Of cornbread and cookbooks, persimmons and pretty places

Would you believe my computer crashed some weeks ago and I lost my admin password? How about the dog ate my homework? No, really, I did lose my computer. Four words for you from my excruciating experience of losing two years’ worth of work and pictures: Exterior hard drive, baby. And in the words of the old song: You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

You know how they talk about multi-tasking? I need to be able to live two 24 hours in one 24-hour period! Maybe for about a week.

Food adventures lately have including continuing work on O Cucina Portugueza, my Hawaii Portuguese cookbook, due to editor in two weeks. Been testing recipes at every turn. Last night, it was a marinated steak, herbed rice cakes, and pudim flan (an amazingly easy baked custard). That’s my broa, Portuguese yeasted cornmeal bread, above. Gulp!

Had dinner at Alan Wong’s Amasia in Wailea on Maui the other night — small plates only, lots of old Alan favorites plus much that’s newer, an absolutely gorgeous maze of dimly lit rooms in an Asian mode (former Kacho at the Grand Wailea), much laughter with three talented chefs and some good foodie friends. Prices are very reasonable ($11-20 a plate for most things, though the whole crab will give you serious sticker shock — but the flavors will perk up your tongue as much as the price wilts your wallet). As a small, picky eater, I found it PERFECT. Just watch yourself; it’s very easy to spend more than you want. The hard part is regretting it.

Toured a group of family farms on Maui and had lunch at O’o Farm in Kula, owned by James McDonald and partners: Visitors get a farm tour, a healthful and highly refined lunch and views that fill the eyes. I highly recommend this for an mid-day excursion if you’re going to Maui. It’s as close as you can get to visiting Napa without the long plane flight. It’s online. While you’re up there, visit Hashimoto Farm — it’s persimmon season and their Maru explain why these fruit are so prized in Japan. (These aren’t the prettiest fruit, but they’re the sweetest, finest textured ones.)

Looking forward to a week on Maui this week and some promised amazing sushi with my food guide friend, Bonnie Friedman of Tour da Maui; if you’ve got non-local friends, or haven’t been to the Isles in a while, her four-hour tours are so culturally rich and down-home local, nothing like most oh-we’ve-got-such-good-taste tours. Max four per tour; two or three is most comfortable. She’s online, too.

I’ve got some recipes for you. Wait until you taste the Portuguese walnut bars, the aforementioned marinated steak and rice steaks. If you think Portuguese food is all soup and malassadas…I got ideas for you!

Come back. I promise not to be gone so long next time.

Mango stew among few summer adventures for this busy blogger

Mango in a stew? Delish! Just be sure to serve it hot.

Can a person hold down a part-time job, freelance for a half-dozen writing/editing clients, work on a cookbook, engage in volunteer projects aid their ailing mother and keep up a household AND a blog?

If that person is me, apparently not! It’s been such a busy summer with way too few food adventures to report and every time I think about blogging, it’s at the end of a long day of writing other things and I say tomorrow…which turns out to be almost three months ago!

I did have a little food fun: Helped coordinate the recipe contest at Mangoes at the Moana where I thought the most interesting recipe was one that didn’t even place. It’s called Summer Mango Pork and Potato Stew stew and if it had been possible for contestant Shayna Robertson to serve it hot, I think it really would have been a winnah! Even cold, you could taste the cinnamon and other spices she used to really come through. The sweet mango against the rich gravy was very interesting. Robertson, disappointed, talked to me after her and I encouraged her to keep working the idea.

Cinnamon, by the way is an ingredient I like to use in my own beef stew, though my daughter rolls her eyes and says “You can never do anything NORMAL!” Here’s the recipe.

And next time, I’ll tell you about my other bit of food fun amidst the chaos of freelance assignments and book deadlines: Making challah, the Jewish sabbath bread. It’s all in the braiding, baby!

Summer Mango Pork and Potato Stew

By Shayna Robertson

2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cubed

Salt and black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons beef base (she likes Better than Bouillon and so do I)

2 teaspoons tomato paste

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 cup red wine

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juices

1 teaspoon dried sage

5 potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 ripe but firm mangoes, diced

Season the pork with the salt and pepper. In a stew pot or pressure cooker, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil. Working in batches, brown pork on all sides, about 8-10 minutes per batch. Transfer each batch to plate and reserve as you work.

Add the onion to the hot oil and sweat about 4 minutes (the onion, not you!). Add the garlic, beef base, tomato paste, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, cloves and red pepper flakes. Cook about 1 minute. Add the wine, tomatoes with their juices and sage, and return the pork to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover and cook until pork is tender, about 45 minutes on a conventional range or 20 minutes in pressure cooker at high pressure.

When pork is tender, remove lid and allow stew to thicken at a boil, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook until the potatoes are fork-tenders, about 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the mangoes. Serve immediately over hot rice.

