Friday, November 25, 2011

Ode to the Egg

It brings me great pleasure to announce that my epic egg poem, which first appeared here and incidentally happens to be a personal favorite piece of mine, has been published in the current issue of The Virginia Culinary Thymes (on pages 4 to 5), an online periodical published by the Peacock-Harper Culinary History Friends at Virginia Tech. I hope you enjoy reading it (or re-reading it, as the case may be) as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chestnuts and Thanksgiving

Are chestnuts a part of your holiday celebrations?

For the first time, they'll be a part of ours. That's because on our last trip to the Hood River Valley the hubby and I discovered a lovely little chestnut orchard.

Bernardo, the orchard owner, was so welcoming and generous I became a fan instantly.

I don't know why we never realized the orchard was there before, and I don't know why I never cooked with chestnuts before, but I guess better late than never…

So I've been experimenting with different ways to roast chestnuts. I've tried open fire, I've tried the oven, and I've even tried the microwave (which until now had been relegated to melting butter and reheating leftovers), all with fine results. And with every batch, I've been noticing that the chestnuts are getting better with age—they've changed from crisp to fluffy and sweet over the two weeks since we got them. Apparently, keeping them in a paper bag in the crisper section of the refrigerator works wonders.

While chestnuts are popular in sweets and desserts, to my taste they're more suited to savories and for snacking. They make me think of sweetened Russet potatoes, so they feel like a natural addition to any number of Thanksgiving side dishes. Hence my combination of chestnuts, Brussels sprouts, and bacon.

Side note: For more Thanksgiving recipe inspiration, check out the cool mosaics on Pasplore. Somewhere in there you'll find a few of my Thanksgiving recipes.

May your Thanksgiving be happy, healthy, and delicious!

Pan-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts, Shallots & Bacon
Printable Recipe

6 ounces chestnuts
3 slices bacon, diced
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved
6 small shallots, quartered
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Using a chestnut knife, cut an X in the cheek of each chestnut. Arrange the chestnuts in a single layer on a baking tray and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until tender. Let rest for about 5 minutes, or until just cool enough to handle. Peel and dice.

Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy sauté pan over medium-low heat until hot but not smoking. Add the bacon and fry, tossing frequently, for 7 to 8 minutes, or until rendered. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a small bowl. Add the butter to the pan and heat until it melts, bubbles, and the foam subsides. Add the Brussels sprouts, shallots, and chestnuts and toss to coat with the butter. Season generously with salt and pepper. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 20 to 22 minutes, or until the Brussels sprouts are tender and golden brown. Toss in the bacon, transfer to a bowl, and serve immediately.

Serves 6. Enjoy in the fall, when both Brussels sprouts and chestnuts are in season. Chestnuts are easiest to peel when they're hot. For the best results, be sure not to overcrowd the pan.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Late Fall in the Hood River Valley

The yearly fall pilgrimage to the Hood River Valley to stock up on apples. I love it out there this time of year after the fall harvest festivities are over. The visitors go home, and a calm settles over the valley.

You have the fields and orchards all to yourself.

And of course, you have all that fruit to yourself. In addition to the countless varieties of apples, pears, and winter squash, this year there were new crops of walnuts and hazelnuts for inspiration.

Inspiration such as these cinnamon-scented apple muffins with walnut streusel topping…

Apple Crumb Muffins
Printable Recipe

Nonstick pan spray, optional
10 ounces all-purpose flour
8 ounces light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 ½ ounces walnuts or pecans, finely chopped
2 ounces (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus 4 ounces (1 stick), melted
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
8 ounces milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Braeburn apples, peeled and diced

Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Grease a jumbo 6-cup muffin pan with nonstick pan spray or line with paper liners.

Whisk together 2 ounces of the flour, 3 ounces of the brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon, and the nuts in a medium bowl. Add the room temperature butter and, using your fingertips, rub in the butter until the mixture holds together in clumps.

Whisk together the remaining 8 ounces of flour, 5 ounces of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the eggs, milk, melted butter, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Gently fold in the apples. Divide the batter among the muffin cups and spread the nut mixture evenly over the muffins. Bake for 28 to 32 minutes, or until the edges of the muffins start to shrink away from the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in the pan for about 15 minutes. Invert onto a cooling rack and finish cooling completely.

