kruizing with kikukat

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Flexible Fruity Nutty Bars

I'm feeling a little melancholy today.  D1 left for Japan this morning with the Key Club, and D2 is still under the weather with a lingering virus (low fever, listless, grouchy).  I'm still stuck at an assessment workshop.  With 45 minutes for lunch, we pretty much have no choice but to eat lunch at Sky Garden.  I like the Chinese food at Sky Garden, but lunch gets a little tiresome day after day.  Sky Garden offers a buffet lunch also, but the price is steep, and 45 minutes would not allow me nearly enough time to consume my share.  With the vacation looming, I'm going to make a pan of these bars to help lift my spirits.

This is one of those recipes which began as an innocent date bar recipe but has morphed into many other things.  Lets start at the beginning.  When I was pregnant with D2, my ob-gyn visits entailed a detour to Jilly's, a snack shop on the ground floor of the medical building.  Without fail, I'd buy a 2-pack of date bars.  The bars had a buttery shortbread crust and a heavy, cakey, nutty, sweet topping.  I know I didn't taste dates, but it didn't matter because it was good, satisfied my sweet tooth, and sent me down the path towards gestational diabetes.  Imua!

Mom would often buy fresh dates from Costco and tell me to make date bars.  I was happy to oblige, but eventually the dates disappeared.  Left only with a partial tin of glaceed apricots from Williams-Sonoma, I decided to take a risk and experiment with them by replacing the dates with glaceed apricots.  The result was fabulous.  This led me to try other fruits:  dried mango, dried apricots (not the expensive glaceed type), dried peaches.  All were good.  Then I tried substituting macadamia nuts for pecans (I don't eat walnuts).  All good again.

But now I had an even bigger problem on my hands.  The 7"x11" pan I was using provided hardly enough bars to take anywhere.  It barely fed me!  I knew I had to somehow develop a recipe that could be made in a 9"x13" pan, which would definitely be enough for me to eat my fill AND take some to an event.  The crust was easy, but I had to do some tinkering with the brown sugar amount before I got the filling right.  The first few results were sickingly sweet, but I think its perfect now.

Some great fruit-nut combinations are:  apricot-pecan, mango-macadamia, dates-pecan, peach/pineapple-pecan.  The pics on this blog happen to be peach/pineapple-pecan.  Those are tried and true, but feel free to experiment with your own combos.  As a caution to anyone who makes this . . . be prepared to give out the recipe.  Everytime I've taken this somewhere (work potluck) or served it at home (Colleen & Flo), someone ALWAYS asks for the recipe.

click on recipe title for printable recipe
Flexible Fruity Nutty Bars
Crust:  1 c butter
           1/2 c sugar
           2 c flour

Mix butter, sugar and flour until crumbly.  Press evenly into a 9 x 13" pan.  Bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes.  While crust is baking, make filling.

Filling:  2/3 c flour
            1 tsp baking powder
            1/2 tsp salt
            4 eggs
            1 1/2 c brown sugar
            1 c chopped dried fruit
            2 tsp vanilla
            1 c chopped nuts

Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.  Beat eggs and add brown sugar and dried fruit.  Add flour mixture, vanilla, and nuts.  Spread evenly over hot crust.  Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Let cool for 10 minutes before cutting into squares or bars.  When completely cool, dust generously with powdered sugar and remove cut pieces from pan.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Imitation Namako

 Years ago, Mr. Dependable would drive his Pathfinder to Kapoho, and he and his friends would pick namako.  Namako is an edible variety of sea cucumber. He would come home with a bucket of these short, fat, worm-like creatures.  I would make sure Dad would get some because Dad is the absolute best at preparing them.  Dad's namako is sliced thin and pickled in a vinegar-lemon juice-sugar solution, which preserves the namako and prevents it from melting away.  When its time to serve, a small scoop of grated daikon radish is placed in a small dish, along with a generous squirt of shoyu.  Then the namako pieces, along with some of the acidic sauce, is added to the dish.  Yummmm.