 

Friendship and fresh pizza

My snack pizza: Cheese, herbs and NO nasty tomato sauce.

I love custom-made pizzas and I love my friend Elizabeth. I especially love it when the two are in the same room.

I owe a lot to Elizabeth, including a recipe for made-from-scratch pizza that I’ve been playing with.

But first, I just have to say a word or two about her. Elizabeth gave me work when I needed it badly. She is the Mac maven and solves my computer mysteries. She shares delicious recipes, including her family’s top-secret French dressing (I am honor-bound never to put this delicious, tomato-based sauce/marinade in a cookbook or share it with anyone else!).  She lets me come hang out in her cozy apartment when I need respite from my crazy-busy life. She introduces me to great movies (the other night, she could not WAIT to turn me on to a newish British TV series based on the Sherlock Holmes novels; delicious!, you must Netflix it). We have riotous fun playing Song Burst and Trivial Pursuit (even if she is scarily smart and pretty much always beats me).

Bottom line: She loves her friends just the way they are, and when you find someone like that, hang on to them!

Elizabeth enjoys pizza, but we both find commercial pizzas too large and too expensive. And, like me, she prefers to create her own toppings. I absolutely loath stewed-to-death red sauce and tasteless cheese! The answer is to make your own; Elizabeth’s recipe is a lot simpler and less fussy than those you find in hardcore “artisanal” baking books. (If you just aren’t willing to do this, be aware that Safeway now carries plastic bags full of puffy, bubbly fresh pizza dough, ready made, for just a few bucks.)

Through trial and error, we’ve learned that the best approach is to prebake these personal-size pizzas just until golden, puffy and set. Then you can top the pizza and bake it to finish. (If you top the raw dough, you’ll have to overcook the topping to be sure the dough is fully baked.)

The other morning, I made a pizza for my morning “elevenses” and—wouldn’t you know it?—left it at home when I took off in a rush for work.

Pizza alla Bricks (Bricks is Elizabeth’s nickname; it’s a long story)

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 package active dry yeast (NOT instant)
1-2 tablespoons sugar
Scant 1 cup hot-from-the-tap water
2-3 teaspoons olive oil, and a bit more for shaping

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the plastic blade, mix together flour and salt. In a cup, mix together yeast, sugar and 1/4 cup hot water and allow to “bloom” (2 minutes). Drizzle yeast mixture and olive oil into food processor; process, gradually adding remaining water, until a ball forms, then 2-3 minutes longer. Oil a large mixing bowl, place dough in bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk (or place in oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise in refrigerator overnight).

Punch down. Divide into three even pieces and, with oiled hands, form into balls. Package the balls individually in plastic wrap or a zippered plastic bag and refrigerate or freeze them for later use (defrost in refrigerator, still wrapped). Or shape the dough (below), prebake it; cool and refrigerate the prebaked rounds.

To shape: On a lightly floured board, with oiled hands, spread and push a ball of dough into a flat circle. (Elizabeth uses a rolling pin; I like to hand-shape them in rustic style.) Preheat a pizza stone or baking sheet at 450-500 degrees for 15 minutes or so. Drizzle with cornmeal. To transfer, place round of dough on pizza peel or sheet of cardboard sprinkled with cornmeal. Drizzle or brush lightly with olive oil, if desired. Push round onto hot stone or baking sheet. Bake at 450-400 degrees 7-10 minutes.

Remove dough; cool and refrigerate or cover with topping and complete baking for a few minutes—enough to melt cheese and heat the ingredients through.

Elizabeth and I often have dinner with another friend, Annett, who introduced us to tuna-and-onion pizza (drained, canned tuna; thin-sliced onion crescents; sliced mozzarella or other cheese). I love white pizza so I made a version with bechamel and mozzarella.
White veggie/tuna pizza: Make a thin white sauce (1 tablespoon each butter and flour, 1 cup of room-temperature milk or stock). Add 1 can drained tuna and half a bunch baby spinach. Stir in sliced mushrooms, if desired. Spread on prebaked pizza. Scatter grated mozzarella or jack cheese over. Bake at 450-500 degrees about 5 minutes.

But my favorite is simple olive oil, chopped fresh basil, sliced tomatoes and mounds of soft goat cheese. Or arrange marinated artichokes on top, pour some marinade over, then dot with tomatoes and goat cheese.

 

And the cookbook most likely to sit unsold is…

Read on and you'll find out about this mango cheesecake!

At the Friends of the Library Book Sale, where I’ve been helping with food for the hard-working volunteers, I made a careful reconnaissance of the cookbook area before we opened on Friday, and then another today.

I had two objectives: To see if anybody bought the first two copies of my first cookbook ever to appear at the book sale (the book is 7 years old) and to see which cookbooks should be nominated for Cookbook We are SOOOOO Over.

