese sandwich, stir fried bell peppers, MCD cheeseburgers & fries (no mustard on the cheeseburger!), baklava, etc.  I also chased most foods with some coconut M & Ms, and washed everything down with diet Coke.  Sounds like the makings of a good belly ache!  Well, I didn't eat all of that at the same time.  I was holed up for a while.

Okay, I'll admit it.  I have a major sweet tooth.  I love sweets:  candy, cookies, cakes, desserts, seeds, you name it.  I have been known to eat only part of my dinner, just to get to order dessert.  Sorry, mom, but its true.  Yes, I know, you feel its a reflection upon you and dad not teaching me right, but I think at my age, people just blame me.  I already went on and on about what strawberry shortcake is and is not, so I'm going to devote this blog to my other sweet fix:  baklava.

Back in the old days when the  Sampan buses roamed the local roads, the only place you could get baklava was at Robert's Bakery on the fringe of downtown Hilo.  I remember three kinds they served:  chocolate, queen & diamond.  The chocolate baklava was a short roll of fillo.  I can't say much more because I never had it, but I'll venture there must've been chocolate somewhere in the roll.  The queen baklava was an open square of fillo.  The center was cut in a cross shape, revealing a mound of golden brown pecan filling underneath.  Again, I can't say much more because I never had it.  The diamond baklava was my normal selection on rare occasions my parents went to Robert's Bakery.  It didn't appear "fussy" like the other varieties, and the nut layer was neatly protected by the fillo layers.  It also seemed like the best choice to recreate at home.

When I started baking in high school, the idea of working with fillo was rather daunting.  I pored through mom's cookbook collection, searching for a simple baklava recipe which did not require individual sheet buttering.  I managed to find a fairly simple recipe, where the fillo is divided in half, with the sugared-nut layer smack in the middle.  While it was good enough, it certainly wasn't great.  In retrospect, it looked rather primitive, rather than dainty and delicate.

A few years ago, a coworker shared a tray of baklava.  The pieces were cut in delicate diamond shapes.  The taste was almost magical.  I say "almost" because I'm certain she used walnuts, rather than pecans.  I asked her for the recipe, with the intention of trying the recipe with pecans.  She politely declined to share the recipe, but did offer a tip for cutting the pieces:  use a sharp paring knife.

In my own way of dealing with rejection, I went home and consoled myself, looking through cookbooks for a kick-ass baklava recipe that wouldn't take too much effort (or too much sugar/nuts) to make.  I came across a recipe which called for buttering every 3rd sheet.  That was something I could do!  Over the years, I've made this recipe several times, sometimes with pecans and sometimes with mac nuts, but never with walnuts.  Although it calls for roughly half the sugar of other recipes, my sweet tooth is well-appeased.  And although my coworker refused to share her recipe, her tip of using a sharp paring knife to cut the fillo has been invaluable!

Now that I'm just about free to leave the safety of my house/car, I'm thinking that being confined wasn't all that bad.  I had Kendra's company 24/7, got to eat whatever I wanted, and  had a damn good excuse not to hit the treadmill (couldn't break a sweat).  On the other hand, it will certainly be nice not to be limited to places with drive-thru windows.  I think Kendra might be a little tired of smelling the golden arches food anyway.

House Arrest, Day 4: Strawberry Shortcake Time

I'm looking forward to getting back into the mainstream.  As the title indicates, I've been under self-imposed house arrest for 4 days now.  Cabin fever is running high, and I'm running out of things to cook, given the food I have here.  I can only eat so much, no matter how wonderful things taste.

The last real "store" I visited was Costco (Kailua-Kona).  Strawberries were in the cold room, and they were absolutely irresistible.  What a change from the off-season berries!

When I got home, I was faced with the dilemma of what to do with the berries.  Not one to eat unadulterated fresh fruit, I needed to come up with ideas.  Strawberry pound cake, strawberry cream cheese dessert, fresh strawberry pie . . . these were all valid ideas, however only strawberry pound cake was a realistic option since its made with ingredients one normally has at home.  But it wasn't THE thing I wanted.  Then it all came together . . . its summer . . . summer in Seattle is street fair season . . . there is always a strawberry shortcake booth at every street fair . . . that was it!  Strawberry shortcake would be the fate of the strawberries.

I have a certain expectation of what is REAL strawberry shortcake.  It is not a white-frosted white cake that is covered in a watery strawberry sauce made with sad, saggy frozen strawberries.  That's a Hilo description.  Don't get me wrong about this version.  There is nothing wrong with the way it tastes/looks.  In fact, I've knowingly ordered it in restaurants.  I just wish it was called something else so people who share my strawberry shortcake ideals won't be expecting something else.  I've been told that my idea of strawberry shortcake is very snooty and 'east coast' in foundation.  However,  having lived in Seattle for several years, I know that peeps on the west coast share my mana'o of what  is strawberry shortcake.  

A real strawberry shortcake begins with a sweet biscuit-like disc, the shortcake, baked just until barely colored. 

The shortcake is then split hemispherically, either with a knife or a fork, in the same manner as rolled, baking-powder biscuits or English muffins are split.

Slices of fresh strawberries which have been macerating in a sugar syrup for several hours are placed on the bottom half of the shortcake, along with a mound of whipped cream, and then partially covered by the top half of the shortcake.  Perfection!