But namako is difficult to obtain.  The Mr. Dependable hasn't gone for years (or if he goes, he is not giving me any).  I haven't tried preparing any of the dried namako from the Chinese store, although I did eat some that Uncle Hanok brought from Korea on his last trip here.  But Uncle Hanok cooked the reconstituted dried namako.  I like it raw.

The best approximation of raw namako is thin slices of konnyaku, a gelatinous-like substance often used in Japanese cooking.  By slicing the konnyaku thinly, and preparing the same condiments as in namako, its easy to pretend you are slurping on namako.  The one important thing to remember is that konnyaku, unlike namako, needs to be chewed well, as it will not readily dissolve or melt.  By slicing it thin, the choking hazard is greatly reduced.

click on recipe title for printable recipe
     2-3 blocks konnyaku
     1 c grated daikon
     2 tbsp lemon juice
     1/4 c sugar
     3/4 tsp salt
     1 tsp hondashi
     1 tsp shoyu

Rinse and cut konnyaku in half.  Cut each piece in half (butterfly) to make it thinner.  Cut in thin slices.  Salt konnyaku and massage.  Rinse and drain.  Combine with rest of ingredients.  Chill overnight.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Big Game

There are times when I find myself screaming at the Ds.  I yell at them to clean up their things, tidy up their rooms, and to finish homework before playing (well, mostly just D2 hears this).  But I need to remember to take the time to praise them when they do something right and tell them I'm proud of them.  This is going to be one of those moments.  If you're feeling a little squeamish, perhaps you join us next time (there will be a recipe).  If not, please indulge me.

This school year has been just non-stop.  I've been busy at work during the day, and I've also been busy doing chauffeur duty at night.  I thought I'd be scaling back on evening chauffeuring when D1 switched from dance to cheerleading, but I couldn't have been more wrong.  I'm a proud cheerleading parent.  D1 tried out and made the Hilo High Cheerleading Squad.  She is one of 10 cheerleaders for the school year.  Cheerleading practice is normally 1 1/2-2 hours at least 4 times a week.  This means I'm driving to Hilo High before 6 pm, going home, then repeating the whole trip in 2 hours.  Whew!

Weekends are showtime:  football games during the fall and basketball games during the spring.  September 10 was the first football game of the regular season.  Because there is only 1 cheerleading squad, the girls are expected to cheer at both the junior varsity and varsity games, making for a loooong evening (7 hours).  And as a supportive parent, I was there for at least 5 of those hours, and The Rents were in attendance too.  They arrived in time to watch the jv squeak by Kealakehe with a 13-12 (might have been 14-13) victory and left at the end of the 1st quarter. . . before the massacre was apparent (varsity lost 0-50+).  D2, Mr. Dependable & Aunty Crystal also came.  In any case, D1 did us all proud, and we will support her (and embarrass her) with our presence as often as we possibly can.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Cool Minty Brownies

Before we dive into this post and explore all the dietary benefits of Cool Minty Brownies, I'd like to wish a big Happy Birthday to Mom.  Your present is on its way, and I'm also very sorry you didn't get to eat any of these brownies.  I'll make for you next time, even though you're diabetic and not supposed to be indulging in sugar.

Happy Birthday, Mom.  You still rock!

Going to restaurants and seeing a handful of Andes Creme de Menthe candies on the little tray with the receipt for dinner made me happy (keep in mind I wasn't the one paying for the meal. . .I still try not to pay. . .teehee).  I also remember asking Mom to buy a box of the candies when we'd be in the supermarket.  In fact, it was Mom who taught me to look for the much-coveted chocolate-mint-chocolate variety rather than the mint-chocolate-mint variety.  You had to look really good at the picture on the box to determine which variety you were buying.