My cookbooks sold the first day. (Mixed feelings; no author wants to see their book in a second-hand pile but at least it went for a good cause.)

And the authors whose books qualify for my oh-so-unscientific poll are: Jeff Smith and Rosey Daley.

Smith, once among the hottest cooking show hosts on TV (pre-Food Channel days), fell from grace in a big way. (That’s kind of inside joke; he was actually a pastor who began as a cooking hobbiest.) But he blotted his copybook big-time by … well, it’s an ugly story. Let’s not tell it. More to the point, he began turning out cookbooks like a grillman at a pancake house and that always makes me suspicious. Nobody has that many really good cookbooks in them (she said, as she went to work on her fifth book). Although I knew him a bit in Seattle (he lived in Tacoma, Wash.), and found him charming in a bombastic kind of way, I don’t remember falling in love with any of his recipes. And, apparently, neither did a lot of other people. Because you can find his whole opus for like 50 cents apiece at the sale.

Rosey Daley gained fame by helping Oprah to lose a bunch of weight as her in-house chef and received a HUGE boost in sales from the Oprah-nator. But we’ve had boxfuls of the book to sell the last couple of years; can’t hardly give ’em away. Probably too narrow an idea. Or maybe the fact that Oprah has regained a good bit of that weight plays into it.

Anyway, I won’t be losing any weight tonight. A friend who lost the bet we made two weeks ago on the Pacquiao-Barclay fight is cooking us dinner right now: New Zealand sea bass, pasta, salad … and I made a mango cheesecake that has me puffed up with pride. We’ll see how good it is. If it passes the taste test, I’ll share the shamefully simple recipe.

It passed! This isn’t a true, from-scratch cheesecake but it is baked, it is creamy and rich and the mango shines through. I was particularly proud of one aspect: In the morning, I realized I had a) a bowl of ripe mangoes, and b) about a dozen oatmeal-coconut cookies I had baked a week before that were rock-hard but still delicious. I thought pie and crust. Then I thought cheesecake and crust. Then I searched the Internet, recalling a simple cheesecake a friend made using Eagle Brand Condensed Milk (one of few products that hasn’t changed a bit since my childhood). Here’s what I did:

Crust: One dozen crunchy cookies (oatmeal-coconut; find it in my first book as New England Oatmeal Cookies) and 2 tablespoons butter. Pulverize the cookies in a food processor, add the pats of butter, process to moist crumbs. You need an 8- to 10-inch springform pan (8 would be best but I’ve lost the bottom to my 8-inch pan, so went with 9, making a rather shallow pie). Press into a butter-sprayed springform pan.

Filling: 1 can Eagle Brand Condensed Milk, 8 ounces cream cheese, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup lemon juice. Blend all.

Mango puree: Puree the flesh of 3 large or 4 smaller mangoes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake the crust 10 minutes. Remove. Pour half the filling into the crust. Spoon a few tablespoons full of mango puree on top, in discreet circles. Use a chopstick to draw through the mango to spread and swirl it through. Pour over remaining filling and repeat with remaining mango to create attractive top. Bake at 325 degrees 55 minutes to 1 hour, until a knife in the center emerges clean. Place on rack to cool; allow sides to pull away from springform, run a thin-bladed knife around to release any adhesions. Release lock on spring form sides and remove. Refrigerate cheesecake, covered, until a few minutes before serving time.

Be happy.

You can make this with any precious lilikoi juice you might have in the freezer or any fresh or canned or frozen fruit puree. Or use lime juice and the rind of 1-2 limes and make a lime cheesecake.

 

PS: Booksale goes on until Sunday with books at greatly reduced prices the last three days. Still some treasures in cookbook section though most local cookbooks gone. Many, many, many, many novels and not everything has been put out yet. All shelves to be refreshed except the most fast-sellling. Records and CDs and DVDs, too. At McKinley High School. see friendsofthelibraryhawaii.org

Nihon no Yoru (Night in Japan)

Wanda's onigiri: Not pretty;but tender, satisfying morsels.

I wish I could show you the meal I made tonight when my husband’s new BFF and his wife came to dinner. But, well, we did it again: ate before shooting. Ex cept for one dish, the onigiri (musubi rice balls) above.

For some reason—I rarely cook Asian food—I went in a Japanese direction: edamame with garlic, onigiri (omusubi) with ume, gyoza (pork dumplings), tempura shrimp and Okinawan sweet potato.

I was sooooo proud of my onigiri; they wouldn’t have made the cut at any self-respecting sushi shop or at my mentor’s, Manabu. They were misshapen and not consistently sized but they held together, the rice was starchily tender and the nori (seaweed) wrapping still crisp. Oishi-desu! (Delicious!). I’m struttin’ around like a samurai peacock.

