Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tarragon Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken and dumplings was one dish I became fairly good at creating last minute sans a recipe.  Homemade stock and fresh vegetables always make for a superior dinner, but in a pinch last night's rotisserie chicken, a can of cream of whatever-I-have-on-hand soup and a bag of frozen veggies paired up with from-scratch dumplings for an above average meal.

For some reason tarragon has been on my mind of late.  This spice is underutilized in my repertoire.  Itching to change that, I decided to take this basic dish and infuse it with the seasoning from the ground up.  The joy about chicken and dumplings is that if tarragon is not to you liking, swap it out for any herb of your choice.  Sage is marvelous.  As is oregano.  Blends add a lovely bouquet of flavor.  Play around!

The recipe is my own (with dumplings inspired by the BHG CookBook)

serves 4

The Ingredients:
for the stock and gravy:
2 chicken thighs, with bone and skin
4 cups water
2-3 celery tops
1 fresh bouquet garni or 1 TBSP spice blend wrapped in cheesecloth
2 Tbsp fresh tarragon or 2 tsp dried
4 Tbsp butter
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 medium carrot, diced
3 Tbsp flour
salt and pepper to taste

for the dumplings:
1 cup flour
1/4 cup milk
1 egg
2 Tbsp oil
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp dried tarragon
1/4 tsp salt

The Process:
In a 2-qt saucepan, add the chicken thighs, water, bouquet garni, tarragon and celery stalks.  Bring the water to a boil over medium high heat.  Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 45 minutes.  remove the chicken thighs to a bowl until cool enough to handle.  Strain the broth into another bowl.  Discard herbs and celery.

Once the chicken has cooled, remove the skin and bones.  Coarsely chopped the meat and set aside.

In a large, deep skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the shallots, celery, garlic and carrots.  Saute until the shallots become tender, 5 to 7 minutes.  Stir in the flour until well combined with butter.  Cook for 2-3 minutes more. Measure out three cups of the reserved stock and slowly add to the skillet, stirring constantly to dissolve all of the flour.  Add the reserved chicken.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover.

Meanwhile prepare the dumplings by whisking together the milk, egg and oil in a medium bowl.  Sift the flour salt and baking powder together.  Add the dry mixture to the wet, combine until just moistened.  Do not over mix.  Using two large spoons drop heaping tablespoons of batter into the gravy (making 6-8 dumplings).  Return the gravy to a gentle simmer, cover and let the dumplings poach undisturbed for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the thickest dumpling comes out clean.  

The Review:
This dish is comfort food, pure and simple.  Nothing about chicken and dumpling is out of this world.  This version is be no means gourmet, though it is prepared with care and attention.  The flavor combinations are not revolutionary. What it is... is nourishing.  And comforting.  Sometimes that is enough.  These are the dishes we keep coming back to...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Bourbon Kissed Bacon Waffles

Bacon and waffles...two of our household's favorite comfort foods.  Why it took so long to combine the two is beyond me.  And I am by far not the only one who wanted to try out this combination...a quick online search reveals numerous recipes.  Everyone has a favorite waffle batter and a preferred method of bacon preparation.  I am partial to the sweet, smokey and salty combination of bacon with a brown sugar glaze.  Crisped in the oven.  And bourbon makes everything a little better.

If sweet and salty isn't your sped, leave out the sugar.   Maybe add a sprinkling of cracked pepper.  Peppered bacon in a cornmeal waffle?  That may have to be my next batch...

adapted from Joy's Recipe at JoytheBaker

yields 4 waffles

The Ingredients:
for the bourbon kissed bacon
1/2 lb thick cut bacon
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp Bourbon

The the waffles
1 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla

The Process:
for the Bourbon Kissed Bacon
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Lay the strips of bacon in a single layer on the sheet.  In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar and bourbon.  Brush or spoon the mixture evenly over the strips of bacon.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, checking frequently towards the end.  The bacon should be crispy and browned with a caramelized layer of sugar on top.  Remove to a cutting board or cooling rack.  Using a kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut the cooled bacon into small bits.  Set aside.

for the waffles:
Preheat and lightly oil the waffle iron according to the manufacturers directions.

In a large mixing bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a medium bowl whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, butter and vanilla.  Add the wet to the dry, stirring until just incorporated.

Gently fold in the bacon bits, stirring until the bacon is just distributed.  Do not over mix.

Ladle the batter into the waffle iron (mine uses a little over 1/2 cup of batter per waffle) and cook according to the waffle iron manufacturers directions.

Serve warm with butter and syrup.

