Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happy Lunar New Year with Chinese Hot Pot

I grew up calling it Chinese New Year. I loved spending all day lighting firecrackers. I thought everyone did it, until I went to school in a small New Hampshire town. No one knew what I was talking about. I was confused when I realized you get Christmas and 'American' New Year's off from school but not Chinese New Year. Then I moved to Hawaii. Lo and behold! They dedicate whole weeks and block parties to the day. Go Hawaii!

It wasn't until I was quite a bit older that I realized Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore and pretty much all of Asia celebrates Chinese New Year... er, or what I call Lunar New Year. Mainly because Asia New Year and Oriental New Year isn't really as catchy. So sorry New Hampshire, half the world celebrates Chinese New Year, so I'm not as strange as you made me out to be.

There is a ton of traditions that you can happily look up on the handy, dandy web. But my friends and I made up our own tradition, which is Chinese Hot Pot night. Also known as Japanese Shabu-Shabu and as I drove by a place on Kapahulu, found out there's a Thai version too.

But this isn't your regular restaurant version. We are making hot pot at home because this is a party. But you can make it for regular dinner, just make sure there's at least 8 hearty eaters at the table.

Things to note:
- There is a major amount of prep and making things look good. This is easy but extremely time consuming
- Surprise: Asian ingredients abound, so you need an Asian grocery or Chinatown nearby
- Technically, this isn't a recipe, it's a framework for a party so you can make substitutions as necessary
- We have 2 hot pots because we had someone who was allergic to shellfish. So there was a shrimp and a non-shrimp hot pot. Every guest was told upon entry because this was a family event and no heavy drinking was involved, everyone remembered. Put a sign up if your friends are prone to forgetfulness moments.
- As much as I love this growing up and was completely satisfied with it, my father would insist on another course because 'soup is not dinner.' We always have jai (a traditional New Year's Dish) and a few other things. Plan accordingly for your guests.

Jai, I don't make it but I can tell you its delicious

-meats shaved thin such as chicken,beef, pork. Can be found prepped at Asian markets, try the meat counter but sometimes they are in the frozen section.
-fish, a firm white fish is fine (avoid salmon) cut into bite size pieces
-shrimp, cleaned but shell and head still attached (if you are traditional)
-beef balls
-fish balls
-chicken balls
-chinese noodles, fresh or par boiled
-cabbage, spinach or kale (or any hearty green that looks good and fresh at the market)
-chicken broth or stock

Suggestions for saucing station:
The basics are soy sauce and oyster sauce, but there's usually a huge variety of sauces at the store. If you are still stumped call up all your friend and have them each bring 1 Asian sauce from their pantry, it can actually get overwhelming if it is a 14 person or more party.
-soy sauce
-oyster sauce
-hot sauce
-garlic oil
-sesame oil
-chili oil
-hoison sauce
-sweet and sour

-rice cooker (or electric wok or an hot plate with a wide pot)
-Every plate/platter in your house
-Individual Bowls
-Giant Dining room table (or a folding 6' table, 2 if you got 'em)

Set up:
The night before (or earlier if you have freezer space) start making platter of stuff you want in the soup. Take a platter, put down greens on the bottom of the plate and very prettily place raw food on top. I've seen restaurants go really fancy with this and you can check out photos here, here and here.

We ended up with:
Hot Pot Table

Not the Hot Pot Table

Wrap in plastic and refrigerate or freeze if more than 2 days away.

Day of party:
Put the rice cooker or electric wok in the center of the table. Fill it with broth, wine and broth, bland soup, water with ramen packets and hot sauce or anything besides straight water. Turn on the heat before guests arrive to get it to a boil.

Put out platters of raw food. Now there's some brains that are necessary for this part. RAW FOOD ITEMS SHOULD NOT TOUCH COOKED FOOD ITEMS. Potentially can be bad. Really bad. Don't risk it. This can be challenging for children and non-foodies so if you have to give a lesson do, but chopsticks for raw chicken should stay with the raw chicken and not pick up that hot beef ball that fell out of the ladle. Bad.

Also bad: using your eating chopsticks to fill up the pot with raw food then eating
Also bad: putting your food on an empty raw food platter because you are waiting for someone to eat it

I know it sounds hard but after a few hot pot nights everyone will get the jive, just keep lots of utensils and bowls readily available and put empty platters immediately in the sink.

Get everyone to stand or sit around the pot. When it is at a boil start loading it up with items of your choice. I go to the platter closest to me and put in 3-4 times the amount I plan to eat because this is family style. Hopefully everyone else does the same. When there's a good amount of stuff in there, close the lid and wait for it to come back to a boil. I use this time to mix up a sauce and have a drink.

Take your favorite sauce additions and mix it around in your bowl.
Personal favorite: Mix oyster sauce, roasted garlic, sesame oil and a dash of hot sauce. Then crack an egg on the bottom. The hot soup cooks the egg but the yolk stays runny. It is delicious. But feel free to vary yours as you see fit, experiment and make suggestions to other people. 

When the pot comes to a boil take off the lid. It's now a first come, first serve in goodies. I actually will only take a few bites in the beginning round because I like when the soup starts getting flavored from all that food. Then I go in when other people are full and get a ladle of soup and all the goodies.