Not my best moment, however, was where I cut a corner. I bought a tempura batter mix.. My homemade tempura batter is feather-light, puffy, pure-flavored, never too thick. Perfect. This stuff was godawful: I might as well have used Bisquick. It was salty, thick, nasty. I could tell it was a bad idea from Moment One. Ruined a bunch of perfectly good shrimp and sweet potato. Why I bought a mix when a professional chef was coming to dinner with his Japanese wife…all I can say is I was tired when I was grocery shopping.

Note to self: Never shop when tired.

Note to self: Hide the leftover onigiri (for my midnight snack).

Note to self: Call Manabu and ask for another lesson.

Here’s the tempura from my next cookbook, due out in the fall, “Celebrations, Island-Style.”

Sweet Potato Tempura                    Makes 8 to 10 servings

In Hawai‘i, tempura—batter-fried fish and vegetables—is commonly encased in a thick coating of oil-soaked batter. Room temperature, hours-old tempura is sold in okazuya (Japanese delicatessens) and served at parties. What a difference from the tempura philosophy of its homeland! In Japan and in Hawaii Japanese restaurants and izakaya (taverns) run by Japanese, tempura is a dish of the moment. It’s prepared only to order, in small batches, with the thinnest of batters and eaten hot or not at all. Essential to the Japanese method are cold ingredients and hot oil.

To make Japan-style tempura for a party, draft someone to staff a tempura station a tabletop gas or electric burner placed right in the party room. Or appoint someone to ferry the dishes to guests from the kitchen.

Here, our favorite, sweet potato tempura, but you can use the batter for tail-on shrimp, baby squid or squid squares, kabocha pumpkin chunks, diagonally cut carrot wedges, onion rings or crescents, strips of Japanese eggplant, green beans, celery leaves, or green onions. (To make tempura with green onions, trim off the roots, cut the whole bunch into 4-inch lengths, half green and half white. Reserve remaining green onion for additional uses. If the bunch is very thick, cut it in half, lengthwise, first.)

Soy sauce
2    large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
Oil for deep-frying (canola or other neutral oil)
Ice
1     c. cornstarch
1     c. all-purpose flour
1/2     t. salt
2     c. ice water
2     large eggs, beaten
Finely grated ginger
Finely grated daikon (Japanese white radish)
Tsuyu (dipping sauce; recipe follows) or store-bought tsuyu

Pour a generous amount of soy sauce into a shallow baking dish and marinate sweet potato slices in the liquid 10 to15 minutes. Drain, wipe dry, and refrigerate.

While the sweet potato chills, in a large heavy pot or deep fryer, heat 3 inches of oil to 350 degrees F (use a cooking thermometer that clips onto the side of the pot, or stand a wooden chopstick upright in the pan. If it immediately creates bubbles, the oil is hot enough).

Put ice in a large bowl and nestle another, smaller bowl inside the ice. In the smaller bowl, combine cornstarch, flour, salt, ice water, and beaten egg and whisk briefly (a few lumps are okay; overbeating makes the batter gluey). Put nested bowls near frying station. Have ready a rack or paper towels for draining and small, decorative serving plates.

When oil is properly heated, remove sweet potato from refrigerator and put near frying station. Using long cooking chopsticks or tongs, dip a slice of sweet potato briefly in the batter, just to cover, and drop into hot oil. Fry only 3 to 4 pieces at a time so as not to lower oil temperature, which causes batter to soak up oil. Fry until coating is crispy and golden and sweet potato cooked, about 5 minutes. Remove to rack or paper towels to drain briefly. Place o
n serving plates and serve immediately with grated ginger and daikon scattered over the top and tsuyu in small containers on the side.

Tyusu

1     c. dashi
1/3     c. soy sauce
1/3     c. sugar or mirin

Combine all ingredients.

 

 

 

 

Another few words about chico…and pictures!

The mysterious chewing gum fruit: brown sugar pears.

Husband has rescued one of the two pots that got chewing gummed in the previous blog about using chico fruit.

I found the chico pix and am mounting  a couple so you can see it.

Since the latex release didn’t happen when I used the fresh fruit, only fruit that had been in the fridge for a few days, I’m think that was the problem.

At Frankie's Nursery, the Sekiyas fed us chico samples.

I made a chutney chicken with the chico (say that fast five times) and decided it was too sweet; the fruit has that brown sugar thing going on and, despite a fair amount of hot spice, I still found the chutney neither acidic or spicy enough. Next time, half the sugar and twice the spice for me. But it cooked up nicely and kept some texture. The next night, I cut the chicken off the bone and chopped it, sliced some onions, sauteed them in mustard oil, threw in a bunch of curry powder and the leftover basmati rice and it was not bad. Husband didn’t like it but I think he was wrong. Just this once.

Enjoy the pictures.

Not just for chewing gum anymore

Chico fruit chutney chicken, my own invention (sort of, it's based on various fresh Indian chutney techniques).