The Review:
Can you really go wrong with bacon?   Or waffles?

This version was a winner on all fronts.  The batter was not as tedious as the separated egg white varieties out there.  With one exception, the waffles in this batch upheld that ideal marriage of crisp exterior with soft interior, though not quite as airy as I would normally like.  The taste was slightly sweet and reminiscent of a funnel cake. 

Now stud that batter with a sweet and salt burst of bacon...


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chocolate Cream Cheese Brownies

The first time I read over this recipe I did a double take.  And a third look just be sure I read it right.  Eighteen tablespoons of butter?  Five eggs?  And that's only one layer.  A ribbon of chocolate cheesecake hides between the layers of decedent brownie.  And to top it all off, a thin layer of semi-sweet chocolate is added, just in case there wasn't enough chocolate.

I still haven't replaced my electric mixer and the just thought of beating cream cheese and butter in such large quantities sent a spasm through my wrist.  And the recipe would use up the last of my sugar.  But I was not going to let that stop me.  I apologize profusely to any readers who may be observing lent by giving up sweets or chocolate.  I couldn't pass this dessert up. 

adapted from a recipe at

makes 48 brownies

The Ingredients:
for the filling:
1 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 egg
2 tsp flour

for the brownies:
18 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder

for the topping:
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped

The Process:
for the filling:
Slowly melt half of the chocolate with the heavy cream in a double boiler or in the microwave.  Stir until smooth and allow to cool.  Meanwhile, in a medium bowl cream together cream cheese and egg until fluffy.  Slowly pour in chocolate mixture and blend until well combine.  Stir in the remaining chocolate and flour and mix well.  Chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.

for the brownie:
Preheat the oven to 350

Butter a 9 x 13 baking dish and set aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer (or by hand) cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, blending thoroughly before the next addition.  Add the vanilla and almond extracts.

In medium bowl sift together flour, cocoa powder and baking powder.  Gently blend the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined.

To assemble:
Spoon half of the brownie batter into the prepared baking dish.  Smooth into an even layer.  Spread the cream cheese layer evenly over the brownie batter.  Spoon the remaining batter on top as evenly as possible and gentle spread to cover.

Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

As soon as the brownies come out of the oven , sprinkle the chopped chocolate evenly over the surface.  Allow to rest for five minutes or until the chocolate begins to melt.  Gently spread the soft chocolate into a thin, smooth layer.

Allow the bars to cool completely.  Cut into approximately 1 1/2 inch squares.

The Review:
This recipe yields 48 brownies for a reason.  These are rich and ridiculously dense.  The consistency is more fudge like than cake.  And I certainly am not complaining!   Left overnight in the fridge the layered decadence became even more smooth and dense.  A little taste goes a long, long way.

The only frustration I had with this recipe was the same I have with most layered recipes...getting the layers smooth and even.  The first layer was a breeze.  A spatula does quick work of the spreading the thick batter.  The second layer was an almost pourable consistency, so a few passes was all I needed to smooth it over the first layer.  The third...well there in lies the challenge.  Because the batter was so thick I needed to spoon it on top.  The second layer did not provide enough friction for the top and spreading became more about evenly distributing the brownie batter than creating a smooth consistent layer.  The forth and final layer did a good job of covering any cracks and fissures left by the less than satisfactory job I did on the layers below. The end result created an undulating ribbon of cream cheese filling that was thick in some areas, thin in others.

Considering how chocolatey these are, I doubt anyone will even notice if the layers turn out uneven...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Trout with Tamarind Sauce

Whole fish are slightly intimidating.  The tom boy in me loves the thought of catching, gutting and scaling my own fish.  The girlie part of me squeals to look at those glassy eyes and gaping jaws set on ice at the fish mongers.  However, I have been noticing trout more and more frequently at our grocer.  While the beady eyes staring back still weird me out a little, the fish called to purchased.  Rainbow trout were the fish of choice.  These two beauties came fully cleaned.  Clear glassy eyes; shimmering green and silver skin with the slightest aura of pink almost seemed a pity to brown them...