Eat until pot is empty. Fill up with food again. Top with more broth if it gets to low. When everyone is full do one more load where you cook everything, wrap up the leftovers and give it away as people leave or freeze for future use.

Party on!  
Gong hay fat choy!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Chicken Stock for free!

I know you are all jealous I live in Hawaii and think that the weather is sunny 79 everyday, but really, it's not like that ALL the time.

Just most of the time.

Anyone who has lived here long enough can feel the changing of the seasons, no matter how slight. So while we might not be the below zero temps of other parts of America we do have seasons. Or I'm really sensitive, in either case it only takes a drop of a few degrees for me to break out the long sleeve shirts, jeans and occasionally a jacket. And then I get great cravings for soups and stew.

I don't knock the stuff in the can and boxes, actually I have some in my pantry right now. But when I want something really tasty, something really delicious, something that I just can get anywhere else- I have to break out my secret ingredient.

Homemade Chicken Stock


To make everything taste better the secret is to make your own chicken stock. Don't be scared it is really easy. It just adds that extra oomph that makes takes you from ok to OMG! How the hell is that so delicious. And you make it out of nothing... or almost nothing.

Some recipes call for buying a stewing chicken or other various chicken parts. But the cheapest way to make chicken stock is to use a bunch of bones that you thought were going in the garbage. Chicken being the most obvious, but I've also had some duck bones, turkey bones, pork bone and sometimes beef bones. I save my bones in the freezer until I have a bunch then I make stock. So when you have a whole chicken/ turkey carcass, the backbone you cut off to butterfly that chicken/turkey, leftover chicken thigh bones from pulled chicken or some duck bones from Peking Duck, DON'T THROW IT AWAY!  It's still good for something-chicken stock. Stuff it into a storage bag and stash it in the freezer. Its totally free, kind of. You are making something out of nothing. Either way it's totally worth it. I promise.

Also, save those scraps from your herbs; that leftover wood from the rosemary or thyme you picked, the stems of basil, parsley or cilantro that you would normally throw out? DON'T THROW IT AWAY!  It's still good for something- chicken stock. It's freezable too and best of all it goes, still frozen, right into the stockpot. 

I personally make chicken stock in a slow cooker, because then it's cooler to tell everyone you made it in your sleep.

But use the recipe that you find most appropriate.

Chicken Stock
Bones, wingtips and leftovers (chicken, turkey, duck, goose, quail, anything poultry-like)
1 large onion, unpeeled, cut into large chunks
10-15 cloves of garlic, unpeeled, split in half if you so desire
3-4 carrots, unpeeled, broken up into large chunks
6-7 stalks of celery, broken up into large chunks
1-2 bay leaves
8-10 whole peppercorns
leftover herb scraps

In slow cooker:
Take everything above and make it all fit in a slow cooker, make sure the lid will still close.

Fill the container with water to the top
Put on low heat
Get into bed and sleep the night away

Get up in the morning to the smell of chicken goodness.
Strain and reserve stock. Toss the rest.

Cool and refrigerate. After a few hours or overnight scrap off the top layer which should be hardened and yellow. That's the fat, while it might taste good in the proper setting, I throw it away

Use within a week or freeze for anything longer than that. At one time I used the ice cube tray thing but got tired of pouring, popping, storing and washing everyday (I only had 4 trays and needed about 16). Now I just freeze in smallish containers with resealable lids (yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, etc). Defrost as necessary, or soak the outside and let it slip out in one giant ice cube and pop it into you recipe.

Stovetop method:
Take everything from above and cram it into your biggest pot.

Fill it with water until you just cover the top of the ingredients.
Put on high heat until just boiling. Skim off any bubbly gray scum at the top. Once it hits a boil. turn down the heat to low. Simmer for 6-10 hours

Strain and reserve stock. Toss the rest

Cool and refrigerate. After a few hours or overnight scrap off the top layer which should be hardened and yellow. That's the fat, while it might taste good in the proper setting, I throw it away

Use within a week or freeze for anything longer than that. At one time I used the ice cube tray thing but got tired of pouring, popping, storing and washing everyday (I only had 4 trays and needed about 16). Now I just freeze in smallish containers with resealable lids (yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, etc). Defrost as necessary, or soak the outside and let it slip out in one giant ice cube and pop it into you recipe.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Proper Thai Curry

Not to sound too full of myself but I like to cook. Moreover, I'm pretty good at it.

So when I go to a restaurant to eat a meal I think, "hell, I can make that at home." Not only that, I can probably make it better... And cheaper. I don't mean to brag or anything, but it's true... most of the time.

Except for Thai food

I was having a cooking crisis because I love curries, pad thai, tom yum, everything on that Thai menu. Occasionally, I wanted to skip the lines and crowds and just make it at home.

Well, I tried to make it at home.

I researched the only way I knew how. The internet. Every recipe I found online just didn't taste the same as some of my favorite restaurants. (Ok, there's only 1 favorite restaurant and a couple of decent restaurant.) Nevertheless, it was driving me nuts. I had tried  the internet recipes, I tried instructions on the back of packages. But everything I made... it just wasn't right. It was watery, flavorless or just m'eh. A few times I try to compensate with extra curry paste... The burning finally stopped 3 days later. 

So I did what any other person on the brink of cooking insanity would do. I joined an adult education class for cooking Thai food.