Somehow, I’ve been roped into doing a cooking demo at Whole Foods Kailua in August (date pending) featuring tropical fruit. My good friend Ken Love is in charge of a project to encourage grocery stores to stock some of the more exotic tropical fruit that’s now being grown, but left largely unused, on the various islands.
We first thought we’d be doing the demo very soon, so we headed out to Frankie’s Nursery in Waimanalo, where we picked up a box of chico, the fruit of a tree that exudes latex, from which many things, including chewing gum (Chiclets, get it?), are made.
I’ve made a couple of things: a chico butter based on my super-easy banana butter and a fresh Indian-style chutney.
At Frankie’s, they describe it as “pear and brown sugar.” And they’re right: the texture is pear, the taste is faint brown sugar with some vegetal overtones. (I haven’t a great tasting palate, so I can’t get much more specific than that.)
They are round or oval, about the size of a handball, with bark-like skin (use a vegetable peeler) and 1-3 black seeds readily pushed out with your fingers. Some varieties are sweeter than others.
Frankie handed me a slice to taste and a box of a couple of dozen ripening fruit, Ken gave me some background information on the fruit and went back to the Big Island and I was on my own.
On the whole, I like chico, which is popular in many parts of the world but almost unknown in the U.S. Just one, little caveat: If you cook with chico, use a pot you don’t care about, empty the pot of chico as soon as you’re done cooking and wash it.
I’m looking right now at my favorite saucepan and soup pot and both are lined with latex that won’t scrub off. It’s got to be scraped off; my thumbnail works best. Talk about tedious. It just will not be dissolved, as though my pot were covered with a thin film of chewing gum. I’m thinking of trying freezing the pot to see if it will solidify and crack.
Sigh. Today, being a recipe tester is not fun, even though I love the chico butter and think the chutney tastes WOW!
It’s not fun being a blogger, either. I’ve lost the little device that allows me to transfer pictures from my camera to my computer. Dangit. So I’ll mount those soon, but there’s nothing for you now except one I’m going to take with my phone of Chico Chutney Chicken. (Say that fast five times.)

Fresh chico chutney

1/3 cup tamarind water* or seedless tamarind paste
1/3 cup raw sugar (turbinado; I like Maui brand for its molasses flavor)
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped chico or other fresh tropical fruit (mango, half-ripe papaya, pineapple)
Juice of 2 lemons
1 rounded teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder (or toasted cumin seeds)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
In a saucepan, boil together the tamarind water, sugar and water for 3 minutes.  Remove from heat. Add fruit and spices. Taste and adjust sweetness, saltiness, heat or spice as desired. May be served as a relish with grilled fish or meats, with sharp cheese on crackers or slices of baguette.
Or make chutney chicken: Fry 4-6 pieces skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, dusted with salt and pepper, in Indian mustard oil (or vegetable oil) just to brown and crisp the skin. Top with several large spoonsful of chutney and bake at 325 degrees until chicken is cooked through (at least 145 degrees internal temperature). Serve with basmati rice (for additional color and flavor, saute a teaspoon or two of your favorite curry powder in a little oil and stir this into the rice and water before you steam the starch).
* To make tamarind water, cut a couple of thick slices from a block of mashed tamarind pulp and place it in 1 cup water, bring to a boil and steep until cool. Drain away solids.

You don’t know bananas about it

God was thinking the day He made the banana. To me, it’s the perfect fruit: no seed, peeling is easy, you don’t even need a knife, they’re sweet without being cloying and you can find them everywhere. You ever met anyone who objects to banana?

I lost my mind the other night at the Hawaii state book awards and bought “The New World of Bananas in Hawai’i: Then and Now” by Angela Kay Kepler and Francis G. Rust (Pali-o-Waipi’o Press, $70!!!!). They won an Awards of Excellence and they a charming couple if ever there was; she’s this deceptively  fragile butterly of a woman who probably can carry a 6-foot banana tree stalk across their sprawling Maui acres by herself; muscle under gorgeous bone structure. He’s a handsome man with character in his face and humor in his sparkling eyes, but a shy manner.

Anyway, the book ($70, my dears), reports on dozens and dozens of banana varieties grown here in the Pacific and in Hawai’i. When I was young, I remember elders who could readily identify different types of bananas and knew just how to use them; some of my oldest cookbooks specify — Chinese banana or apple banana or monkey finger or mai hapai. My dear late friend Maili Yardley shared lots of banana lore in her newspaper columns over the years. Today, bananas? Go supermarket, brah. Get da kine, Chiquita.

Here in Hawai’i, we love our apple bananas, which are smaller and a bit more tart than the conventional ones; they’ve moved from farmers’ market fare to grocery stores. And some people use cooking bananas that are not the Caribbean-style plantains but similar (Puerto Ricans treasure them for pasteles, which are like tamales, but with banana instead of masa and a spicy meat filling; you can buy them on the side of the road when you go out Windward side).