The sauce is Thai inspired and incredibly mild.  Up the pepper quantity if you can take the heat, but keep in mind trout is a very mild fish and can quickly become over powered.

adapted from Main Courses 365 edited by Jenni Fleetwood

serves 2

The Ingredients:
2 trout, about 12 oz each, cleaned
2 Tbsp soy sauce
3 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 Tbsp oil, (vegetable and sesame were used here)

for sauce:
1 oz tamarind pulp (about 2 Tbsp)
5 Tbsp boiling water
1 shallot, coarsely chopped
1/2 to 1 whole fresh red chilli, seeded and chopped ( I used fresno)
1 inch piece fresh ginger root
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp fish sauce

for garnish:
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro
1 green onion, thinly sliced on the diagonal
the other half of the red pepper, juilenned

The Process:
Rinse the trout and pat dry.  Slash the flesh diagonally four to five time on each side with a sharp knife.  Place in a shallow dish.  Fill the cavities of each fish with about 1/3 of the sliced onion.  Pour 1 Tbsp of soy sauce over each fish.  Carefully flip the fish to coat both sides.  Sprinkle with remaining onion and set aside until ready to use...about 5 to 10 minutes.

To prepare the sauce put the tamarind paste in a small bowl.  Cover with the boiling water and allow to set for about 5 minutes.  Mash well with a fork until soft.  Put the tamarind along with its liquid in a blender or food processor.  Add shallots, ginger, chilli, brown sugar and fish sauce.  Blend to a coarse pulp, adding water 1 tsp at a time to thin as necessary.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the trout, preparing one at a time if necessary.  Cook covered, for about 5 minutes on each side, or until the skin is browned and the flesh flakes easily.  Uncover for the last 2-3 minutes of cooking.

Prepare two plates by spooning a small amount of sauce into the center of each.  Gently transfer one trout to each platter.  Spoon additional sauce over each fish and sprinkle with cilantro, green onion and chili pepper.  Serve warm with remaining sauce.

The Review:
Eating trout is an exercise in patience and due diligence...thin transparent bones force you to savor every bite lest you wish to inadvertently pierce you lip.  The flesh was incredibly mild and tender, the sauce offering up the perfect amount of salt, sour and heat.  Taking tiny bites, we found dipping the tines of the fork in a small amount of sauce and then gently lifting off a portion of fish gave the optimum flavor.  Because the potentially hot and potent sauce is spooned on right before serving, the quality of the fish can really shine through without being masked by other flavors.  For those who desire more punch you could spoon some of the sauce into the cavity prior to frying.

I have been told the cheeks and eyes are the best part...As you can see from the carnage below, I am still a little squeamish on that front.  Maybe some day....

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Garbanzos with Chorizo and Spinach

Beans and pork is a tried and true combination much loved across most of the country.  The possibilities are virtually  endless once you've moved beyond the backyard barbeque pinto beans and bacon.   This dish is much more stew like, with chunks of tender potato, ample bean and a healthy dose of smokey chorizo.  Wilted spinach added towards the end helps endow a sense of health and good eating.  And the best part?  The entire entree can be dished up in about thirty minutes.

I highly recommended the smoked Spanish-style of chorizo for this dish, though the raw nutmeg chili infused Mexican style will work as well.  I opted for Palacios mild sausages are also available.

adapted from A recipe in Men's Health, December 2011

servers 4

The Ingredients:
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2 links Spanish-style chorizo, chopped
1 large onion
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp paprika (preferably pimenton)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 lb yukon or russet potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2- 14 oz cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper to taste
8 cups baby spinach

The Process:
Heat the oil in a large pot or saucepan over medium heat.  Add the chorizo and saute until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the pant and set aside.

Add the onion, garlic, red pepper, and paprika to the pot and cook until the onion begins to caramelize.  Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until the paste evenly coats the onions.  Add the stock, potatoes, and bay leaves.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the Garbanzo beans and cook for another 5 minutes or until beans are heated through.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Remove the bay leaves and add the cooked chorizo and the baby spinach. Continue to cook until the spinach is wilted.

The Review:
Upon beginning to saute the chorizo, I would have thought the end result would be a greasy mess due to the red slick of fat that coated the saucepan. instead of the rich, smokey dish ultimately served up.  The meat was not a substantial part of the meal, quantity wise (though you could easily double or triple the amount if you are a huge fan of this Iberian treat) but it infuses smokey and slightly spicy nuances in every bite.  The potatoes and chickpea both lend a wonderful soft and velvety texture, but with enough difference to keep you from getting bored.  The contrast of something firm or with a little more bite was missing, but not by much.  The flavors more than make up for what the texture front may lack.  And the spinach...eight cups seems like a lot until the bunch cooks down.  The beautiful flecks of green amidst the deep red sauce made for an incredibly picturesque dish.  However, this one is so tasty you may polish it off before the camera had a chance.  Leftovers were just as wonderful the next day.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Garlic Leek Sauce

That butternut squash has been staring at me forlornly for far too long.  It deserved better than to rest on the counter.  Remembering fondly the lovely, pillow-y dumpling I made out of sweet potatoes well over a year ago, I convinced myself the squash would be happy in that form.  Over the course of three days I worked on the gnocchi.  Baking the squash one day.  Making the dough and forming the gnocchi the next.  Waiting for the third day for the dish to come together.  I had very high hopes.  The dish was anticipated all week.