Ah-ha! I'm a genius. I know.

It pulled me back from the brink of cooking insanity. Finally, authentic recipes and ingredients. There's a few cooking techniques that are new but nothing overly complicated. The best part is that it turns out the ingredients are relatively cheap... if you stick to Chinatown.

I hate Chinatown.

They close too early for me to get there after work/weekend morning fun stuff.

And parking pisses me off.

Luckily there's an Asian ethnic store on my way home from work. Cheap ingredients, good food, everyone is happy.

I made this curry for a potluck so this is a doubled recipe. And it was a Friday dinner so I had to cook while I was at work, so here comes the slow cooker, again. The photo is messy because I tried to use the smaller crockpot, but should have known better. You need a 6 quart slow cooker for the double recipe.

Also, you can always make it on the stovetop, those directions are included too.

This is the mess you get when you try to cram all the ingredients into a 4 quart slow cooker. 

Thai Green Curry with Chicken and Tofu

Can be halved for a family dinner, or doubled again for a really large crowd. This recipe easily fed 12-15 at a potluck with leftovers for lunch.

2 cans Coconut Milk (not Cream of Coconut and not low-fat, both common mistakes)
1/4 cup green curry paste, (more paste if you like more heat, less if you can't handle)
1/2 cup Tamarind Sauce (I use prepared jarred concentrate, but boil and strain if you are using the real stuff)
1/4 cup Fish Sauce
2 Tbsp Cane Sugar
2 Large Potatoes, peeled and cubed (or 5 small potatoes, which is all I had)
3 Large Carrots, peeled and cubed (or 4 small carrots, which is all I had)
1 Medium Onion
1 package Tofu, cubed
2 large Chicken Breast, sliced
1 Cinnamon Stick (or a pinch of cinnamon powder)
6 Cardamom Pods (optional - I don't really care for the flavor)
1/4 cup of peanuts or cashews, for garnish

Let the cans of coconut sit without moving to let the cream rise to the top and the milk to sink to the bottom. I leave it in the back of the pantry, but an overnight rest on the counter works too. Heat a small pot or frying pan. Open the cans carefully and skim the coconut cream off (about the top 1/4) and into the hot pan, it will sizzle and hiss. Move it around the pan until it looks a little dry. Some instructions say the oils will separate from the cream. (But as many times as I made this I never really noticed that, just cook a few minutes more after it stop sputtering) Add the curry paste and stir around until it dissolves in the cream.

In an 6 quart slow cooker mix the leftover coconut milk, tamarind sauce, fish sauce, sugar, and the curry/cream mixture you just cooked. Stir.

Add in potatoes and carrots, turn slow cooker onto low, cover and go to work.

Come back and add in tofu and chicken. Turn onto high for about 15 minutes. Throw on clean clothes and a fresh coat of makeup. Unplug slow cooker, grab a serving spoon and head to the party.

Let everyone compliment you on your cooking greatness

Stovetop instructions:
Let the cans of coconut sit without moving to let the cream rise to the top and the milk to sink to the bottom. I leave it in the back of the pantry, but an overnight rest on the counter works too. Heat a small pot or frying pan. Open the cans carefully and skim the coconut cream off  (about the top 1/4) and into the hot pan, it will sizzle and hiss. Move it around the pan until it looks a little dry, some instructions say the oils will separate from the cream. (But as many times as I made this I never really noticed that, just cook a few minutes more after it stop sputtering) Add the curry paste and stir around until it dissolves in the cream.

Heat a large pot over medium high heat. Mix the leftover coconut milk, tamarind sauce, fish sauce, sugar, and the curry/cream mixture you just cooked.

Add in potatoes and carrots, once the mixture comes to a boil, lower heat to a simmer. Cook until carrots and potatoes pierce easily with a fork.

Add tofu and chicken. Bring back to a gentle simmer until chicken is cooked through. Serve over rice or pasta or naan or whatever you like.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Meals: Caramelized Onion and Mushrooms with Wild Rice Stuffing (or Dressing)

I have made Thanksgiving Dinner since I was 14 years old.

Yes, 14.

Any child of  immigrant parents will tell you that while the food of your motherland is great... sometimes, it's not what you want. Growing up I want to try things you hear about from other people. For example: meatloaf, fish sticks and tacos. I didn't have a taco until I went to dinner at a friend's house. I think I ate 10. I was 8 years old at the time.

So for Thanksgiving, all the kids are having turkey. My mother, bless her heart, tried making what I wanted:  meatloaf, mac and cheese and tuna salad casserole. She drew the line when it came to turkey.

Finally, at 14, I was old enough to understand good old mom's food is tinged with seasoning and techniques that she has not deviated from in 20 years. Everything that comes from her hand will taste vaguely, well, Asian. Which, as I get older, I find hysterical that whenever I try to cook something Asian I get the "it's not quite Asian-flavored" comment. Eh, to each their own.

Back to Thanksgiving....

I have been making this particular recipe for over 10 years. It started as a Thanksgiving recipe testing, before I found out that you are not suppose to test recipes on Thanksgiving. Yes, I was young and ambitious. Also many items other Thanksgiving dishes were canned, boxed or otherwise pretty easy to handle.

