Pineapple Honey Pavlova with Fresh Mint and Dark Chocolate

Our Cook the Books Club read for June/July was The Wedding Bees, by Sarah Kate Lynch, an inspiring, charming romance and beekeeping mini-primer.  All about an escaped Southern Belle, who together with her queen bee and small colony of worker bees, take to a rooftop apartment in New York City, retaining from her background ample training in good manners, which are combined in Sugar's case with a large dose of kindness.

Sugar Wallace reaches out to all her needy, dysfunctional and semi-dysfunctional neighbors with that winning combination.  And what a terrific, mixed cast of  characters it is. From the shy, retiring cook in the apartment adjoining Sugar's, a sad, anorexic teen downstairs, and angry, terminally grumpy old landlords.  She even comes to see her own need for love in the end and does a healthy turn-around on some issues from her past.

I loved how a little thoughtfulness, love and attention were so effective in working changes in those around her.  Actually, we could all benefit from application of the Sugar Wallace technique on those we encounter day to day.  Especially the crabby ones.  She took the good from her upbringing, and left the bad behind.  Though we are not responsible for the culture, family, etc. that we are born into, we can definitely learn from it, make better choices, and grow up.  It's called moving on.

Cook the Books Club is all about getting inspired by whatever our current selection happens to be.  For my foodie inspiration from this book, it was the scrumptious sounding Pineapple Pavlova with mint and shavings of dark chocolate, brought by the cook, next-door, to Sugar's party.  I love pavlovas, but had never made one with pineapple, or with mint and chocolate.  Oh boy, it did sound delicious.  They are also called Angel Pies, for good reason.

Pineapple Pavlova or Angel Pie

For the meringue:

4 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups superfine or regular granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon white vinegar
A few drops vanilla extract
For the topping:
2 cups diced pineapple
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons shaved dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 300°F (130°C) and place rack in center of oven.

1. To prepare meringue, line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and draw a circle on the paper using an 8- or 9- inch cake pan as a guide.   I cut mine out.

Pour the vanilla and vinegar into a small cup. Stir the cornstarch into the sugar in a small bowl.  In bowl of an electric mixer, combine egg whites and salt. Begin beating at low speed, slowly increasing to high. Continue until satiny peaks begin to form; gradually beat in sugar a tablespoon at a time.  A few minutes after these dry ingredients are added, slowly pour in the vanilla and vinegar.  Increase speed a bit and whip until meringue is glossy, and stiff peaks form when the whisk is lifted.

2. Mound onto parchment within circle, and shape into a disk, a bit lower in the middle, higher around the edges. Place in oven, and immediately reduce heat to 250 degrees. Bake 1 hour 15 minutes, or until the outside is dry and takes on a very pale cream color. Check on meringue at least once during the baking time. If it appears to be taking on color or cracking, reduce temperature 25 degrees.  Turn off heat, and allow meringue to cool completely in oven.  It will keep several days at room temperature in an air-tight container.  This is terrific in hot weather.  Bake it in the morning, and it will sit in there ready to use in the evening.

3. To prepare topping, put the pineapple and honey into a skillet, stirring over medium heat.  Cook until the fruit is bubbling, then cook for 2 or 3 more minutes.  (Note: pineapple has an enzyme that make it necessary to cook before combining with protein, such as cream.  Other fruits such as berries, or mangoes, no need.)  Set aside to cool, then finish cooling in the refrigerator.  Pour the cream into a mixing bowl, and whip until it is thick enough to hold peaks, adding the confectioner's sugar at the end. Gently fold the diced pineapple into the whipped cream.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

 4. When ready to serve, set meringue onto a large serving plate.  Lift carefully and peel off the parchment.   Spread the cream and pineapple mixture evenly over meringue. Garnish with the mint and chocolate.  Serve immediately to rave reviews. 

A perfect summer dessert, with fresh fruit in season.  And pineapple combines amazingly well with mint - a marriage made in heaven.   I'll be sending this to Beth Fish for her Weekend Cooking meme as well as our Cook the Books Club.