 For some reason, my biggest frustration with gnocchi isn't the amount of time it takes, but coming up with a sauce pairing.  Cream sauces seemed to heavy.  Brown butter sauce, too common.  I wanted something light and mellow...maybe a bit compliment what I suspected would be a sweeter gnocchi.  Leeks and white wine were on hand.

Did the combination work out?

Serves 4-6

Gnocchi recipe adapted from Bon Apetit, October 2010
Sauce recipe is my own

The Ingredients:
for the gnocchi
1 small butternut squash, about 1 lb
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large russet potato, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour, plus additional for rolling

for the sauce
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
 2 large leeks, trimmed and cleaned
1 shallot
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 Tbsp dry white wine
1 Tbsp fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste

The Process:
for the gnocchi
Preheat oven to 400°F. 

Cut squash in half lengthwise and discard seeds. Pierce the skin of the squash in several places with a sharp knife and place cut sides down on an oiled baking sheet.   Roast until squash is very tender and skin begins to blister and brown, about 1 1/2 hours. Let rest until cool enough to handle. Scoop the flesh from squash into a food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer to medium saucepan.  Simmer over medium heat until juices evaporate and puree thickens, stirring constantly. The goal is to rid the squash of as much liquid as possible. Cool. Measure out one cup of puree.

Meanwhile, cook potato in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain. While potato is warm, press through potato ricer into medium bowl. Cool completely. Measure two cups  riced potato.

Mix squash, potato, Parmesan cheese, egg, and salt in large bowl. Gradually add the flour, kneading gently into mixture in bowl until dough holds together and is almost smooth. If dough is excessively sticky, add more flour one Tbsp at a time. The dough should be smooth, but tacky.  Too much flour with result in a tough dumpling.  Turn dough out onto floured surface; knead gently but briefly just until smooth. Flatten the dough into a circle and divide into eight equal wedges.

Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment sprinkled lightly with flour. Working with one dough segment at a time, roll dough out on floured surface to about 1/2-inch-thick rope. Using a well floured knife, cut rope crosswise into 3/4- inch pieces. Gently roll each gnocchi along back of fork tines dipped in flour to make ridges on one side. Transfer gnocchi to baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour. 

At this point the shaped gnocchi may be frozen for latter use.  Loosely cover the baking sheets and set in the freezer for 1-2 hours.  Gently transfer the frozen gnocchi to freezer bags.  To prepare, proceed directly to cooking directions below...DO NOT THAW!

Working in 2 batches, cook gnocchi in large pot of boiling salted water until very tender, 15 to 17 minutes--gnocchi will float to surface when almost cooked through. Using slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to warmed dinner plates

for the sauce
In a large  skillet, heat the olive oil and butter. Add the leeks, shallots and garlic and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until leeks softened and are just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, whit4e wine and parsley.  Bring mixture to a gentle simmer fro 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve
Transfer cooked gnocchi to warmed serving plates and drizzle with leek sauce.  Sprinkle with Parmesan or fresh parsley if desired

The Review:
So back to the question.  Did the combination work out?  No.  The sauce was stunning.  A beautiful mild green hue.  Subtle onion flavor with a slight sweetness.  A hint of garlic.  The cleaning bite of the wine.  I had to stop myself from licking the utensils clean while I worked. 

But did it pair well with the gnocchi?  Barely.  The gnocchi were completely overpowered by the sauce.  Bland by comparison, they became the vehicles that supported the flavorful green accompaniment instead of being complimented center stage.

The gnocchi themselves?  After such a build up all week and the amount of time put into them, I was let down.  Even trying a frozen batch a few days later with a basic brown butter sauce seemed bland and a hair on the doughy side.  Perhaps I didn't measure well enough...or hadn't cooked down the squash enough.  But to devote so much time to a dish that is at best lackluster is a huge disappointment.  Will this be the end of my gnocchi attempts?  Of course not.  Eventually I figure out the right balance that creates the perfect airy and delicate morsel.  Maybe by then I can come up with a better pairing as well.  Or I could leave well enough alone.  Most recipes must use browned butter for a reason...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pineapple Rum Upside Down Cake

I've made a glorious pineapple upside down cake before.  I've also tried a wonderful spin called the banana foster's upside down cake.  But never have I tried a cake containing so much butter or so much rum.  What better way to round out our tropical adventure this month than by saying Aloha with this boozy treat.