After a few Thanksgiving / Christmas Eve dinners I noticed that bread stuffing was being made then wasted. It was happening year after year. The solution was easy. Throw out the box and make something else. So I went hunting for another recipe. What I got was a pretty delicious stuffing recipe from Epicurious. It was popular with the family, it was great with the friends. It was talked about until I made it again the following year. And the year after that. Add on the occasional Christmas Eve dinner..... and well, you get the picture.

Until the year I couldn't get home for Thanksgiving. And I could make my stuffing. Because I had to work. *Cry a small tear*

Then I realized, I don't have to wait until Thanksgiving to make this stuffing. I can make it whenever I wanted. So I did. However, a trip to the supermarket revealed that there's rarely turkey to be found in the middle of April. So I stuffed 4 Cornish game hen instead. Then fed my roommate, who happened to get home from work when I pulled it out of the oven. She cried happy tears and declare it delicious. (She had not eaten any food that day so it might have been her blood sugar talking)

I had another breakthrough this year from Cook's Illustrated, which I am going to declare the best cooking magazine and cookbooks I've ever had. I just purchase a 3 year magazine subscription and put all the books on my wish list. I suggest you do the same. Like now.

Or after you finish reading this post.

In any case, this is a good enough recipe to use at fancy Holiday gatherings but just as good at your any day dinner table with a roommate with a glass of supermarket wine.

The recipe differs from the original in a few ways:
-First, I halved it. Even at Thanksgiving it's a lot of food.
-Second, I had to use dried cranberries instead of dried pears. Do you know how hard it is to find dried pears? They are none to be found in Hawaii and for some reason I couldn't even find them on the mainland this year. Obviously, it is not the most popular dried fruit.
-Lastly, using a technique from Cook's Illustrated (the best cooking magazine ever), I flavored the stuffing without actually stuffing the turkey. Which was very helpful because a 22 lbs turkey already took too long in the oven as it was.

So call it stuffing, call it dressing, just make it, because you will call it delicious.

Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms with Wild Rice Stuffing (or Dressing)

4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 large onions, halved, thinly sliced
generous 1/2 pound assorted wild mushrooms, sliced
1.5 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
salt and pepper

2.5 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade (but canned will work)
1.5 teaspoons chopped fresh sage, divided
1/2 cups wild rice (4-ounce)
Heaping 1/2 cup long-grain white rice
1/2 cups dried cranberries (about 3.5 ounces)
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 turkey wings, separated at joints (for fancy-smancy Family Gatherings)
4-5 Cornish game hens, halved (for everyday enjoyment)

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions, a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar; sauté until very tender and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Transfer onions to large bowl. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in same pot over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and 1/2 tablespoon thyme, a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar; sauté until mushrooms are deep brown, about 12 minutes. Add to bowl with onions. Season with salt and pepper.

Bring broth, 1/2 tablespoon thyme, and 1 teaspoon sage to boil in heavy large deep saucepan. Mix in wild rice; return to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 30 minutes. Mix in white rice; cover and simmer until all rice is tender and almost all liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes longer. Stir in caramelized onions and mushrooms, remaining 1/2 tablespoon thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon sage. Stir in dried cranberries and heat until warm through, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper. Take off the heat and stir in 3/4 cup parsley.

For a Fancy-Smancy Family Gathering: 
Make 1-2 days beforehand. The morning of your event take all the stuffing and dump it into a slow cooker that's been sprayed with cooking spray. Flatten the top. Take the turkey wings, and fry them on high heat until all the skin is brown. It does not have to be cooked through. Dump all the turkey wings, any sauces in the pan and anything you scrap off the bottom of the pan on top of the stuffing. Turn on low and leave it there until you are ready for dinner. I left it about 8 hours on low but I think we could have started eating it at the 5 hour point.

For Dinner right now:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Put half a Cornish game hen in your hand skin side down. Take a large spoonful of stuffing and smear it inside the bird. Flip the bird onto a baking sheet with stuffing side down and skin side up. Season skin with salt and pepper and bake until done. About 35-45 minutes. Serve with your favorite vegetable and some everyday wine.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

2011 Hale Aina Winners

I look at the Hale Aina Winners every year. And always have this feeling that there's a lot of politics that go into creating this list. Winners are decided by voting and unfortunately there's just a lot of people that fall prey to restaurant marketing and people who have a who-you-know that will vote for a restaurant that haven't ate there in ages. I've seen many places that are coasting on reputations.

You also have to think who goes to these places AND know about Hale Aina Awards. Also, volume messes up the counts. If you have a 300 people a night operation you are going to have more votes than the places that only have say only 100 people a night. And how many of those people know about the awards and have time to go vote at Honolulu Magazine?

In any case, just remember that everything skews the results. Always take this list with a grain of salt. I always recommend going out, try it yourself and form your own opinion.

If you need help and are footing the bill I'll be happy to join you.

2011 Hale Aina Awards
hosted by Honolulu Magazine
my opinions in italics

Roy’s Hawaii Kai
Roy has ambition and business savvy. He understands how to run a kitchen for a high volume business. Remember that when you go: it's part factory, part art gallery. Still, I love to bring people here visiting from the Mainland. Go boy!