Strawberry shortcake is not a dessert that can be fully assembled well ahead of serving time, but it does make an easily-portable dessert.  The shortcakes can be made the day before, and the strawberry filling can be made earlier in the day.  Assembly should take place just prior to eating.

I'm not quite sure where I got the recipe for the strawberries, but I've been making it for years.  In addition to being used as a filling for strawberry shortcake, it can also be served atop a white-frosted white cake, a slab of chiffon cake, or even eaten as is, perhaps with a nice flute of asti.

The foundation recipe for shortcake biscuits was given to me by Renee (arigato, Renee).  Its her sister's recipe.  What I like about it is it can be made with common baking ingredients.  Most other shortcake recipes call for buttermilk, which most people don't have all the time.  I also like the fact that its made with flour, rather than Bisquick.  I've made some minor changes such as baking at a lower temperature (original recipe suggested 450 degrees; most other shortcake recipes suggest 425 degrees), using butter for the shortening, and the providing a no-waste dough option (squares instead of rounds).

Fortunately, my period of house arrest should be over soon so I can go out and buy fresh food again.  In the back of my mind, I'm thinking that I'm not quite over my strawberry phase yet.  Anyone going to Costco soon?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Olive Garden, Where Are You???

In my previous job assignment, I was fortunate enough to travel to the mainland occasionally.  Whenever I would travel with coworkers, we always made it a point to have at least ONE meal at The Olive Garden.  I know, I know, for you quasi-anal Italian food aficionados, The Olive Garden, is hardly even close to what you'd consider a proper Italian meal.  And yes, I do know what real Italian food is like because for a number of years when I lived in Seattle, I had a real Italian obachan who used to make everything Italian, all from scratch.  I'm sure she would cringe if she knew I was a big fan of the Olive Garden.

My love affair with Olive Garden's Chicken Marsala began in Orlando, FL, about five years ago.  Shamefully, I didn't order it.  A colleague ordered it and was nice enough to share a morsel with me.  Ooh, how I wish I had ordered Chicken Marsala instead of the lasagna special.  Having been wowed by the experience, I returned home, vowing that one day, I would make it in my own kitchen.

Thanks to the Internet, copycat recipes for The Olive Garden's Chicken Marsala can be found without too much trouble.  I looked over several, added my own twist, and have been making my version of it for a while.  The other night, chicken was on the rotation, and I needed to come up with something fast for dinner.  Chicken Marsala to the rescue!

While its not exactly like what you get at The Olive Garden, it is quite similar.  What I like about making it at home is that I can add my preferred mushrooms.  We are fortunate on the Big Island to have Hamakua Mushrooms, and my favorite variety is the Ali'i Oyster (eryngii). 

The Olive Garden normally serves Tuscan Potatoes alongside the chicken.  I've made Tuscan Potatoes at home, but I will save that for another blog.  Chicken Marsala is also nice when served alongside a mound of garlic mashed potatoes.

I'm dedicating today's blog to Colleen.  Thanks to her generosity, I had the good fortune of sampling a tidbit of  what has become my favorite Olive Garden meal.  Of course, Colleen was the first person I initially shared this recipe with when I first tried it out.  Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Broken Glass, Lollipops, and MORE Lollipops!!!

Its taken me a while to get to posting something because I've been soooo smashed.  I've entertained family from Seattle, supported my daughter in her dance recital, and survived a garage sale.  Throughout these events, I've still managed to cook.

While Uncle George was in town, I had family over one evening for dinner.  Although I cheated and catered most of the food from Kanoa at Aloha Mondays (mahalo nui, Kanoa), I did manage to make a killer dessert, Broken Glass Dessert.

I used red, green and yellow jello for the "glass" and poundcake from Costco for the crust.  I realized I didn't have pineapple juice so I improvised with orange juice.  I find this recipe less complicated than other recipes since it uses Cool Whip. 

Before I had time to breathe, I had to get ready for D1's dance recital.  Without the luxury of favors from Southeast Asia (hair clips, hair pins, scrunchies, coin purses, etc.), I had to think of something.  D1 suggested lollipops.  I made 4 batches of lollipops for her to give away.  The tutti-frutti flavored li hing lollipops were shaped like kittycat heads (the other choice was hearts). 
The white thing in the middle is a li hing mui.  I fretted over how to attach labels to them (give credit where credit is due), and then I remembered something D2 had made at a Children's Day festival. It was a simple strip of scrapbooking paper with 2 holes@each end, which allowed a piece of ribbon to be threaded through.  I printed "Sweet Dancing!" and the important information (name of the giver) on the opposite end.
The finished product!

By the time the garage sale rolled around the following weekend, I had the lollipop process down.  This time, I made melon margarita li hing lollipops using the heart molds.

Now that I'm officially on vacation, I think I'll tackle some projects I've been meaning to try:  xiao long bao, scallion cakes, scallion buns, etc.  I've been getting lots of ideas from the Cooking-Of-Joy blog and the Appetite for China blog.  Joy and Diana have lots of ono food and gorgeous pics on their blogs.

And I before I sign off to go find my recipes, I had to post a pic of our newest family members, Sammy and Rain, English Mastiff puppies.  This picture was taken when they were 11 weeks old.  They are now 14 weeks old and full of fun.  I'm sure you'll be seeing more of them in the future.