The Ingredients:
for the sauce
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 large can pineapple rings (about 10)
1/4 cup Meyer's dark Jamaican rum
1/2 cup heavy cream

for the cake
2 cup sifted flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter, room temp
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs
2 tsp Meyer's dark Jamaican rum

for the glaze:
4 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup Meyer's dark Jamaican rum

The Process:
Combine butter and brown sugar in a large skillet and heat until bubbly. Add pineapple and caramelize to a deep golden brown, turning once. Remove and set aside. Pour rum and cream into the skillet and cook over low heat 5 minutes, until thickened, stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove from heat.

Butter a 10-inch round cake pan (a cheesecake pan with removable sides works well) and line with parchment paper. Set on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any leaks. Arrange pineapple rings to cover bottom of pan. Blot cherries with a paper towel and place them in the center of the pineapple rings. Pour rum and cream sauce over pineapple and set pan aside.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a small bowl, sift together flour and salt. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Add sugar gradually and continue beating for five minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add rum. Fold in the dry ingredients, mixing just until the batter is smooth and blended.

Pour into prepared cake pan. Bake at 325 degrees. between 1 hour and 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Prepare the glaze shortly before the cake is done so it will be warm.
Remove cake from oven when done and poke several holes in the cake with a small wooden skewer. Carefully pour this mixture over the warm cake, allowing it to seep into the holes and drizzle remaining over the top. Let it soak in for a few minutes.
Invert onto a serving platter.
Allow to cool completely before serving

The Review:
This cake was dense and wonderfully moist.  The sides and and edges caramelized into a beautiful crunch, but the center was disappointing soggy.  Granted, there is a lot of rum and fruit weighting the cake down.  I'm curious to try the cake again in an iron skillet to see if I'd have better luck  The sauce poured over the pineapple at the begin just didn't seem to get hot and bubbly enough in the spring form pan to create the decedent caramel I was envisioning. 

While fresh the cake had a dense wonderful texture, but again succumbed to the soggy weight of fruit and sauce.  A frustration with my crappy hand mixer may be the culprit.  With a mixer that jams at the slightest provocation I couldn't beat the sugar and butter as creamy as this cake desires.  Reading through a few reviews, it does sounds as though sifted cake flour, instead of all purpose flour, makes a noticeable improvement.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Happy Valentine's Day!  Tired of boxed chocolates and red velvet cupcakes that seem to be the Valentine's Day staple? This coconut pudding is a wonderfully light and tropical alternative.  While traditionally chilled and then cut into squares to serve, individual haupia can be prepared in heart shaped ramekins.  Or for the more ambitious, cut the chilled pudding into heart shapes for your sweet heart.  Orchids make a beautiful garnish.

adapted from the Luau recipe at Aloha Friends Luau

Serves 8 to 10

The Ingredients:
12 ounces chilled coconut milk
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup + 2 T. sugar
1/2 cup + 2 T. cornstarch

The Process:
Combine all ingredients in saucepan and stir over medium heat until thickened. Lower heat and cook for ten minutes, stirring constantly to avoid lumping or burning. Pout into 8x8 inch dish and chill until set, about 2 hours.  Cut haupia into squares & serve. 

The Review:
Haupia turned out to be the sleeper of all the treats laid out before us at the luau.  At first most people avoided it, given its gelatinous appearance and slight resemblance to tofu.  Those that bit into the unremarkable white cubes were greeted with a sweet coconut flavor and a smooth velvety texture.  Guest's eye list up with wonder.  Word quickly spread and the unassuming dessert became a quick favorite.  With the short ingredient list, and easy preparation, this dessert is quick to become an impressive offering for guests.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Banana Waffles with Nutella

Sunday has come again, and with it my obsession with my waffle iron and a use for a banana or two from my freezer.  Does that happen to you?  Bananas are purchased with every intent on eating them within the next few days only to see the brown spots creep in almost overnight.  Rather than throw out the perfectly ripe fruit, the banana is banished to the freezer until time is made to concoct something wonderful at a later date...preferably not endless loaves of banana bread.  Before you realize it and army of frozen banana has begun to take over...

The recipe is an attempt to hold the bananas at least for a while.  Its dancing partner was inspired by a childhood joy of spreading Nutella on bananas as a snack.  Okay, maybe more of an adult joy...I didn't truly discover and come to appreciate Nutella until college.  As a child, pre-Nutella, I actually preferred dipping bananas in strawberry yogurt and rolling it in Grape-nuts.  Did anyone else ever do that?  But yogurt/Grape-nut/banana waffles doesn't sound quite as appealing as banana Nutella waffles...