Chefs Choice Award
Chai’s Island Bistro, Chef Mavro and Hoku’s
Big names, big respect, big politics

Best Oahu Restaurant
Gold – Alan Wong’s Honolulu
Silver – Le Bistro
Bronze – Azure
Top 5 – Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Top 5 – 3660 On The Rise
Nothing against Ruth's Chris, I think the food is fantastic. I love to go there. But in polls like these I really think that nationwide chains should not be on the list.

Best Maui Restaurant
Gold – Pineapple Grill
Silver – Lahaina Grill
Bronze – Mama’s Fish House
Top 5 – Casanova’s Italian Restaurant
Top 5 – Mala Ocean Tavern

Best Kauai Restaurant
Gold – The Beach House Restaurant
Silver – Mediterranean Gourmet
Bronze – Kaua‘i Grill
Top 5 – Red Salt
Top 5 – Bar Acuda

Best Big Island Restaurant
Gold – Merriman’s Waimea
Silver – Kaleo’s Bar and Grill
Bronze – Huggo’s
Top 5 – Brown’s Beach House
Top 5 – Café Pesto Kawaihae
I really thing La Bourgogne and Daniel Thiebaut's gets shafted year after year. Merriman's Waimea is excellent and deserves, with these 2, to be in some Gold, Silver, Bronze mash up.     

Best New Restaurant
Gold – Soul
Silver – BLT Steak
Bronze – Side Street Inn on Da Strip
Totally have been dying to check out Soul. They just added a chickens and waffles dish. So glad to see that space finally have a successful business. Just hearing good things about it. 
Also I don't consider Side Street Inn on Da Strip a 'New Restaurant.' It's a new space but the menu is mostly the same stuff from the original Side Street Inn. Still a great restaurant, just not sure if its in the right category... maybe make a 'restaurant re-dux' category. 

Best Little Neighborhood Restaurant
Gold – Kalapawai Café and Deli
Silver – Good to Grill
Bronze – TOWN
I've been to Good to Grill and am pretty satisfied with it, however I wouldn't call it a neighborhood restaurant. I want to call it a fancy plate lunch place. Don't let that stop you from going. Just byob and cafeteria style ambiance. 

Best Service
Gold – Roy’s Hawaii Kai
Silver – Alan Wong’s Honolulu
Bronze – Lahaina Grill
My feelings are mixed on this, while I feel Roy's and Alan Wong's should have excellent service; I was pretty sure they were going to be beat out by La Mer and Chef Mavro's. I think just the volume of local people that go to one versus the others skewed the results. 

Best Lunch
Gold – Mariposa
Silver – The Pineapple Room by Alan Wong
Bronze – Tango Contemporary Café
Mariposa? I admit, I haven't been here in ages, but when I did go there I only found it m'eh. I really thought one of the Kahala Hotel Restaurants were going to win. Again, overlap who goes there with who will be voting in this thing.

Best Wine Program
Gold – Formaggio Wine Bar
Silver – Vino Italian Tapas
Bronze – Chef Mavro
Slightly surprised with the Formaggio's Wine Bar being on the top. Love the place but I find the wines by the glass standard fare. Wines by the bottle though are definitely one the of best.  

Best Value
Gold – Roy’s Hawaii Kai
Silver – The Pineapple Room by Alan Wong
Bronze – Top of Waikiki
I must of missed this marketing ploy for best value. Was there a coupon or something? 

Best Pupu
Gold – Side Street Inn
Silver – Ryan’s Grill
Bronze – Uncle Bo’s
Ryan's Grill is always in someone's mind when we ask where to go for some reason I've never had anything memorable. 

Best Place to Take Visitors
Gold – Roy’s Hawaii Kai
Silver – Top of Waikiki
Bronze – Chai’s Island Bistro

Best Hotel Restaurant
Gold – Orchids at the Halekūlani
Silver – Hoku’s at the Kahala Hotel and Resort
Bronze – Prince Court at the Hawaii Prince Hotel

Restaurant That is Worth the Trip
Gold – Ola at Turtle Bay
Silver – Mama’s Fish House
Bronze – Haleiwa Joe’s at Haiku Gardens

Best Restaurant for Date Night
Gold – Michel’s at the Colony Surf
Silver – Top of Waikiki
Bronze – La Mer
La Mer? for a date? I've never had anyone even come close to a regular ol' date there. It's a special occasion place for events like: 'I'm going to propose', 'you are turning 50!.' Either that or I'm dating the wrong people. I can only name 1 friend that ever went on 1 date here (I've got to date more lawyers).   

Best Restaurant For a Big Group
Gold – Buca di Beppo
Silver – Tiki’s Grill and Bar
Bronze – Just Taco’s Mexican Grill and Cantina
Buca and Tiki's food just makes me go m'eh. My top 3 choices: Side Street Inn (original and new), California Pizza Kitchen (yes, its a chain but space and parking are good), Little Village Noodle House (those Chinese know how to feed a crowd). I have no opinion yet on Just Taco's but I look forward to checking them out soon. 

Best Breakfast
Gold – Café Kailua
Silver – Cinnamon’s
Bronze – Boots and Kimo’s
Everything is in Kailua? Guess Honolulu needs to step up breakfast service.

