Butternut Ginger Muffins with Macadamia Nuts

        HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
Yet another recipe that involves BUTTERNUT SQUASH or PUMPKIN??  Yes, guilty as charged.  But, you can always use a wonderful muffin, right?  These are not only wonderful, but the best.  Seriously.  Plus they use up some of that extra, cooked squash you have in your fridge, and make a super addition to your New Year's Breakfast.

I did post the recipe for the Queen's Surf Banana Muffins a few years ago, and this is a riff off that.  A superior riff, if I do say so.  There were no bananas, but I wanted to use some roasted butternut squash in my muffins, and thought hey, mashed up squash could easily sub in for those bananas, right??  Add some fresh ginger, nutmeg and cardamom, top everything off with chopped mac nuts and crystallized ginger, and you get a winner, lovely tender crumb and quite delicious.

The old Queen's Surf Waikiki nightclub and restaurant burned down years ago, but I managed to get their secret Banana Muffin recipe.  Wrote it down on a 3x5 card and neglected to note who gave it to me.  Sigh.  But, trust me, the chef won't roll in his grave over this variation.


Slow-Roasted Glazed Salmon

The recipe called for "wild king salmon".  I don't know, this was fresh farmed, Atlantic.  However, do you look a gift, 4 lb. lovely salmon fillet in the mouth?  Not that there was a head to peer into.  But I have to tell you, this slow cook, glazed routine was fabulous.  So, melting succulent, tender and delicious, accented by that tangy sauce, no one was complaining Ms. Reichl.  It was her recipe in the Gourmet Today Cookbook that I almost followed to the letter.  I had ventured previously into the slow cook realm with smoked salmon, but this was a much easier slow cook method.  Like in your oven.

We don't actually know who the gift is from.  It was left in the fridge at our office, along with a nice package of "Smoked Salmon Cocktail Slices" in assorted flavors.  No one seemed to have any idea as to the donor.  How could it get there without anyone noticing?  Santa at midnight?? Well, thank you, whoever you are.  A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!


Passion Fruit (Lillikoi as we say in Hawaii) Jam Recipe

You will not need to add pectin.  I don't usually mess with the stuff myself, and just add fruit with high pectin content if what I'm using (say pineapple) is low.  I like the old fashioned boil it down method.  Since lillikoi are dropping off the vines around our place and this jam is an old favorite, I thought I'd share the secret recipe.

Passion Fruit have a thin tough outer yellow (unless you have the purple variety) shell (which resists fruit flies nicely) and a thicker, fibrous inner white shell with lots of pectin, and then the fruit and seed mixture inside.

You will be using both the juice and inner white shell.  First wash the fruits, then cut each one in half, scoop out the juicy pulpy seedy part and reserve in a jar.

Then take half the shells (I use the nicer looking ones - without fruit fly stings) and set in a large bowl.  Cover with water, top with a plate to keep submerged, and let sit on your counter overnight or 24 hours.  The next day, dump shells and water into a large pot and bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for about 45 minutes.  Pour into a colander (saving enough of the water for later) and let the shells cool down enough to handle.

Now you take a spoon and scoop out the softened, thick inner pulp, discarding the brittle outer shell.  You can either chop the pulp finely or put into a food processor.  I like the jam with a bit of texture, rather than blending smooth.

Passion Fruit Jam

Ingredients: (adjust to the amount you have)
36 passion fruits (or 6 cups juice)
half the shells reserved and cooked, pulp chopped finely (see above)
1 1/2 cups water
3-4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice

When you are ready, juice the fruit to separate out the seeds.  I use an Acme juicer, which is centrifugal so the seeds don't get crushed into the juice.  Add your chopped pulp to the juice, reserved water, lemon juice and sugar in a medium saucepan.

Bring to a brisk boil, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved.  You will need to stir frequently to keep the jam from sticking to the bottom and burning, as I have been known to do. Then I tell myself that the hint of caramelized fruit is nice. Ha.  Boil rapidly until set.  Ladle into clean, sterile jars and label if you like.

Now that is a vibrantly flavored, delicious jam for your toast, scones or inside of cookies or tarts.  Going over to Hearth 'n Soul Blog Hop for this week, hosted by Swathi, check it out.


Char Sui Bao, Manapua, Oh Yeah! I can do my own.

Sad to say, this being Hawaii and all,  I really do not know of a good local place to get these yummy Chinese buns, called Manapua here, a type of Dim Sum.  At least not with nicely raised pork inside, which I do realize, eliminates most everyone.   So, I am now happy to do it myself, whenever the Char Sui Bao mood strikes.  Really what being a foodie is supposed to be about, or am I wrong?