Ranting with Iced Coffee

What we have here is a lovely bit of fluff, perfect for poolside or beach.  On What Grounds, by Cleo Coyle, is a cozy mystery revolving around and in a New York coffee house.  Up until page 105 anyway, where drinks orders are being taken in the coffee house.  We came to a shrieking halt right there.  And, I quote:
"Double tall cap, get the lead out!"
Sixteen-ounce cappuccino with decaf.
A shudder ran through me as I glanced up and saw the wane, (Typo note: do you think she means wan?? Wane being a verb?) pale, overanxious face of the man ordering the decaf.
Okay, I'm sorry, but decaf drinkers annoy me.
Expectant mothers I can understand, but lifelong decaf drinkers give me the creeps.  They're usually the sort who have a half-dozen imagined allergies, eat macrobiotic patties, and pop Rolaids like M&Ms when their acid reflux kicks in from anxiety over the Chinese restaurant's delivering white instead of brown rice."
She raves on a bit more in the same vein.  Now, being a decaf drinker (on the few occasions I do drink coffee) you might see how this kind of prejudicial  rant could annoy ME.  First off, I love the TASTE of coffee, whilst having a negative reaction to the caffeine.  As I mention to others, making similarly offensive, snobby remarks, some of us are actually, naturally caffeinated, i.e. high metabolism.  After drinking a cup of full strength coffee, I might find myself lying awake for maybe 3 nights, listening to my heart race.  And I do LOVE getting my sleep in. Not at all wan, don't complain of any allergies, etc. etc., sorry, and no acid reflux here.

So, we might ask ourselves, why should a request for decaf annoy anyone, unless they #1, don't have any available, or #2, are possibly feeling guilty about being clinically addicted to caffeine?  Personally, so glad not to be.

Luckily for us readers, the remainder of Coyle's book is free of derogatory attitudes.  I might even read the next in her series, as the bit of romance, mystery and NY grit - which can be enjoyed especially from afar - were good.

To celebrate I'm having an iced coffee.  Just perfect in the heat of summer. This is a drink that I first had in Australia, where "the Yank" was known to peculiarly enjoy iced tea.  Now on an occasional Saturday morning, when the crowd of women leave my home after a meeting, there is a quarter pot or so of coffee left.  Add some honey, stir well with ice cubes, cinnamon and cream. Voila!  A great drink, even if it might be made with decaf. Ha ha.  Nothing like an opportunity to do my own ranting.  We'll send this along to Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking meme.


Fresh Pineapple for Upside-down Cake

 When you are literally surrounded by ripening, falling over pineapples, just cannot wait, and succumb to the urge to pick one on which, after all, there was a streak of yellow on one side, a leaf came out (one of the signs) fairly easily, only to discover it is NOT QUITE ready.  Here is what can be done.  Pineapple upside-down cake.  This is not headline news.  Just an old standard, only not out of a can.  Better.  And, with a hint of tartness to offset all that sweet.

First, the cored, peeled, sliced  pieces must be cooked a bit, in a little butter.  Then set aside until you are ready for CAKE!!  And, some of us consider cake a breakfast food.  But I baked it in the early morning, mainly because it's so hot later in the day I knew it probably wouldn't get made otherwise.  This is Alice Waters' recipe, which is a bit unnecessarily complicated, in my humble opinion.  Whilst separating, some of the yolk of the 1st egg went into the white, and I said, what the hey, lets beat them all together with the other stuff.


Hola!! Cuban Shredded Beef

It's just terrific when I'm reading along, minding my own (or actually the character's) business and they hit you with food that absolutely needs to be tried.  Now!  So, it was whilst reading one of my favorite authors' cozy mysteries, Death at the Door, by Carolyn Hart, that I came upon this: 
She opened the door and was greeted by a delectable scent.  She paused.  "Mmm, something smells wonderful."
"Flank steak simmering with onion and bay leaf, soon to be Cuban shredded beef seasoned with sauterne and Burgundy."  Max emptied the contents of a bowl into the skillet...
 You see what I mean.  That cries out to be made.  And, so I did.  Unfortunately, my husband has messed up sinuses, so never walks in and says "Mmm, something smells wonderful."  Sigh.  But, at least I get to savor it the whole time it's cooking.  In this case, four hours.