This waffle recipe is a nice alternative for those too groggy to beat egg whites to soft peaks first thing in the morning.

waffle recipe adapted from Waffles of Insane Greatness at

serves 3-4

The Ingredients:
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 overripe banana, mashed
1 egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla

for topping:
1/3- 1/2 cup Nutella
1 ripe banana sliced

The Process:
Preheat the oven to 200.  Preheat and lightly oil the waffle iron.

In a large bowl whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder and soda, salt and sugar.  In a medium bowl blend butter and mashed banana until well combined.  Whisk in egg, buttermilk and vanilla.  Slowly pour wet ingredients into dry, folding and stirring until just combined.  Do not over mix the batter. 

Cook waffles according to iron manufacturer's directions.  My waffle iron used about 1/2 cup of batter.  This batter is thicker than some and may need to be spread before closing the iron.  The batter also puffs up a lot more than other batters I've tried, so be careful not to overfill the iron.

Once cooked, set waffle aside on plate in the oven to keep warm.  Prepare other waffles in the same manner.

The make the topping, heat the Nutella in the microwave at 20 second intervals or in a double boiler on the stove top until liquid enough to pour.  Drizzle each waffle with about 2 Tbsp of Nutella and top with sliced banana.

The Review:
After beating egg whites for waffle batter during my last few waffles, it was nice to give my wrist a break (my hand mixer bit the dust and for those who actually have a stand you really want to haul that thing out just to beat one egg white?).  I may have found my go to waffle base for future fruit additive varieties.  The original recipe called for 1/3 cup of oil.  Figuring the banana would sub well for the wet, I nixed the oil...but did add in a little butter.  I also kept the sugar on the low end knowing the Nutella topping was going to be pretty sweet.

The banana flavor was wonderfully subtle, just enough real ripe fruit flavor to make the waffle interesting.  The waffle wasn't quite sweet or flavorful enough on its own, but with the Nutella and sliced bananas on top, it was a match made in heaven.  I would like to find a way to may the Nutella into more of a sauce.  The chocolate nut butter does not stay very fluid for long.

The waffles puffed up a lot and remained soft in the center, though a bit dense.  The outside reached my platonic ideal of crispness and retained the soft to crunch ratio even after topping.  With syrup though, I'm not sure how soggy they may become, nor how quickly.  But there are many a future Sunday to find out.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Spam Musubi

Even more ubiquitous than poke, spam musubi could be found at every convenient store, gas station, and local kine lunch counter. Even the finer restaurants get in on the action, offering deconstructed and carefully marinated versions of the quick snack.   It is Hawaii at it's best.  A fusion treat blending hands-free Japanese snacking with the Islander's love of Spam.

I've never been much of a fan of the salty meat product, but even this treat has its charms.

adapted from several people's input

makes 8 musubi

The Ingredients:
1 can Spam, original flavor
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
4 cups short grained sushi rice, cooked
4 sheets of nori, sliced in half lengthwise
small bowl of water

The Process:
Open the can of spam and set the luncheon meat on its side on a cutting board. Slice lengthwise into 8 equal pieces.  Clean out the can.  Using a sharp knife, can opener or kitchen shears, remove the other side of the can.  File down any sharp edges.  Save for use as the musubi mold.  Alternatively, you can purchase mold specifically for this spam musubi.

In a small bowl whisk together soy sauce and brown sugar. Pour over spam and let set for about five minutes.  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Layer the spam in the skillet ans sautee for 2-3 mintues per side, or until the spam begins to caramelize.  Remove from pan and set aside.

To assemble the musubi, lay one sheet of nori on a clean work surface.   Place one slice of spam in the center of the nori.  set the mold over the spam.

With damp fingers press about 1/2 cup of sushi rice into the mold.  Pack the rice down as firmly as possible.  Remove the mold.  Fold both sides of the nori over the rice, sealing edges with a little water.  Place on a plate seam side down.

Serve warm or warp in cling wrap and refrigerate.

The Review:
Salty, sweet, and a little odd.  People either love it with a passion or avoid it like the plague..though of those who dare try it, most seem to be ambivalent.  Most of our guests at least sampled the Hawaiian snack.  While it was bu no means anyone's favorite dish of the night, a new respect for the pink gelatinous lunch meat emerged.  This version was a fair tribute to the musubi we had on the islands.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chocolate Waffles with Cherry Bourbon Compote and Fresh Whipped Cream

Please excuse this minor break in the regularly scheduled luau menu... 