Since Target opened in Hilo in mid-July, we've been blessed with all sorts of novel products.  I've seen flattened (purposefully) marshmallows for s'mores, jumbo marshmallows, and all sorts of baking novelties.  You can probably tell which aisle at Target I've been frequenting.  One of the baking novelties was Andes Creme de Menthe baking chips.

found at Target (Hilo)
The back of the package  had a few recipes, but I opted to go with a recipe I found in a local high school cookbook, Cool Minty Brownies.  These decadent brownies have the cool taste of mint and the fudgy, gooey consistency found in all perfect brownies.   While the frosting is creamy and smooth, I prefer these frosted brownies chilled for a few hours in the refrigerator to harden the frosting.  Biting into a brownie reminds me of the York Peppermint Patty commercials where the person who takes a bite of the patty is swept away into a chilly wonderland.  The same thing can happen to you if you make/eat these brownies!

click on recipe title for printable recipe
Cool Minty Brownies

     1 1/4 c flour
     1/2 tsp baking powder
     3/4 c cocoa powder
     1 c butter, softened
     2 c sugar
     4 eggs
     1 tsp vanilla extract
     1 pkg (10 oz) Andes Creme de Menthe baking chips (or use chopped up Creme de Menthe candies)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9 x 13" pan.  In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and cocoa.  In a large bowl, combine butter and sugar in a large bowl.  Beat until very creamy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add vanilla with last egg.  Gradually stir cocoa mixture into butter mixture.  Fold in Creme de Menthe chips.  Spoon into greased pan and use the back of a spoon to spread evenly.  Bake for 35 minutes.  When brownies are cool, make frosting.

     1/2 c butter, melted
     1/3 c cocoa powder
     2 c powdered sugar
     1 tsp vanilla extract
     2 tbsp milk
Sift together cocoa powder and powdered sugar.  Add melted butter, vanilla extract and milk.  Beat with an electric mixer at high speed until of spreading consistency.  Spread evenly over cooled brownies.
Note:  using Dutch-processed cocoa in this recipe will result in a dark, sultry brownie.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Roasted Asparagus

I was definitely old (over 35) when I began eating asparagus.  The Rents would eat it, usually sauteed in butter, but I was successful at avoiding it for a long time.  The first time I remember eating asparagus was actually a "biology" experiment.  I read in a magazine that eating it has a strange effect on a certain body fluid.  I had no idea what the article meant, as I had never eaten asparagus.

Since then, I've come to like asparagus.  Mom says there is an excellent asparagus recipe in one of the Sam Choy cookbooks.  Because she said that in the days before I was an asparagus eater, I have no idea which recipe she means, but I'm guessing there was some kind of black sesame seeds in it.  Oh well, when I'm feeling less lazy I'll look for the recipe and try it myself.

But for now, this is my current favorite way to eat asparagus.  This recipe uses FRESH asparagus, not that stuff in the can, which I'm not sure is even asparagus at all.

click on recipe title for printable recipe
Roasted Asparagus

     1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
     olive oil
     2 tbsp butter
     1 tbsp shoyu
     1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Arrange asparagus in a single layer on a low-rimmed baking sheet.  Coat with olive oil.  Be sure to get the tips too.  Season with salt and pepper.  Roast 12 minutes.  Melt butter in microwave.  Stir in shoyu and balsamic vinegar.  Pour over asparagus before serving.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Water Bottle Holders

Now that we're back to work the weather decides to be hot and sunny.  That just sucks!  Why couldn't it have been hot and sunny when I was on vacation?

Holders are sized differently to accommodate different bottle sizes.
Last school year, I brought two bottles of water to work daily to combat the heat.  By pau hana time, both bottles and a can of diet coke would be emptied.  Since I love cold drinks, I used a water bottle holder D1 made for me in sewing class last summer.  This worked well, and my desk was spared any wet ring from the condensation.  But with daily use, the holder developed mildew stains, which no amount of washing could remove.  So it was time to break out the sewing machine and try to copy the fine job D1 did.