Our Daring Cooks’ December 2011 hostess is Sara from Belly Rumbles! Sara chose awesome Char Sui Bao as our challenge, where we made the buns, Char Sui, and filling from scratch – delicious!

As usual, it just being the two of us, well except for the occasional grandchild, I cut the recipe in half, which gave us ten fat dumplings, filled with Char Sui pork, green onions and fragrant seasoning.   I made the oven, rather than BBQ method of Char Sui, the weather being solid rain for the last few weeks.  Not exactly anything you want to go out and grill in.


Roasted Sweet Potato Scones with Passion Fruit

I realize that it hasn't been all that long since I posted about scones.  But, you'll have to forgive me, we're doing trials here to find the all time best recipe.  In the not too distant past, I didn't bother making them at all, mostly because the ones I occasionally bought weren't ever something that knocked off my socks.  Just so you know, my socks are now off.  These have more than a hint of orange rind and fresh lillikoi (passion fruit - which are dropping off our vines), a touch of garam masala and the intensity of sweet potato when it is roasted, not to mention butter.  Kind of crunchy on the outside, tender inside.  Absolutely awesome.  You really should make these.

We had oven roasted sweet potatoes last night as a side, which left me some to play with.  And after buying the new cookbook put out by our Natural Foods Market (favorite Deli recipes), I wanted to give their scones recipe a try.  Though, these don't really retain much of the original.  Only the proportions of butter, liquid and amount of sugar (which could probably be reduced if you were so inclined).  Since I used kefir, which is a sour milk and some passion fruit juice (acid), the baking powder needed to be adjusted as well, and baking soda added.

We found that they were sweet enough, so you don't need to slather them with honey, or even butter.  They're lovely as is.  Of course, to be traditional, you could top your scone with a big dollop of clotted cream, or your kefir cream cheese.  But, totally icing on the cake.

Roasted Sweet Potato Scones with Passion Fruit
Adapted from the Island Naturals Cookbook

2 cups flour (I used 1/2 white unbleached and !/2 whole wheat spelt)
3/4 cup raw sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup kefir or buttermilk
1/4 cup passion fruit or orange juice
1/2 cup mashed roasted sweet potato
1 teaspoon orange zest

Pre-heat oven to 350F.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, garam masala and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Cut in the butter until a crumbly dough forms, resembling corn grits.  Grate in the orange zest.

In blender or food processor blend sweet potato, kefir, and passion fruit juice.  Slowly add into the dry ingredients, stirring until moistened and clumping together.  Turn out onto floured counter and pat into an 8 inch circle.  Cut into 8 wedges and place onto a buttered baking sheet, an inch apart.  Bake at 350 F for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Don't over bake.  I think you're going to love these babies.  Sending them off to Let's Do Brunch, hosted by Chaya.


Guava Portuguese Sweet Bread Pudding

You may be familiar with the fund-raising compulsion of various organizations, wherein the harassed members go about their work places and schools, even standing in front of supermarkets, etc. selling an item, say large chocolate bars, Krispy Cremes, or cookies.  Here in Hawaii a popular item is Portuguese Sweet Bread, very similar to Hallah.  We have a lovely lady who comes by with her own personal fund-raiser and sells the bread at our office (among others) once a month or so.  I don't as a rule eat that sort of fluffy white bread (though this does have potatoes and eggs in it) so would usually pass on the offer.  But things have changed, ever since discovering this fabulous use for it: French Toast and Bread Pudding.  Sometimes my mind takes awhile to see the obvious.  I am now ordering on a regular basis just for that purpose (you let her know ahead of time so the correct amount gets baked). 

So, a few days of French Toast if we're in a hurry, and this to die for version of Bread Pudding when a bit more time is available.  All from one loaf (unless you are baking for a larger number than two).  I cut a Bread Pudding recipe in half for our breakfast.

To make your pudding even more delectable, spread a bit of jam on the bread layers.  I used my Guava Jam, but marmalade would be marvelous, not to mention apricot, strawberry, raspberry, quince, etc. etc.  The possibilities are endless.  A dash of some liqueur or other to aid and abet is nice.  I used Jim Beam.


Sauerkraut with Kefir Whey, Juniper Berries, Cumin and Mustard Seeds

These days it almost seems as though I'm either posting about pumpkins, or something to do with kefir.  So, no exception here.  When you're thrilled about a subject what can you do but share the fun with the world at large.  I do realize that for some of you this is nothing new, still ...
When you have kefir in the fridge, a culture in process on your counter top, and some cream cheese draining right next to it, you have arrived in kefirland.  Also there's a lot going on in your kitchen.  Now with whey to utilize from the cheese, you can imagine my delight at discovering a recipe for making pickled veggies of various sorts, including sauerkraut.  Kefir whey shortens the fermentation period, so that hardly any salt is needed.  Though after fermenting at room temperature for 3 to 4 days, you do want to let it mature in the fridge.  Don't do as we did, eating it before the 2 to 3 recommended weeks were up.  Now it's almost all gone, just when the flavor's getting to the fabulous stage.  Please see if you can restrain yourselves.