Two weeks have passed since our last chance to enjoy Sunday morning waffles.  Since that time I've created a short list of combinations I am itching to try.  Chocolate waffles?  Breakfast for dessert, baby.  What better toppings to pair chocolate with than juicy cherries and velvety whipped cream.  You may never go back to syrup again...

the compote recipe is my own
the whipped cream recipe is adapted from BHG Cookbook
the chocolate waffles are adapted from Gale Gand's recipe at

Makes 4-8 waffles, depending on the waffle iron.
The Ingredients:
6 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup bourbon
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 lb (about 2 1/2 cups) fresh cherries, rinsed and pitted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp corn starch

for the whipped cream
1 cup whipping cream
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

for the waffles
2 eggs, separated
3 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup salted butter, melted

The Process:
for the compote
In a medium saucepan combine water, bourbon, sugar and lemon juice. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Continue to boil until thin syrup forms, about 7 minutes. Reduce to simmer; add cherries and vanilla extract. Cook over medium heat, stirring gently for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the cherries soften, but retain their shape.  Remove cherries from the syrup with a slotted spoon and set aside in a serving dish.  Add the corn starch to the syrup, whisking until well combined.  Bring the syrup to gentle boil and cook until  thickened and reduced by half, about 5 minutes.  Pour syrup over cherries.  Cool, cover and set aside.

for the whipped cream
In a chilled bowl combine whipping cream, sugar and vanilla.  Beat with chilled beaters on medium speed until soft peaks form.  Set aside in the fridge.

for the waffles
Preheat oven to 200 and warm up the waffle iron

In a medium bowl whisk the whites by hand or with a mixer until soft peaks form.   Add the sugar and continue whipping until stiff.

In a medium bowl whisk the egg yolks and milk until well combined.  Slowly incorporate the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder.  Add melted butter and mix until smooth. Gently old in the whipped whites, being careful not to overwork the batter.

Brush or mist the waffle iron lightly with oil and spoon batter into waffle iron, spreading quickly with a spatula to cover the entire griddle surface (amount varies depending on waffle iron, mine uses just over 1/2 a cup). Cook according to iron manufacturer’s instructions.

Transfer waffles to rack in oven to keep warm and crisp. Make more waffles in same manner.

The Review:
Pure unadulterated bliss.  Tart cherries; red, ripe and round.  Erupting with a juicy burst of bourbon.  Smooth, velvety whipped cream offering a rich douse of sweetness to cut the tang of the fruit and slightly bitter cocoa.  Wonderfully white and as pure and light as summer clouds.  And the dark platter of  decadence that supports it all...the rich chocolate waffle.

Taken together this combination is a force to be reckoned with.  And for the most part the components stand well on their own.  The only downside was the texture of the waffles.  For some reason this version did not puff up and retain its shape as well as previous waffles had.  The underside was nicely crisped while shielding a fluffy interior...the top side unfortunately remained slight soft and deflated beautiful geometric ridges to contain the cherry studded heaven that the waffles supported.  With a tweak or two to make the waffle stand on its own, this may be the best Belgian inspired breakfast variation yet.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ahi Poke

This dish is Ross' kryptonite.  It has been a sore spot since leaving Hawaii that we cannot find anything remotely similar to this marinated raw tuna in the Twin Cities metro.  Sea Change makes a noble attempt, serving skewers of excellent fresh and fatty tuna with a drizzle of shoyu and sesame.  But it's not the same.  Poke was an everyman's food in Hawaii, not some delicacy served at raw bars, sushi houses and upscale seafood restaurants.  Enter and supermarket and you'd be greeted with at least half a dozen varieties of the tender tidbit of raw fish at the deli counter.

This is my feeble attempt at grasping for that tropical ideal...

adapted from a recipe at

The Ingredients:
2 lbs fresh ahi tuna
1 small round onion, julienned cut (Maui Onions preferred)
3 green onions, diced
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp Chinese chili sauce (Rooster Brand)
1 tsp hawaiian sea salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt 

The Process: 
Cut Ahi into half inch cubes.  Place in large bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

In another bowl, combine julienned onion, green onion, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, pepper flakes, chili sauce and salt.  Stir well to combine and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

When ready to serve toss Ahi with the sauce.   Let set for about ten minutes to marinate.

Serve on chilled platter with chopsticks or toothpicks.