Best Restaurant for a Healthy Meal
Gold – TOWN
Silver – Hale Macrobiotic
Bronze – ‘Umeke Market

Best Gourmet Comfort Food
Gold – 12th Ave Grill
Silver – TOWN
Bronze – Kalapawai Café Deli
Now 12th Ave Grill is one I highly agree with, I would drop everything to go there at anytime, but does anyone else think this is the weirdest category name ever?  

Best Steak
Gold – Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Silver – Hy’s Steakhouse
Bronze – Morton’s the Steakhouse

Best Seafood
Gold – Nico’s at Pier 38
Silver – Mama’s Fish House
Bronze – Uncle’s Fish Market and Grill

Best Dessert
Gold – Roy’s Hawaii Kai
Silver – Cheesecake Factory
Bronze – JJ Bistro andFrench Pastry
It really bothers me that a chain restaurant beat out a classically trained, hand-made everything Chef. Cheesecake Factory is good, but look at the name, it makes me picture third world child laborers mixing bowls of batter by hand, slap a "made by momma" sticker on it and shipping to Hawaii. I know I'm at least half right on that story.

Best Chinese

Gold – Little Village Noodle House
Silver – Fook Yuen Seafood Restaurant
Bronze – Happy Days
I do agree with Little Village Noodle House, they know how to trend the fine line between authentic and trying to please non-Chinese palates. 

Best Hawaiian
Gold – Ono Hawaiian Food
Silver – Highway Inn
Bronze – Helena’s Hawaiian Food
This is one of the examples where I think Ono is floating on reputation. Personally I really like Highway Inn, they did some catering for an office function and we were  impressed. Also like Yama's Fishmarket and Young's Fishmarket. 

Best Italian
Gold – Assaggio
Silver – Auntie Pasto’s
Bronze – Café Sistina
Auntie Pasto's? Really? A basic pasta and sauce place is second place? Really? Your reputation really precedes here.

Best Japanese
Gold – Tanaka of Tokyo
Silver – Gyotaku Japanese Restaurant
Bronze – Yanagi Sushi
Tanaka of Tokyo? The place at Ala Moana? I'm confused, I thought Nobu would be on the list. 

Best Thai
Gold – Phuket Thai
Silver – Bangkok Chef
Bronze – Chiang Mai
Eh, I really think Phuket Thai is in the wrong category. They should be in the Best Chinese. Bangkok Chef should be in the Best Value Section. Supposedly there's another Thai restaurant someone told me is the best but no one wants to spill so they can go there and everyone else can stick to these places.

What is your opinion?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Unwinding with Margaritas

I have no air conditioning in my teeny apartment, during the summer months I tend to avoid the apartment during daylight hours. That means filling my days with tons of stuff to do, so when I finally decide to hightail it home I'm exhausted. All I want to do is shower and relax.

Relaxation = couch + TV + a fabulous cocktail.

What's a fabulous cocktail? Lately, it's been a margarita.

It might seem easier to go out and buy a ready made margarita mix, but really, this tastes better.


When you buy a mix it's like McDonald's. It's the same basic ingredients but the cheaper version. So while a real margarita will have lemon, lime and sugar; those pre-mixes are filled with cheap sugar (HFCS), fake lime and fake lemon (citric acid, from concentrate something) then add a preservatives and stabilizers to kind of taste like a margarita. It's like scratching around the itch instead of scratching the actual itch. You don't realize how wrong it is until you get it right. Really, really right. 

You could have a bartender make it, but most places also uses those pre-made mixes (except high end places like House without a Key or Ruth Chris, but for $12 a cocktail, it better be real stuff!)

A cocktail is a cocktail, but a fabulous cocktail is guaranteed to make you forget that long day.  

Sugar Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

Place ingredients in a cooking vessel of your choice, heat on the stove, stir occasionally until all the sugar is dissolved. Let cool.

Store in jars in the fridge or make a giant pitcher of margaritas
Also good for mojitos. (post pending)
Can be made beforehand and stored in the fridge for a really long time.

Margarita, on the rocks with salt

2-3 oz tequila, I use Patron because I'm tequila snotty like that
1 oz of Grand Marnier
2 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
1 oz cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (Myer Lemons if you can get it, but regular lemon is fine too)
1 oz freshly squeezed orange juice
1 oz sugar syrup, to taste
1 Tbsp kosher salt, on a plate

Get a glass and using a cut lime wet the drinking edge. Touch the edge to the plate of salt if you would like a salty rim. Once you get the salt on the rim give the glass a good slap or shake to get off excess.

Fill glass with ice, pour in all the liquids, stir. Taste, add more sugar syrup if the citrus is very tart (which depends on the season).

Sit back on the lanai at sunset and enjoy. Or in my case, on the couch with mindless reality TV. Oh, Chelsea Lately you make my night.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fruits and Vegetables, and eating them

According to my nutrition tracker, do you know the recommend amount of fruit I should be eating each day?

It's 2 cups

Did you know the recommend amount of vegetables I should be eating each day?

It's 3 cups

I thought I was close but when I actually had to enter in my normal daily diet to the nutrition counter ...I was a little short...

Maybe a lot short.

Nutritionally speaking I'm missing quite a few cups of fruits and veggies each day. I have spent the last few years working on my health, weight and good-looking-ness (hence the nutrition tracker). My biggest challenge is adjusting the diet, as a child I loved bread and french fries, then I grew into a teenager that loved carbs and deep-frying, then an adult that loves the term "carbo-loading." Until my clothes stopped fitting. Ugh! Adulthood - now I don't have the growing child excuse for eating a whole loaf of bread. Straight... Okay, maybe there was some butter... And honey.