Stuffed Mini-Pumpkins with Gorgonzola, Cream and Toasted Pine Nuts

Fall is the time of year I stuff the darling little pumpkins that seem to appear only then, like mushrooms after a rain.  There they are, calling out to me from the grocery bins.  Irresistible, and so cute on a plate, aside from being really delicious.

My favorite cheese for the stuffing is a blue, which goes beautifully with pumpkin.  These have Parmesan as well.  Basically you have a custard baked in the pumpkin.  They cook together.

Perfect for any vegetarians who may be visiting you at Thanksgiving.  Just stuff them a little pumpkin.  As you will note there is a bit of olive oil floating in the water I put in that cooking pan.  Bake them until the squash is tender and the custard set.  About a half hour.


Three Cheese Ravioli with Mushrooms and Caramelized Leek in Cream Sauce

That title could have been longer, with words like basil and nutmeg scented, fabulous, delicious and wonderful, but we have to be concise some of the time.  Limit ourselves occasionally.  My granddaughter helped me with stuffing the ravioli, which always makes things go faster (and with a certain entertainment value).

I used a mixture of kefir cream cheese, grated cheddar and parmesan Reggianito, with some minced basil, for the filling.  Half the stuffed pasta went into the freezer for another day and half were covered and reserved in the fridge for dinner.  Getting that done early made for a hassle free meal prep later.


Roasted Pumpkin Scones with Fresh Ginger and Cranberries

The aroma of roasted pumpkin is such an awesome thing to have perfuming your home.  Days later I was still smelling that delicious scent.  It seems to linger.  Since a little piece of that fabulous pumpkin was left, I thought how nice pumpkin scones would taste, with a bit of fresh minced ginger and some cranberries .  The sort of thing I wake up thinking about.  To go with my hot cocoa.

To tell you the honest truth, I will never boil or steam another pumpkin, which amounts to flavorless really, when compared to a roasted specimen.   An executive decision has been made in this kitchen.  I am only saddened to think of all those wasted years, of cooking pumpkin the wrong way, just the difference between diluting a flavor or concentrating it.

So, what you do with a little dab of left-over (aside from frying it up with an egg) is to mash and add to this lovely scones recipe from Alice Waters.  Which I did, with a few other adjustments.  Like adding some spices and cranberries, using  kefir instead of cream (but feel free to go with the cream) and a bit of soda to balance the acidity in kefir.


Guacamole with Tomatillos and Easy Baked Tortilla chips

Guacamole responds nicely to the tang of tomato, though that does seem to dull things out color wise.  Red being opposite on the color wheel, you could create some gray if you were dabbling.  Tomatillos, on the other hand, being green(ish) and also being on the tangy side are the bees' knees.  I think they used to say that way back in the day before the day.  Besides which my garden happens to be jumping with them at the moment.  Not that either substance here is a vivid green, but we don't want to muddy things up more than we have to.  Those few flecks of red chili pepper keep to themselves pretty much.

You only need one tiny Hawaiian chili pepper to get a good zap of hot.  A bit of Cuban oregano, just because it's from South of the Border, a plant that grows wild in the tropics, it's actually Plectranthus amboinicus,  a tender fleshy perennial plant in the family Lamiaceae with an oregano-like flavor and odor.  Some people call it Cuban Oregano or Mexican Mint.  Nothing like mint.  Don't be calling it that.

I add a little chopped onion, salt and lemon juice for overall yummyness.  Also, char broiling the tomatillos is a way of cooking them to bring out maximum flavor.  So, you do that first.  Then let them cool while you're mashing avos and chopping things.


Making Kefir Cheese or "Grandma you could die!!"

On a recent post about my experience with making kefir at home, I mentioned that my next experiment would be using that kefir to make cheese.  My granddaughter was here, so thinking she might like to be involved, I told her about my plans.  I said, for Brie or Blue Cheese, we can scrape a bit of the mold off some purchased cheese, and use it to inoculate ours. When she heard that I would be MAKING CHEESE AT HOME, it seemed to terrify her.  I hardly knew what to say, I was so shocked by the reaction.  Of course, being on the cusp of teendom, she has been lecturing me on various subjects, so I should have been prepared.   "Grandma, don't you know there are thousands of bacteria out there, how are you going to know the mold is safe???  You could die!  I'm not eating any."  Grandma is known to live dangerously; eating mushrooms growing out in the wild, making wine and yes, cheese.