Anyway, this book is so dense with information you could read it for a year (or use it to hold down that pesky curling corner of the rug). But what pleased me, as I parsed it for information, was to see than more than 20 varieties of bananas are still grown in Hawai’i today, and you can find them if you look.

And I was wrong, as usual: Some bananas DO have seeds. The authors point out several main types: Obligates (which can range from avocado-looking things) to long thin things for cooking; squat thick green types mainly for cooking; all-purpose types which go from the long thin Chinese to the fig-shaped Pitogo; and  thosebest eaten raw, again in an dizzying variety of shapes. They’re not all yellow; many are green and some are red or orange. Some flower so beautifully that you’d be tempted to pick them and put them in the house (and never get a banana).

When I was a girl, my lonely joy (I was then an only child), was to wander “up the river” — Kepaniwai Stream in ‘Iao Valley — and tell myself stories and imagine things (there’s a novel coming on all this, but I’ll probably be dead before I finish it) and jump from rock to rock. And I used to love to find the bright red cupped bracts covering the flower buds and use them as cups to drink water. Hawaiians had lived in that valley; there’s still a stone compound visible on a small peninsula in the river bend where it’s worth the mosquitoes just to stand in the silence and imagine the workers tending their taro.

Today, the stream is all but dried up, the water channeled off for Maui’s overpopulated needs, and the water contains ciguatera, a disease caused by urinating rodents, so you dare not drink it. Also, it smells hauna (stink, bad, off). Auwe! (The soul-satisfying Hawaiian wail of dismay and loss and mourning, ow-WAAAAAY!)

But, bananas, my dears. I’ve been making banana butter. If there’s an easier hostess gift out there, I haven’t found it. (Did I tell you this before? I feel like Merlin in ‘The Once And Future King,” who is living backward in time and can’t ever remember if he’s told someone something or not? “Have I told you this before? Because if I haven’t, I’m going to.”)

Throw 4-5 bananas in the food processor (3 cups mashed; I just break ’em up with my hands). Add 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice. Puree until smooth. Throw that in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar (I am using turbinado, raw sugar). Add 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring very often, for 15 minutes.

Banana butter. Makes about 1 jar. You’ll find it in my next book, “Celebrations, Island Style” coming out in the fall.

The other day, I used the same recipe with chico, a small, round, seeded, bark-skinned fruit whose sap is the latex they use for gum (get it? Chiclets.). It tastes like pear had an affair with brown sugar. Worked beautifully, so I think you could do this with ripe peeled pears. I’m sure you could do it with apples, but you have to peel and core them and puree the heck out of them. With more delicate fruit, such as chico and pear, I reduce the seasoning to try and let some of the fruit character come through. In doubling the recipe, I don’t double the sugar and seasoning; I use 2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 t or 1 3/4 t pumpkin pie seasoning. Next test will be with Chinese five spice instead of pumpkin pie spice.

This only makes one jar but the beauty is, if you need a hostess gift fast, you might just have all the ingredients in your kitchen and I’m not kidding, you’ll be done in half an hour. If your palate has been weaned off sugar, you can reduce the sugar by one-third but no more; you need it in order for the butter to get jammy. You might have to cook off more of the liquid to attain that thickish jammy texture. It’s still runny, a butter texture not a highly jelled jam texture. But last night, when I made a batch for my girlfriend who has been visiting (and who has, I fear, become addicted; yet another wild-eyed food addict on my conscience), I tried the chilled sauce test: Put a spoon on a chilled sauce; if water doesn’t immediately begin to separate out, you have the jammy thing going on.

With special regards to Kepler and Rust, who are teaching me so much, and Rosey, who has sat through about five tests of this butter recipe, offering excellent feedback.

 

Wahoo and Palm: The return of the can

Canned goods have never played much of a place in my pantry since I began a love affair with  “gourmet cooking,”  in the ’70s.

“Exotics,” yes — sardines, smoked oysters, Red Devil liver paste, water chestnuts until I discovered fresh ones in Seattle’s International District —but I would  no more have served a canned protein, fruit or vegetable to a guest than a plate of dirt.

(I lie. Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk. My go-to dessert was fresh strawberries, a drizzle of the milk and a Pepperidge Farm sugar cookie, or perhaps a wafer cookie. And may I say, you have not eaten a strawberry until you’ve picked it yourself warm in the Snohomish County sun. They don’t travel well so you’ll never get them here.)

I kept tuna, of course, and beef and chicken stocks (no boxes then and I didn’t always have a stash of my own in the freezer, as I do now) and tomato products (sauce and paste and whole and crushed). Unlike my Grandma, who made her own “solid pack,” I had no garden (for which vegetables everywhere are grateful.) I kept canned spinach in case I got homesidk for laulau or chicken lu’au (until I found lu’au leaf fresh in the International District.)