It makes a great gift!
Thinking that I could improve on the idea by adding an extra layer of absorbent material (D1's sewing class version was 2-layers:  fabric and terry cloth), I chose insulated batting, thinking the insulation would help keep the contents of the bottle cool for a longer period of time.  Since there were times that my desk did get a little damp, I figured the extra layer wouldn't hurt.

I think my modifications to the holder worked out well.  Rather than bore any of you with the procedure, let me know if you are interested in the directions (leave a comment).  Beginner level sewing skills are adequate for this, and they make great gifts too!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Izakaya Food: Kama

When I go to Japanese restaurants, I make it a point to see if kama is on the menu.  Kama is the japanese word for "collar".  It is the part of the fish between the head and the body.  It is also home to very oily morsels of tender fish.  Normal kama choices are salmon and hamachi.  Either choice is a win-win situation.  Of course, kama is not for everyone.  You must at least like fish, and you must not be afraid of picking through bones.  Some people don't like doing this, so if you're one of them, best you stick to fillets, steaks, or sushi.
An almost-guarantee place to find kama is your local izakaya.  While izakaya is quickly becoming a commonly used word amongst the 20-something to 30-something drinking crowd, I learned that many of the older, local Japanese people don't know what an izakaya is.  I mentioned the word to Dad and he was clueless, although he mention that my cousin Lori Ann took him to Yama-Chan, a "bar that served really ono pupus".  I suggested that she took him to an izakaya, and he emphatically replied, "no, was one bar."  Duuuuuuuhhhhh.  I knew better than to ask Mom if Yama-Chan was an izakaya.  But she did say the chicken wings were the best thing she ate on her entire trip to Japan.  Really?  Chicken wings?  Really?

While Dad is just resigned to use the word "bar", I think most people would say Yama-Chan was likely an izakaya, a Japanese-style tavern which serves alcohol and a la carte pupus.  Unfortunately, there is no izakaya in Hilo.  I'm not sure if the Japanese restaurants here serve kama as a regular menu item.   Luckily, Ohana Seafoods (808-843-1844), a honolulu based business, makes two trips to Hilo during the year, one just before Mother's Day, and the other around Thanksgiving.  When they come, I pre-order and use the opportunity to stock up on kama (they have both salmon and hamachi).

Salmon kama is sold in 2 lb. bags.  While there are directions on the bag for preparation, my way is foolproof and works for both salmon and hamachi (you can get this through Ohana Seafoods or at Marukai).  You won't need to guess how much salt to use, and the dipping sauce is the perfect complement.

click on recipe title for printable recipe

     2 lbs. salmon or hamachi kama
     4 tsp rock salt
     5 tbsp + 1 tsp lemon juice
     2 tbsp + 2 tsp sake

Sprinkle salt on both sides of kama.  Sprinkle lemon juice and sake.  Let sit 30 minutes.  Broil in oven or grill on hibachi.  Serve with Ponzu Sauce.

     1 1/2 c dashi
     3 oz. shoyu
     6 oz. rice vinegar

Heat all ingredients together in a small saucepan until reduced by half.  Chill.  Serve with salmon or hamachi kama.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Spicy Soybeans

Happy Labor Day (for those in the U.S.A.).  I've been back at work for over a month, but I still come home totally drained.  Is it me or are more people just screwing up?  My job wouldn't exist if screw-ups didn't occur on multiple levels, but really, I don't need to be kept so busy!

Aside from my ramblings about all the dipshits I deal with daily, one would think I had a good amount of time to recover from the flurry of activity thats been happening around here:  start of school, Yurihama visitors, D2's birthday party.  Truthfully, I haven't.  I will need an entire summer vacation PLUS to recover.  One measly holiday is not gonna do it.

As you may have seen from the slide show (last post), part of the festivities for the Yurihama guests was a Farewell Dinner.  Most of the food was catered by Yvonne Torres, however, the parents of the Hilo students were invited to share a pupu, salad or a dessert.  It sounded like Alson had the desserts covered, so I decided to bring a pupu.  Looking ahead as to what I could make ahead of time, I decided on Spicy Soybeans.