Makes 6 jumbo muffins. Can also be made in a standard 12-cup muffin pan—just adjust the baking time accordingly. Any variety of cooking apple may be used instead of the Braeburns. Muffins keep well and stay moist for 2 to 3 days in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Inspired by Hawaii

The worst thing about traveling is coming home and not being able to find the one ingredient that you were inspired to cook with. Since our trip to Hawaii, I've had about a million ideas for playing with passion fruit…passion fruit tarts, passion fruit bars, passion fruit cheesecake, passion fruit gelato, passion fruit curd, the list goes on and on. But all that inspiration is for nothing—it turns out passion fruit is nearly impossible to find around here, and when you do manage to locate the few lifeless lilikoi that are available, you realize all your bright ideas may never materialize because each fruit costs a small fortune.

Time to turn my attention to the trip's second most inspirational ingredient. Thankfully, this one's not so hard to find…Mmm, coconut!

Chocolate-Coconut Muffins
Printable Recipe

Nonstick pan spray, optional
8 ounces all-purpose flour
5 ounces sugar
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
8 ounces coconut milk
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup shredded coconut, optional

Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick pan spray or line with paper liners. Whisk together the flour, sugar, chocolate, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together the eggs, coconut milk, butter, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Divide the batter among the muffin cups and sprinkle the muffins with the coconut, if desired. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes, or until the edges of the muffins start to shrink away from the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Invert onto a cooling rack and finish cooling completely.

Makes 1 dozen muffins. They keep well and stay moist for 2 to 3 days in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


It's Hawaiian for delicious. Isn't it a fun word?

Hubby and I just had our tenth anniversary, and we celebrated in ono style with a trip to Maui. During our short seven days there, we toured almost every part of the island and managed to consume more tropical fruit than we had had during the entirety our marriage.

In a macadamia nutshell, the food on Maui is pork, beef, and fresh fish—especially mahi-mahi and ahi tuna—with Asian flavors and lots of tropical fruit. Steamed rice and creamy but bland macaroni salad (possibly heavier on the mayo than the macaroni) seem to accompany every meal, including breakfast. A selection of noodle dishes appears on most menus. The fruity adult beverages are to die for. Oh, and Spam is ubiquitous, but we didn't feel the need to delve quite that deep into the culture.

Our first meal, at the local favorite Da Kitchen, was an enormous traditional Hawaiian "plate lunch" consisting of succulent and salty shredded kalua pig, pork lau lau, lomi-lomi salmon (more fun words!), brothy ginger-scented chicken long rice, and two scoops of rice.

We also tried a plate lunch with kalbi short ribs at Aloha Mixed Plate as we eavesdropped on the luau next door. By the way, I gather this sort of combination is referred to as a plate lunch even if it's eaten for dinner. We never did get around to tasting the poi, though we did see a number of taro ponds. As tasty as the plate lunches were, when you plan on spending the majority of your waking hours in a bathing suit, it seems prudent to partake in lighter fare…

And so, this was the first vacation the hubby and I actually spent more time on activities other than fooding.

We floated in the waves and snorkeled with the colorful fish and the graceful, curious sea turtles. We bird watched, and we were endlessly amused by the riot of birds in constant motion around the fragrant guava tree behind our hotel room. We explored the black sand beach.

And the surrounding cliffs, with their curious vegetation.

We drove the winding road through lush tropical jungle to Hana.

And marveled along the way at the beauty of the eucalyptus trees.

We pulled over to the side of the road to feel the texture of their rainbow bark.

To prove to ourselves they were for real.

We watched the expert surfers, wind surfers, and kite boarders from the beach (as we enjoyed an ahi poke picnic), but we thought the waves would be bigger.

We took in the views from above the clouds on the moon-like summit of Haleakala.

We daydreamed about the freedom of sailing the high seas.

We gazed at the sunset.

We gazed…

And we gazed…

And we gazed…

Still, being that we are who we are, we must seek out edible activities for our travels not to feel incomplete. Every farmers market—apparently a single roadside fruit stand constitutes a "farmers market" on Maui—warranted a visit, no matter how tiny or out of the way.

We picked up macadamia nuts still in the shell, yellow-skinned lilikoi—that's passion fruit and yet another fun-to-say Hawaiian word—for the bargain price of four for $1, mangoes sweeter than honey, and a juicy, just this side of cloying pineapple.

Three-bite, complexly flavored apple bananas were the norm.

In fact, I don't remember seeing a single "regular" banana while we were there. Coconuts were whacked open to order.