But I was farm-to-table before the term existed. The Pacific Northwest, before there was a “regional cuisine,” personified the concept. Everyone I knew berried, clammed, had a secret morel or chanterelle stash (people who leave the location in their wills!), visited the Pike Place Market weekly, knew a cranky old farmer sold fresh apple cider every season (brown, tart-sweet, so refreshing), bought apples at local orchards, patronized a stall presided by an Italian woman who looked JUST like my grandmother where I got my greens, my parsley,  herbs and good cooking advice in broken Italglish. Bless her soul. I knew a farm operated by Hmong where I could buy Chinese parsley (cilantro) in huge bouquets, and chives and Thai basil. I foraged in a civilized way. There were annual trips to Eastern Washington during apricot season (and, again, you haven’t eaten an apricot until you’ve had a ripe one, warm still, from the tree). Hazelnuts came from trips to Oregon. Salmon was everywhere; people just gave it to you. Mussels began to come from the then freshly planted floating acquaculture beds off Whidbey Island. …

Sorry, I lost myself in Northwest memories there.

After World War II, Hawai’i, the whole of the South Pacific, really, went canned good crazy. They were so cheap; so easy to make stretch to large, poor families; and haole food was considered “sophisticated.” We ate canned green beas, canned peas, canned peas-and-carrots (the worst!), canned corned beef, canned Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Grandpa even bought canned whole chickens that Swanson used to make (pale, unhappy looking things that tasted like … can).

Our “cream” was evaporated milk (you still see old recipes that call for 1 can cream). Except for milk (and when we were really poor, it was powdered), we never ate fresh dairy. And when you consider how many Portuguese kept their own cows and chickens in the early days, I don’t understand how they could stomach evaporated milk and margarine. But they did. With relish. Because they knew what work it took to get real food from the ground and the sea. Grandma thought sliced bread and cake mixes were a sign of the Second Coming she welcomed with open arms as if it had been the risen Christ.

But of late, two things have come into my life, both from the South Pacific and both banishing forever my can prejudice: One is canned wahoo (tougher to get now that there are fewer canneries there) and the other is Palm Corned Beef. Samoans buy Palm Corned Beef in industrial sized cans, for palusami, bundles of luau leaf with corned beef and coconut milk inside. They at least make their own coconut milk because they have become Hawai’is coconut tree trimmers so no tourists will get konked on the head.

Anyway, wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri) is a scombrid fish the Puerto Ricans call peto, is a long, skinny, silvery fish, the fastest swimmer in the Pacific. They’re often a bycatch from other fisheries but they’re worth finding on their own. Canned, they are to tuna what canned peas are to fresh, oh the fresh-like flavor and large chunks! They’re packed solid, not full of lard pockets or mushy unidentfiable goop, richly flavorful and really expensive. But make an old-fashioned creamed tuna, an Italian tuna salad with tomatoes, white beans and fresh arugula, even just a sandwich with wahoo and mayo and you’ll never turn back. Whenever I find it, I buy several cans.

Palm Corned Beef was something I hesitated about. We always bought Libby, McNeil & Libby which, if I remember correctly, kept its characteristic black-and-red label just for Hawai’i, where we used it unceasingly in stir-fried corned beef and cabbage, a classic family stretch dish. Just melted butter, caramelized onions, ton o’ cabbage and then break up the corned beef and put inside. Throw on some chili peppah wattah and pile on hot rice and you back in Grandma’s kitchen like you been beamed there.

I heard it was oily. I had my doubts. But it was on sale the other day and I bought some. What a revelation. The meat is packed solid, the strands thick and meaty, no lard, a bit of oil, worth saving to cook the meat in. Though I now know what a housemade corned beef from grass-fed beef can taste like, the melting texture and tang of pickling spice (thanks, Mark Noguchi of He’eia Pier Market & Deli) … I’m not going to be making my own soon. I’m a Palm girl now.

The other day I was hungry, alone, opened the pantry and the fridge. Hmm, that can of Palm, some chilled pastry from a recipe testing session, onions, parsley from my garden pot. I made corned beef turnovers. Took minutes. Ate half a one in the time it takes to write this sentence. Groaned with pleasure. Can’t wait to do more: an old, tomato-based stew my Grandma used to make, for instance. I used the last of the can to make corned beef sandwiches, which always remind me of trips to the beach, or long holoholo (aimless) drives to the country, when they were wrapped in waxed paper and you couldn’t wait for lunch, which would be the sandwiches and whatever fruit you found (or stole from the pineapple field) along the way. Hmmm, corned beef and pineapple; now there’s an idea.

I’m in birth with two books: a Portuguese Hawai’i cookbook I’ve long wanted to write, and a small, simple local cookbook  my publisher commissioned. I think of nothing but food all day. Every dish my friends talk about, or serve me, is nutrition for the “babies.”