Moo Shu Pork with Mandarin Pancakes for Daring Cooks

This is a tale of two dinners.  The first, due to major pancake error, was served on rice instead of the cute, authentic Chinese Pancakes.  And, just so you know, those pancakes do roll out very nicely.  The dough is easy to work with, the recipe simplicity itself.  Just don't stack your uncooked, painstakingly rolled out, darling little cakes, cover them with a damp towel, and then go have a wine and chips break.  It won't work.  You will come back to this:
A gooey, stuck together pile of unusable dough, which you will then have to throw out, muttering under your breath (we won't curse, will we?) and have another glass of that wine.

Also, I must confess, that whilst rolling out the pancakes, there was already some mental grumbling going on.  Like making a batch of crepes is so much easier, and you can use flour that isn't white refined, and said to be bad for you, plus which there are lovely eggs, butter and milk in them.  This is taking too long, I'll never do this again, blah blah blah.  So after all that work, to face actually doing it again, was God teaching me a lesson almost too much, but we persist with challenges around here.

The October Daring Cooks' Challenge was hosted by Shelley of C Mom Cook and her sister Ruth of The Crafts of Mommyhood. They challenged us to bring a taste of the East into our home kitchens by making our own Moo Shu, including thin pancakes, stir fry and sauce.  Deh-Ta Hsiung, a renowned authority on Chinese cuisine, published a beautiful book called The Chinese Kitchen, which was a source for our recipes.

For round two I used the alternate technique given - squished together double pancakes with sesame oil in between, which you pull apart, after cooking.  Just to vary my life. BUT NOT leaving them stacked, uncooked with a damp towel over.  We frequently learn our lessons the hard way.

For the pork stir fry section of the recipe, I used a precious, naturally raised, too expensive, pork butt.  On the plus side, it was slow roasted for our Sunday dinner of pulled pork tacos (which did taste fabulous), leaving plenty left over for both of my Moo Shu attempts.  So, we did get three dinners out of that yummy butt.  My personal opinion of canned bamboo shoots and dried black fungus, being what it is, (say no more) I substituted slivers of fresh carrot and shitake mushrooms.  I will give the recipes unchanged however.


Cream-braised Green Cabbage with Seared Ahi for Cook the Books Club

Our latest Cook the Books Club pick is Molly Wizenberg's delicious little memoir-cookbook, A Homemade Life.  Molly writes a popular blog, Orangette as well as contributing food related articles to newspapers and magazines, such as Bon Appetit.  In this, her first book, she carries off a fine, well-integrated balance of personal reminiscence and culinary writing.

 Something about this book just got me trying things.  Often I can have a cookbook on my shelf for years, without actually making anything from it.  However, for the past few months I have been enjoying an unprecedented  number of recipes from A Homemade Life.

For instance, normally, I'm with Brandon on the cabbage question.  I love raw cabbage and rarely cook it, so of course, I first had to make his Cabbage Salad with Lemon and Black Pepper, which was excellent of course, but then I wanted to try the cabbage cooked in cream method.  It just sounded so decadent.  And, since the recipe made enough for four, it gave me two meals' worth.

On night number one, I served the creamy, tender cabbage with seared ahi and a salad of fresh tomatoes and basil.  Sweet, and slightly caramelized, the cabbage was wonderful. 

Afterwords, just looking at all that lovely cream sauce lapping the remainder of our cabbage, I thought maybe, when Bob's not looking, I'll just slurp it all up.  It was that good.  But, adding chicken, and serving over egg noodles would also be wonderful for night number two.  And, guess what?  It was.  I removed the meat from two baked chicken breasts, added it to the cabbage in cream sauce, and gently warmed both together before serving over the hot noodles.

More also rans from Wizenberg's book were the Bouchons au Thon (a kind of tuna muffin), were tasty both hot and cold; the delicious Turkey Meatballs with Lemon Yogurt Sauce (which as it turned out, I liked better with the sauce cooked); and a most excellent Butternut Squash Soup with Pear and Vanilla.  Also her Ratatouille, a dish I've made for years (though still prefer my simpler method),  inspired me to add Scampi, bringing about a wonderful new combination of two old standards

The lovely thing about all this is that there are still more recipes to try.  I have bookmarked her Little Corn Cakes with Bacon, Tomato and Avocado for my next brunch or dinner appetizer.  Be watching out for the Cook the Books Club Round-up to see what everyone else whipped up from our enticing little selection.