 The Review:
Unless you have a lot of sushi fans, this may not be the biggest hit.  This was the one dish we had a lot of at the end of the night...not that Ross minded much.

Of all of the poke I remember, this version seemed particular salty.  Perhaps too much soy sauce.  The healthy red steaks quickly turned a dull brown once marinaded with the sauce too.  Such a pity too...these were gorgeous tuna steaks to begin with. 

The ginger and garlic lent a nice flavor but everything in combination seemed to overpower the tuna itself.  In the case of poke, it would seem less is more.  And the fresher thee fish the better...which is a feat in and of itself in a land locked state...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Chicken Long Rice

No luau would be complete without several offerings of carbs.  Rice and macaroni salad usually round out the plate lunch found around the island.  To add a  little variety to our starchy friends, we included chicken long rice.

The concept is simple...Mi-fen noodles softened and cut into short lengths and simmered in a ginger and garlic studded chicken broth. 

adapted from a recipe at Aloha Friends Luau

serve 10-12

The Ingredients:
2-3 chicken thighs, with skin and bones 
6 cups water
2 tsp chicken bouillon
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon Hawaiian salt, sea salt, or Kosher salt
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed 
6 bundles rice vermicelli or mi-fen (2-6 oz packages)
The Process:
Place chicken thighs in large saucepan with water and bouillon. Add crushed ginger, salt, and garlic. Bring to a boil and then cover, simmering for 45 minutes or until chicken is tender and no longer pink. Remove the chicken from the stock and allow to cool.  Remove the skin and bones.  Shred the chicken meat and set aside. Reserve broth. 

Meanwhile soak the rice noodles in hot water for about 10 minutes or until soft.  Cut noodles in 4 inch lengths, and add to reserved broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add shredded chicken and continue to simmer until chicken is heated through. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt, pepper, or soy sauce.  

Serve warm or refrigerate for a cold noodle salad.

The Review:
Of all of the sides offered at the luau this came second only to the macaroni salad (which was store bought--I had enough cooking on my plate!).  An odd douse of suspicion kept many guests from trying it until they learned it was simply a chicken noodle dish. 

A rich chicken flavor shone through the simple noodles with the garlic and ginger adding a lovely balance.  Most of the recipes I found included mushrooms as well, which I sadly omitted to give the dish a greater appeal.  For those not afraid of fungus, I imagine the 'shrooms would add a wonderful, earthy depth.  

Unlike many of the fast food varieties and plate lunch offerings I had sampled on the islands, this version maintained a bit of firmness to the noodles instead of disintegrating into a vaguely chicken flavored  mush.   The noodles take no time at all to cook...overcooking is such a shame...

With all of the other side offerings at our luau a little of this dish went a long, long way.  I would highly recommend halving the amount unless this is served for a crowd or as the main course.  I'll be eating chicken long rice at lunch for several days.  So far, it holds up very well as a leftover! 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Huli Huli Chicken

Walking around Honolulu on a Saturday afternoon you are bound to come across the drifting aroma of countless barbeques.  Occasionally the rich meaty smells float on wafts of smoke emanating from school or church parking lots.   Probably a fundraiser.  Most likely serving Huli Huli Chicken.

Huli Huli means turn turn in Hawaiian, and often you'll see whole birds sandwiched between grills and turned over flames at the larger events.  The marinade is something between a teriyaki and a Kansas City BBQ sauce, and oh so wonderful.

With the freezing cold and lack of a grill, we were unable to replicate the charred BBQ beauty of these birds, but in a pinch our broiler did a wonderful job.

adapted from John's recipe at Hawaii Magazine 

serves 10-12 

The Ingredients:
3 chickens, cut into pieces
1/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup sherry
1-2 Tbsp. sesame oil
1-2-more pieces ginger root, crushed
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Worchestershire sauce to taste
Sriracha or Asian chili paste (or red pepper flakes) to taste
Squeeze a lemon in if you've got one

The Process:
Trim the chicken as desired, rinse and pat dry.  Pierce in several places with a sharp knife and set aside.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk until well combined.  Divide th chicken into large shallow dishes or freezer bags and cover with marinade.  Cover and refridgerate for 2 to 3 hours, turning once.

Grill chicken over hot coals, turning frequently and basting with remaining marinade. Or broil in the oven, 8 to 10 minutes per side , turning once.

The Review:
Charred, tender and just a touch of sweet, these birds sang at the Luau.  The pieces had been transferred to a slow cooker to stay warm through out the evening, which lead to soggy skin, but otherwise this was a pleasant BBQ twist for many of our guests.

I look forward to trying this on the grill when the weather warms up!