Annie, the heroine, and owner of a mystery book store, is often involved in helping to solve crimes on the island, off the South Carolina coast where she lives with her husband Max (also a good cook).  I love that they are happily married, besides being fully developed and interesting characters.  So many literary detectives and amateur crime solvers are riddled with angst, messed up and otherwise generally not fun to be around.

Anyway, off I went to procure the necessary ingredients, after searching Google for a righteous sounding recipe.  Which I adapted slightly.  You might think, 4 hours, oh boy, that's a lot of cooking.  But, the nice thing is, you can put it in a slow cooker or skillet on very low, early in the day, and forget about cooking dinner.  It's in the pot. 


Texas Style Chipotle Chicken, Oven-fried

This recipe was inspired by a book I just finished, Susan Wittig Albert's, Cat's Claw, one of her Pecan Springs Mysteries, set in the Texas hill country.  Fun, not too nasty who-done-its.  The publisher's blurb on this states:
 As the first female police chief in Pecan Springs, Texas, Sheila Dawson has cracked many a mystery in collaboration with local sleuth China Bayles. Now Sheila puts her smarts to work, sifting through secrets to find a killer on the prowl…

Larry Kirk, Pecan Springs’ computer guru, has been shot dead in his kitchen. At first Sheila believes it to be suicide, but further investigation reveals that Kirk’s death wasn’t self-inflicted. And the truth is reinforced by her friend China Bayles’ news—Larry recently asked her for legal advice in regards to a stalker.

As a police chief in a male-dominated force, Sheila meets many challenges, especially when her theories rock the boat in high-profile cases like that of George Timms, who was caught breaking into Larry’s shop. Now that Larry is dead, Sheila is sure the burglary is connected to the murder. But when Timms disappears instead of turning himself in, Sheila must prove she’s got what it takes to hunt down a predator who’s loose on the streets of Pecan Springs…
I enjoyed Albert's recent approach to character voice, shifting between the various leads, which brings more depth and insight to the story.  She also includes her usual interesting segues into different local and cultivated herbs, as Cat's Claw, which give each book its title.


Shaved Asparagus Meets Cast Iron Skillet Pizza

 Some of you may have noticed the Buzz Feed video being passed around on Facebook recently.  A rather speedy tutorial on quick pizza in a cast iron skillet.  Well, I wanted to try that.  Then the idea expanded.  One of you, likely on Beth Fish's Weekend cooking, recommended the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, and I got that from the library (to test out prior to buying, of course).  In it there is, among all the gorgeous food photography, a very tempting looking, shaved asparagus pizza.  You can see where this is going.  I did not care to use the packaged sauce and packaged pizza dough in the video.  I wanted to use some of my own bread dough with Deb's directions and  toppings.  It's a merger.

And that merger was spectacular!  I would buy shares for sure.  Baking bread about once a week or so, it is very easy to slightly increase the amounts, to have enough for some pizza.  I have done this in the past, however not nearly as successfully; was on the cusp of buying a pizza stone in fact.

My sponge is started the night before, and in the morning the remaining flour added, the dough kneaded, and set to rise.  Going with Deb's "leisurely pizza dough" suggestion, I cut off the amount for a 10" pizza (the size of my skillet) (eyeballing here), put it in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap and set in the fridge to do a very slow rise for 8 hours. Off to do other stuff.


Jammin' Out Jambalaya

 Our latest Cook the Books Club pick has been (you all have til June 1st to join in) The Feast Nearby, by Robin Mather.  How she lost her job, buried a marriage, and still found her way, living on $40.00 a week, eating locally, keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, and bartering, in rural Michigan.

Still, all things considered, eating locally is one thing in Michigan and another on an island in the Pacific. Besides which, we each have our own priorities and my #1 priority is that whatever I put in my mouth would be healthful, without pesticides, preservatives, hormones, etc. etc., whether or not it was raised by a neighbor.  Although, when possible I do make an effort to buy locally....  Maybe not enough.