I should have a photo of a can of wahoo and one of Palm Corned Beef but, you see, well, I ate them.

 

 

 

 

When live gives you lemons, make shogayaki

Lemon ginger pork: My creation, with charred baby pak choy and Japanese rice. No husband noice but it was oishi (delicious!).

When life gives you lemons, throw ’em at somebody. That’s kinda how I’m feeling right now. Or maybe, when life gives you lemons, let somebody else make you lemonade. And serve it to you. So cold it’s sweating. Preferably alongside the pool at a Four Seasons or a Ritz Carlton. While you lounge and a really delicious young man comes along and says, “Would you like a spritz?” And the dirty old lady in you thinks, “That’s not all I’d like, ab-boy.”

So this is how bad it’s been: I watched Mamma Mia the other day. This is my go-to, I -don’t-remember-when-I-last-felt-loved-or-appreciated movie. I laugh. I cry. I dance. It’s not pretty. But it works for me.

And then, for good measure, I watched an old movie you have to see if you have the heart of a romantic at all: Brief Encounter. So British. So touching. So stiff upper lip. So heart-rending. I cried. Felt a million bucks better.

Meanwhile, I am beginning work on two new books and I feel like I have twins. Just when you get one changed, fed, burped and down, the other one cries. And they’re very different books, so I feel schizophrenic. And so do I.

Made a thing I’m quite proud of and got another thing working that will either be wonderful or awful. Not sure and no time to work on it right this minute.

The proud thing is ginger broth: Just bring a big, sliced, no need to peel, hunk of ginger to a boil in 2-3 cups water. Turn it off. Steep and infuse. Use the broth instead of having to peel, cut, smash, mince or grate. Keep it in the fridge. Use it with dashi or other Japenese broth for soups or ramen or saimin or whatever. Doesn’t work for everything but I made a killer Yuzu Pork the other night with it instead of sake (which I didn’t have any and anyway, I try to keep booze out of the house or I’d drink whatever it is until I was insensible).

Here’s kind of what it was (because, on top of all that’s happened in the past two weeks, my hard drive died; lost two years of work; including last week). I’m sitting shiva and praying for a hard drive rescue miracle.

So I made a version of my favorite, a Japanese quick-fry called ginger pork, shoga(giner)yaki(fried) or sometimes buta(pork)yaki(really, it’s grilled on a flattop):

Pork in marinade; don't overdo. Less than a pound made two meals for two.

Yuzu Yaki One: Take some thin-sliced pork loin or pork chop. Very thin. Make a mixture of 1 tablespoon yuzu (bottled, more on that later), 2 tablespoons shoyu (Hawaii kine is sweeter), 2 1/2 tablespoons mirin (if you don’t got, use sugar), 2 tablespoons ginger broth, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Marinate one hour (don’t do it too long or the yuzu will cook the meat).

Get a frying pan really hot with 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil. Drain and fry the meat very quickly (I mean two minutes max!) until it’s golden to brown, turn and repeat. Have hot rice ready. And the charred choy I talked about (or any leafy vegetable, oven-broiled to a slight, singed, brown crustiness with the thicker parts still tender).

Is this not beautiful, or what? For a harried home cook, anyway.

Plunk rice on plate. Plunk greens on top. Plunk pork on top. You can drizzle the pan juices over if they haven’t burned.

Okay, now about yuzu. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus you can’t get most places outside Japan. There are bottled products, somewhat adulterated but not bad. I tried this with a product called Yuzu-It by Yamajirushi. Bad idea. Because, although I love the stuff, it’s a yuzu chili sauce, and the hot was a little wrong. I’m going to get some bottled yuzu and I am going also going to redo it with 1 lemon’s worth of zest in the marinade. Then you’ll get the lemon and not get hit with HOT on the second bite.

I didn’t get the husband noise. I got enthusiastic eating. Silent. I got eating all my leftovers. I got no noise. I am getting the damned noise if it’s the last thing I do.

YuzuiIt. But don't, for this recipe. But if you can find some, get it. With sashimi, it's the bomb!

Shoga, by the way, is not ginger. It’s a cousin, a young, rosey bud of ginger-like something that you can’t get easily, either. But I don’t think the first time I had ginger pork it was shoga, I think it was superfinely grated ginger. And I can’t find my ginger grater (it’s a little ashtray looking thing of porcelain with needle-sharp points sticking up and you rub the ginger—and generally your knuckles—over it and get ginger that’s not fibrous but not as searingly spicy as ginger juice, which is what you get if you grate with a regular grater, then squeeze. To the person who put my ginger grater away in the wrong place, grrrrrr).

I can’t believe I’m giving yuzu-shoga-ginger lectures at 1 a.m. but I CAN believe that little cat thinks it must be dinnertime. Because for him, life is all dinnertime.

ME, TOO, come to think of it.