Mr. Ratatouille Meets Ms. Scampi on a Bed of Pasta

Two well-loved, old favorites of mine got together last night, and discovered they never want to separate.  It is true love.  I am serious here, folks.  Take a look at these recipe cards, if you don't believe me.  They've been around for awhile.  Sadly all on their own. 

You don't have to depend upon having some left-overs for this dish.  However, keep in mind that Ratatouille is better on the second day, and just know from the start what a good thing a merger can be.  I did have the left-overs, and happened to pick up some locally raised Kauai shrimp, when the light bulb went off in my brain.


Butternut Soup with Pears, Cider and Vanilla

This slightly unusual soup was thanks to Molly Wizenberg's delightful book, A Homemade Life,  which we are currently reading for Cook the Books Club.  I have been trying various of her recipes, this soup being the latest.  What a fantastic concoction of flavors -  golden butternut with pears, cream and vanilla, a hint of apple cider and my duck stock backing everything nicely.

For Daring Cooks this month our goal was to make stock and then a soup.  Peta, of the blog Peta Eats, was our lovely hostess for the Daring Cook’s September 2011 challenge, “Stock to Soup to Consommé”. We were taught the meaning between the three dishes, how to make a crystal clear Consommé if we so chose to do so, and encouraged to share our own delicious soup recipes!

I made a flavorful stock from Sunday dinner's roasted duck carcass, with added aromatics, carrots, celery and onion.  After chilling the broth and removing all fat, I reduced it by quite a bit, then went on, days later after numerous attempts at gathering together the various ingredients, to this soup.  Finally.  But, well worth the effort.  Since I do make stock on a regular basis, I should have done the clear Consommé thing with an egg white raft and all.  But, truthfully it just did not call out to me.


Guava Butter recipe

The guavas are coming in.  There were just enough yesterday for a nice batch of butter or jam.  I usually make jam with my fruit as it's easier than jelly, and anyway why waste the pulp part of the fruit.  Seeds, okay I draw the line there.  No one in their right mind wants guava seeds in jam, or anything else for that matter.  They are very hard, and not small enough to just swallow without noticing.

I filled two 4 cup measures, but on a digital scale, for the correct amount of sugar to add.  The fruit went in as I peeled off bad parts, halved, then scooped out the seeds, and cut into chunks.

For a fruit butter, only one extra step is needed, that of pureeing or blending it into a nice smooth sludge, once cooked in a bit of water until soft, after which you finish cooking with the sugar added.  Now for my next batch, when there are way too many for a single pot of jam or butter, I will be doing the oven baked method.  No stirring involved (or hardly any); no spitting pot of bubbling fruit hitting my arms, face, oven and floor.  The smooth sludge spits rather than simmering or boiling properly.  It's a super simple recipe, just the basics here. Unlike a fruit curd, it doesn't have eggs or butter in it.  Unlike a jam though, it doesn't keep well.


Cold Avocado Soup with Garlic Chives

We  have been enjoying lots of cool salads and cold summer soups lately, with whatever fresh vegetables and herbs are available.   This Avocado Soup is an old favorite.  All you really need are avocados, broth, and a bit of cream.  No cooking is involved.  Just a blender.

I am proud to say that Bob purchased our blender, an Osterizer, in about 1976, for $5. at a garage sale.  Unbelievably, it still works fine.  Do they even make things like that anymore?  The Blender Cookbook (source of recipe) either came with it or was purchased at the same time, which gives you an idea of just how long I've been making this soup.  You can vary the type of broth, just keep to mild tasting ones so that the avocado won't be overpowered.  Also, various herbs will work -  parsley is fine, dill or cilantro, but these Chinese or garlic chives are lovely, especially with their little white flowers.

They seem to re-seed themselves, and are popping up in different spots in my garden.  Always welcome.  The buds give a nice zap of intense flavor to omelets as well.

This little avocado scooper thingy is quite handy.  Just take the seed out and scoop the flesh into your blender container.


A Cool Summer Salad of Rice, Fresh Corn, Cherry Tomatoes and Red Onion

Rice has so much potential.  It's not just a side, but available for pudding, main dish, or even sushi.  Usually I cook a blend of white Bismati, brown long grain and wild, just for interest's sake, but often have a bunch left over.  That can become fried rice, or just be re-heated as an accompaniment, however my salad was a delightful development, especially in this weather, when I don't want to turn my oven on at all.

 We've been getting some wonderful fresh corn in our market, so when I thought of a rice salad, the combinations of mesoamerica came to mind.  Corn, yes!  Lovely little tomatoes, olives and yellow bell pepper all started flying out of my fridge.