kruizing with kikukat

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.