Short of shooting a wild  pig myself, gutting, breaking it down, hiking out of the woods with the meat on my back, then making the bacon, we wouldn't have any.  However, having said that and reconsidering things, I have decided to make more of an attempt to buy my chicken, duck, pork roasts, and sausage from a friend who actually does all that darn hunting stuff, as well as raising chickens, rabbits and ducks, and making sausage.  He's a very self-sufficient guy.  With a huge garden.  Quite inspiring.  As was this book.

I especially enjoyed the moments with Pippin, Robins's very clever parrot, having had no idea that some varieties of parrot were so intelligent.  He understands and answers her.  Amazing.  Overall, the book is geared to locales with freezing winters, getting the summer harvest into storage by canning, dehydrating or freezing.  We have a year-round growing season here in Hawaii, though preserving what we grow is still an excellent thing.  Using fruit that is abundant beyond what can be eaten out of hand, to prevent waste and save money.  Just think of all the wine I don't have to buy, because I grow the fruit and make it.

The book is divided into 4 overall sections, based upon the seasons, with recipes appropriate to each.  It was hard to single out one dish, from Baked Acorn Squash with sausage and maple syrup to Cardamom-coffee Toffee Bars, Lamb and Apricot Tagine, and Cheese Souffle with greens, all sounding delicious, but what especially called to me was the Jambalaya.  I do love a good Cajun-Creole Jambalaya.


Mushroom Soup Umaminess

 Well, there should be a word. So I am coining it, as of now.  Umaminess.  The n'th degree of umami.   In my favorite little market the other day I was astounded by a new batch of shitake mushrooms that had just arrived.  Specimens so robust, so plump, so big and fresh looking, it was impossible to resist them; practically jumping out of the bin and into my cart.   Well, I had been wanting mushrooms for soup; and, in my humble opinion shitakes are the kings of mushroom flavor.   They are admittedly pricey, but when vegetables look really really good, it is totally worth it.  Besides which, I am a mushroom admirer, see my various posts on the subject.  The fungal fascination.

In her blog, Ruth Reichl had mentioned Elizabeth David's book, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, which I then got from the library and have been reading.  A collection of various articles she had written over the years. In that interesting book David very briefly discusses soups thickened with bread;  particularly a mushroom soup recipe of hers which appears in French Provincial Cooking.  Now I was not willing to wait for another book, and could find no such recipe online.  So, it was time to improvise darlings.

Always on the lookout for ways to utilize the remains of my loaves of bread, this was a match made in heaven for the soup of shitakes.  The method is not too difficult.  Briefly, just saute some onion in a bit of butter, add your mushrooms, saute some more, then add stock and the bread cubes, some fresh thyme or marjoram, simmer, blend.


The Mysterious Properties of Beans and Green Papaya

Not so mysterious really.  Papayas have an enzyme, blah, blah, blah.  Sometimes science takes all the mystery out of things.  This post developed as a result of my pinto beans not softening.  I added the small amount of baking soda, soaked them overnight, boiled them for hours, on hours, all to no avail.  They remained quite firm.  Then, I remembered the tenderizing effect of green papayas, and thought we'd give that a try as a last ditch attempt.  Nice there were some in the garden.

Unfortunately the papaya did not help.  Definitely a good thing I had started early on my Cinco de Mayo project, a big pot of Chile con Carne, to go with my Margarita.  The beans weren't totally hard, but a large portion of them got eliminated set aside for another use (maybe bean dip), and the chile turned out fine with mostly meat and vegetables (including that green papaya, which cooks up like squash.)  Do you know that in some places they don't even consider putting beans into chile.

Also the mystery of the beans got solved.  If you keep your dry beans, especially here in Hawaii with the humidity and warmth, for a year or longer, there are phenolic compounds, blah, blah, blah..... and they will never get soft.  Period.  No matter WHAT you do.  *see note below.

Next day,  3/4s of a green papaya left.  Now, what does that suggest?  Yes, Green Papaya Salad, which I do happen to love.  One of the best things on a Thai menu.  And, perfect to have after or with a bowl of Chili, seeing as the green fruit has a lot of that digestive enzyme.