Alan Wong's Pineapple Room restaurant in the Ala Moana Macy's serves some kind of seasoned edamame as an appetizer.  I remember going there and not being able to get enough of it.  While this recipe is not intended to be an Alan Wong's copycat, it does a good job of fulfilling all that I could ask for in a pupu.  I know D1 feels the same way.  I saw her loading her plate several times with a mound of these beans.  I guess she really IS my daughter.  A few weeks later, others confessed to loading their plates with these beans too (see update after recipe).

I'm not sure where I got the original recipe from, but I have tweaked it a little to adapt it to my taste and preference.  Feel free to add more chili pepper, especially if you like a really good kick.

click on recipe title for printable recipe
Spicy Soybeans
     1 lb frozen soybeans in shell
     6 c water
     4 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
     1 chili pepper, seeded*
     2-inch piece ginger, cut into pieces
     3 cloves garlic
     3 tbsp shoyu
     1 tbsp oyster sauce
     1/2 tsp sesame oil
Boil water.  Add frozen soybeans and cook for 30 seconds.  Drain and set aside.  In a small food processer, combine chili pepper, ginger, and garlic.  Pulse until chopped very fine.  Heat 2 tbsp oil in a wok until hot.  Add beans and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Shove beans to one side of wok and add remaining 2 tbsp oil.  Add chili pepper mixture. Add shoyu, oyster sauce, and sesame oil.  Cook until liquid is evaporated, tossing frequently to distribute seasoning evenly among beans.

Update:  I have been validated over the taste of this recipe.  Both Alson and Esther, the club advisor and the principal of Hilo Intermediate School, respectively, have requested the recipe.  Esther said she loved the ginger flavor.  Alson stated that he is not fond of ginger, yet he found himself eating mounds of this.  

*08/2017 Update:  I ran out of chili peppers (I normally keep a stash in my freezer)!  I used Korean chili pepper powder, and it turned out fine.  Substitute 1/4 tsp of the powder for 1 chili pepper.  Korean chili pepper powder is available in Asian markets, and the only ingredients are chili pepper and salt.  If you like heat, then use 1/2 tsp of the powder.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Aloha Friendship Yurihama Visit to Hilo - 2011

From August 4 to 8, we were blessed with visitors from Yurihama. The girls who stayed with us, Mayu Hashimoto and Yuki Onda, are both ninth graders at Togo Junior High School in Yurihama, Tottori Prefecture, Japan. The visit was part of the Sister City exchange and made possible by the East Hawaii Kiwanis Club. This is the same program by which D1 was able to visit Yurihama in October 2010.

The visit began with a Welcome Dinner at the Hawaii Community College Cafeteria. Wanting to give our guests a taste of something we do, we made a stop at Yogurtland on the way home. The next day, the girls went to school with D1. That evening, Gramma & Grampa joined us for a poolside dinner before we ran off to Wal-Mart for trinkets. Saturday's schedule included a trip to the Volcano and to the macadamia nut factory. We had a nice dinner at Sushi Bar Hime, where the chef made a Pink Lady roll just for the girls. The evening ended at a bon dance at the Nichiren Church in Panaewa. Our last full day with the girls started with a quick detour to Rainbow Falls before we proceeded to the Hilton Waikoloa Village. Having never travelled outside of Japan, the girls were awestruck at the magnitude and opulence of the resort. They also pigged out at the breakfast buffet in the Water's Edge ballroom. The Farewell Dinner that evening was an amazing spread of traditional Hawaiian food (kalua pork, lomilomi salmon, chicken long rice, squid luau). BTW, my contribution to the Farewell Dinner was a pan of spicy soybeans. I will be posting that recipe next week!

On Monday morning, it was time to say goodbye. I hope the girls enjoyed their trip. I also hope that this will not be the last time they get to see each other.

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