The online nutritional guide is a tool and much cheaper than hiring a personal chef or nutritionist. So far it hasn't suggested anything new but is helping me examine everything I eat and makes suggestions. Step 1 - healthy habits stick if they aren't drastic. Meaning, I've got to start small. Surprisingly, it wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be. I added a portion of fruit to breakfast instead of my regular bacon or ham. I added a small salad to my lunch. Instead of chips, bread or chocolate I try to have a piece of fruit in the afternoon (Occasionally chocolate will call my name- loud. Nutritional Tracker (or Nancy True as I like to call her) says that's okay.). Dinner has a lean protein and little less grain, and instead of my standard 1 vegetable I shoot for 2. It's actually getting to be an effort to eat all my food because the calorie count really hasn't gone up but the volume is almost a 1/2 cup more of food at each meal. This is also a good tip for people cutting weight through diet, more food doesn't have to mean more calories. 

Adding a salad to lunch was so easy - mix greens, carrot, tomato and cucumber. If I feel really generous I'll add some avocado and/or an egg. I really love salads, it's fresh and palate cleansing.

But do you ever feel the need to change it up?

I mean, lettuce is great, but it starts to feel old after 3 weeks.
I needed something new.
Something delicious.
Something that still fulfilled my vegetable quota.
Then I also wanted it to be easy to make and easy to transport for work.

Cue Vietnamese Pineapple, Cucumber and Tomato Salad and grand entrance music

Easy- check
Transportable- check
Veggies- check
Delicious- check
Fruit - bonus!
Low-fat- bonus!
No-cook- bonus!

Give it a try, it's completely addicting. I had to portion for my lunch and hide it in the back of the fridge to keep from picking at it and having no lunch. When I finally was able to eat it co-workers wanted to know what that delicious looking salad was, and stared in amazement as I inhaled it all then drank the pineapple/dressing pooled at the bottom afterwards.

Luckily my co-workers find me amusing and not at all socially weird.

Back to the salad, I love it after a few hours in the fridge, the pineapple starts shedding juices and perfumes the whole salad. 

Vietnamese Pineapple, Cucumber and Tomato Salad
1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp neutral oil, such as canola (but I only ever have Olive Oil)
1 fresh chili, seeded and minced (I went with 1 Thai chili, but go as hot or as mild as you want)
1 tsp fish sauce (to taste- all brands are varying strength, test if you've never used it before)

1/2 large, fresh pineapple; peeled, cored and cubed
1 medium cucumber, sliced into bite size pieces
2 tomatoes, wedged
1/2 cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 cup mint, roughly chopped

Start with making your dressing in the bottom of a large salad bowl. Place the garlic on the center of a large cutting board. Sprinkle the salt on top. Using the side of a large knife smash the salt into the garlic until you get a paste. (If you are having a hard time try chopping it into small pieces first). Throw into the large bowl. Add in lime juice and sugar and whisk until sugar is dissolved. Whisk in oil and then fish sauce to taste (optional, but I love the stuff).

As you finish chopping everything else up, throw in the bowl. Toss thoroughly. Taste. Try to control yourself from gorging on the whole bowl. Chill until ready to eat.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Leftover Pulled Chicken Enchiladas

I have always lived with someone. First it was my family, then college dorms and college apartments, then a variety of post-college apartments and houses that most often came with a roommate. It those years I've had my fair share of wonderful, fun and perfect-for-me roommates. I've also had my fair share of non-cleaning, rude, inconsiderate roommates. So these last 6 months have been in a new experience for me, as I am doing something I've never done before:

Be roommate free!

It's a different feeling when someone doesn't yell at me for not doing dishes or leaving my stuff all around. Actually the good roommates understand and sometimes would do my dishes or put my stuff in my room for me. So I'm sad I don't have a good roommate but I'm glad I also don't have a bad roommate yelling at me for leaving my purse's insides all strewn about while I was searching for a certain something for 20 minutes.

Because I can get a little obsessed/crazed like that.

I currently reside in a 600 square feet, 1-bedroom apartment (yes, that measurement includes the lanai). It has been liberating to empty out my purse all over the place and not have to worry about it. However, the weirdest change is I've had to drastically reduce how much I cook, as in volume. I use to live with other professionals, which meant a full house of working-full-time-plus-the-overtime-you-don't-get-paid-but-expected-to-work people. As such, leftovers were always welcome after a 12 hour workday. It use to be whenever I cooked I always wanted to fill the largest storage container and stash it in the fridge. Now I'm living alone. I have to adjust down the measurements or end up eating turkey chili for every meal... 2 weeks straight.

In the adjustment period the first thing I learned was to re-purpose my leftovers, since I hate throwing good food away. In this case 2 lbs of chicken breast in the last recipe turned out to be a pulled chicken overload. So I had to change it up. And enchiladas are the perfect leftover user upper.