Cups of coconut water were free for the asking.

Addictive coconut chips, sold as coconut candy, were available in either sweet or spicy varieties at the quirky stand on the road to Hana.

The loaded coconut trees everywhere prompted my husband, with his ever inquisitive mind, to ask, "How many people die from coconut strikes each year?" There was also a small amount of foraging, as we passed wild guava and avocado trees in the jungle. Hubby wondered if they were growing wild or wildly growing. There was trespassing too as I tried to get a glimpse of the pineapple fields.

Apparently pineapple thieves are a big problem on Maui. Hubby yelled at me, insisting I obey the signs, but as you can see, I took my chances in order to watch the harvest.

One of the highlights of the trip was our visit to the isolated Ono Organic Farms. We were greeted by a lovely spread and the even lovelier news that it would be a private tour.

We did a tasting of all of the fruits that were in season, and we strolled the farm until a tropical deluge forced us back under the cover of the porch.

Between the farm itself and their roadside stand in Hana, we tasted fibrous mamey sapote, low acid pineapple, star fruit, star apple, white and strawberry guavas, both wild and sweet lilikoi, strawberry papaya, a new-to-me variety of juicy avocado, rambutan, longan, dragon fruit, pink and white pomelo, Apple banana (to our extreme disappointment, the Ice Cream bananas were not yet ripe), macadamia nuts, sour cucumber-shaped bilimbi, spicy Surinam cherries, peanut butter fruit, which tastes just like the name implies, and ripe coffee berries.

The guava was a revelation. We couldn't get enough of the lilikoi, but the star fruit was disappointing as I'd had better before.

I couldn't bring myself to like the papaya even though it was by far the best quality specimen I'd ever tasted.

Strangely, it smelled a lot like funky cheese to me.

On the tour, we saw many of the things we had experienced during the tasting and then some. We discovered that papayas grow in a very orderly columnar fashion and that, though they are easy to confuse from a distance, guava is a tree and lilikoi is a vine. Banana flowers and "hands" of bananas were quite sight.

Who knew sugar cane was so colorful?

We saw jackfruit (from which Juicy Fruit gum gets its flavor) as big as watermelons and softball-size breadfruit on the tree. If falling coconuts are a problem, imagine what a risk jackfruit and breadfruit strikes must be! We admired the broad, deeply veined leaves of a turmeric plant. Then our tour guide had us take a whiff of one particularly nondescript looking tree and guess what it was. I said cinnamon, and she exclaimed that I was the first ever to correctly identify it. I bet she says that to everyone because the aroma was unmistakable. We saw macadamia nuts and cashews growing and learned that macs must be dried in the sun before they can be extricated from their shells and cashews are poisonous unless heat-processed correctly. Most fascinating were the cacao pods, which mature from brown to pale blue-green to yellow and sprout directly from the trunk and branches of the tree.

Unfortunately I couldn't convince our tour guide to break into a cacao pod or even sell me one for less than $40—that's about $1 per seed, but we did get to try previously cleaned raw cacao seeds, which tasted remarkably like chocolate. It was fascinating, and if I ever find myself in Maui again, I'm going back to Ono.

In case you're wondering, the lighter fare that I spoke of we found at the small, out-of-the-way Star Noodle. The homemade ramen at this modern Asian-inspired restaurant hit the spot so well that we returned there for two more meals to sample the other offerings: tempura colossal prawns, steamed pork buns, sous vide rib-eye, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and kimchee puree, garlic noodles, malasadas, and the outrageously ono tropical fruit saketinis. The best part was that only locals and in-the-know tourists would ever find this place.

Also memorable and definitely worthy of mention were the guri guri, a frozen novelty in pineapple and strawberry flavors with a texture that's somewhere between that of sherbet and shaved ice, at Tasaka Guri Guri (70 E Kaahumanu Avenue, Kahului, 808-871-4513), the refreshing shaved ice with homemade fruit syrups—made right, not grainy and crunchy like a snow cone—at Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice, the truly ono tropical fruit sorbets at Ono Gelato, and the locally made furikake potato chips I picked up at TJ's Warehouse Outlet.

We returned home a little tanner, a little more relaxed, and a carved wood tiki salt and pepper shaker set heavier. And though we're suffering from tropical fruit withdrawal (going from four lilikoi to zero per day is a severe shock to the system), we are full of ono memories of our time in Maui and looking forward to the adventures the next ten years together will bring.

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