Leftover Pulled Chicken Enchiladas
1 lb leftover pulled chicken (or you can use any leftovers you have such as beef or pork)
1 can of pinto beans (or black, or kidney)
1 cup frozen corn
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
10-12 corn tortillas
1 large can enchilada sauce (or homemade about 3 cups)
1 cup of cheese (or more)
Taco Bar Garnishes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Mix together the chicken, beans, corn and cilantro. Get a baking sheet and pour 1/4 cup of enchilada sauce on the bottom to prevent sticking.

I was in front of a massive grill that was still hot so I threw all the tortillas on there and gave them a 30 second grill on each side. Alternatively, you can heat tortillas by wrapping in a moist paper towel and microwaving for 1-2 minute(s) until they are soft and pliable. 

Take a heaping tablespoon of the chicken mix, put it into the  warm tortilla and roll into a cigar shape. Place seam side down in the baking dish.  Do this until the baking dish is outta space or you run out of filling.

Pour the enchilada sauce over the top. Make sure to wet all areas of the corn tortillas. Top with cheese and stick in the oven.

Bake 20-30 minutes until the cheese is all melted, everything should look golden brown and delicious.

Pull out of the oven and let rest for 15-30 minutes. This is important unless you want tortilla to fall apart while you are scooping it out. It will still taste good, but it will look like a pile o' mess. If you are like me you will spend hours picking at the burnt cheese in the corners of the pan, because I had some spare time.

My choice of garnishes are fresh cilantro, a dollop of greek yogurt and some diced avocado while the enchiladas are still hot out of the oven. But the leftovers I took to work for lunch were plain and just as delicious.

Note: you can make this ahead and freeze it. Or make 2 and freeze 1. Or make 1 and portion it into lunch containers and freeze for work. If you can't tell already this is a great freezable recipe.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pulled Chicken in a crock pot

Over the holidays last year that I figured out that I hate my gym. I was tired of going and every machine taken over by some sweaty guy with a sweaty towel. Then I would go downstairs to the cardio room, now filled with the skinnier version I wanted to be, and try to get 60 minutes of exercise in. Even with TVs, an Ipod and a book, it was the longest 60 minutes of the day. Then I tried to hit up some classes, but after a month I found those dull too.

So I did something I thought I would never do, ready?
It's a little crazy - ok, a lot crazy:

I trained for a triathlon.

I told you it was crazy! But I like to swim, able to ride a bike and I knew running was the best way for me to get the body I had been coveting since high school. The multiple disciplines were exactly what my boring workout routine needed. I talked to a few people and joined a popular group for beginners. Thinking I would be in fair shape from my gym time I was surprised at the exercise load and struggled to keep up even in my beginner C group. But at the end of 6 months I finished not 1, but 2 triathlons. I am healthier than ever and looking forward to more training. Crazy? Maybe, but it works for me.

I also discovered other things about training for a triathlon. Did you know training sucks away all your spare time? and makes you so exhausted that all you want to do is fall in a heap in your living room floor? Seriously, I did it at least once a week. But training is half the equation, eating properly is the other half. I had an appetite so huge that even my co-workers were noticing that each day I was sucking down anything not nailed down. I also discovered cooking is hard to do when you are in a heap on your living room floor staring at the ceiling wishing for someone to spoon fed you and carry you to bed. So in the 6 months of training I discovered I could starve, go poor eating out or I could make great use of my slow cooker. 

Training makes me crave protein. Chicken in particular. Of course, I don't really have time to roast a chicken in the oven; although I have been dying to try this recipe. Truth be told when I roast a chicken I only enjoy eating the breast anyways. Lucky for me the slow cooker works while I sleep, or while I stare at the ceiling from the living room floor. And I never have to worry about burning down the house. I am an avid reader of the crockpot lady's blog and it has prepared me with enough knowledge to fake a pulled chicken recipe.

Mediterranean- Style Pulled Chicken
1-2 lbs of chicken breast (I had boneless, skinless around but you can use any chicken parts you like)
juice of 1 large lemon
1 small onion, sliced
4-5 cloves garlic, smashed or chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of red wine vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Put all the ingredients in a plastic Ziploc bag or any other marinating container you have around. Swish it all around and let marinate for 30 minutes or 3 hours (not overnight or the lemon juice will cerviche your chicken). Dump everything into the slow cooker, turn on low overnight (or high for 4-6 hours). You are done when the chicken falls apart whenever you reach in to stir or check on it.

Note from fantastic slow cooker blog: if its too dry then cook it more, I know it sounds weird but it works, trust me... ummm.... her.

Separate chicken meat and juice. Shred chicken with 2 forks and let juices settle to skim off the fat (if you are so incline). Mix it back together until you get the consistency you want for your chicken. I skimmed the fat and stirred all the remaining juices back in because I love lemon and since I was serving it over barley it made a great sauce. Taste, season with salt and pepper to your liking.

Eat. Or in my case, eat some for lunch, then make enchiladas with the rest.

Friday, January 1, 2010

December 30, 2009

My boss always asks me for restaurant recommendations. On December 30th she asked me for a recommendation for New Year's Eve Dinner. Normally she goes to Roy's so I recommended Alan Wong's and Chef Mavro. She got on the phone and I overheard her say 9pm was too late. I asked her what time she wanted to eat dinner. The response? 6:30-7pm. I laughed. I laughed loud and long then told her that those reservations have been made at least a year in advance. She looked at me like I was crazy, made a few more phone calls, then believed me. Don't doubt the former hospitality worker.