Monday, March 31, 2014

Robert Lewis Stevenson, Hawaii,the Waiola Tea Room and Chicken Salad

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a lot of books about adventure. Adventures which took place in far away places, and in historical settings, and featured Freedom Fighters, Evil Counterparts, Ladies Fair, Pirates and young heroes. Stories that boys, who were spending lots of time reading came to love and devour with ravenous abandon.

One of those boys was me. I came to love stories like Treasure Island, The Black Arrow and Kidnapped whose young boy heroes were within the realms of my imagination, just like me. I was transported to exotic Islands in the Pacific or the Caribbean, the dark smokey fields of Scotland or onto Ships filled with Pirates. His books were easy to read and classic in their approach to historical drama and adventure. Popular in his day, he continues to be an inspiration for boys and girls growing up and reading his books today. Sailing away in their imaginations to amazing adventures, just as I did.

Now you who have been following my blog for awhile know that as a young boy I lived in Hawaii. I grew up as a navy brat and that experience shaped many of the ways I actually view the world.

Being a military brat can be a difficult thing for a kid. For example you move around a lot. You have to start over at schools. You have to make new friends every 2 years or so. Not to mention that you have to find ways to carry a sense of home with you every time you move without being able to rely on physical surroundings to support you in that.

It's about creating relationships which while being on the one hand are temporary, are also real and necessary. Family relationships also become elevated in their importance. It's a balance. And one which is typically never perfectly walked by people. Most military brats I know all have issues perhaps stemming from the manner they were raised. On the other hand, they also develop social and interpersonal skills that help them to succeed and shine in various parts of their lives. Skills, that other people raised under more traditional circumstances might not develop till later in life. It's a trade-off of sorts. But it's a trade-off, that is like many things in life, is the result of reacting to and dealing with circumstances. Circumstances One as not chosen, but has been handed.

Like many my experience as a navy brat took me all over, but Hawaii was the one place, that as a young boy of 7 to 11, was most pivotal. It was definitely the place that I had many life affirming and exciting experiences. Aside from the natural beauty and the weather, living on a naval station, going to school, and doing the things a boy of that age does. I had my first exposure to many cultures. Asian and Pan-Asian cultures mixed with Pacific Island peoples as well as the Anglo Natives living there since the time of Captain Cook, and lots of military and tourists.

So what does all this have to do with Robert Louis Stevenson? Well while looking for a warmer climate to help his weak respiratory system. He spent time in the Hawaiian Islands where he became good friends with the King and his Daughter. He lived for a time as a guest on a plantation which today is a famous 10 acre park and tea room called the Waiola Tea room. There you could have high tea or lunch, browse the gift shop, roam the grounds and even see a hut where Stevenson lived while he was staying there. It's run today by the Salvation Army as a park and is a really nice thing to do if you are visiting Oahu. It's definitely old school with table clothes in white or pastels hanging baskets full of flowers or plants and an older cliental but nonetheless a really neat experience. It was a place we took visiting relatives and friends for an authentic old Hawaii experience like my Aunt Lucy and Cousin Priscilla when they came to visit. And back in the 70's when I was there it was more military wives and ladies who lunch, than grannies and senior citizen, but I can't speak for it today.

Needless to say as a boy this was endlessly cool, great paths and historical structures to explore. And then there was the really yummy food. One of the dishes that I remember really well was the house baked Breads and the Curried Chicken Salad supposedly based on the original tea sandwiches served back in the day. At Waiola Tea Room this salad was piled onto really good homemade wheat bread and was served with a delicious mayo, sliced tomatoes and crisp lettuce. As a boy it represented everything yummy and elegant about having lunch at the Waiola Tea Room. And I never forgot it.

So today I want to offer up my family's version of this classic Old Hawaiian Tea Room offering. I love fussy little teas sandwiches cause I think they are really fun. And while this recipes is not really based on anything but my recollections of that Waiola chicken salad, it is still fun to imagine Robert Louis Stevenson sitting on the porch of that old house with his hosts the King and Queen of Hawaii back in the time. Enjoying tea and a sandwich like this. For the recipe and as a benchmark my Grandmother made a great curried chicken salad. This was from my Grandmother's hand written cookbook. It's the recipe that was served to Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Charlotte N.C. in 1976.  So I hope you enjoy this and have some of your own adventures recreating chicken salad fit for a King or Queen. Just take a moment remembering Old Hawaii in your kitchen.

Grandma's QE II Curried Chicen Salad Recipe ( circa 1976 )

2 cups chopped cooked chicken cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/2 cup water chestnuts sliced
1/2 pound white seedless grapes halved
1/2 cup toasted almonds slivered
1 8 oz. can pineapple chunks juice drained
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely diced red onion ( optional )

3/4 cup Mayo ( or greek yogurt )
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder ( Use Madras powder if you like it hot )
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce

Mix ingredients add dressing and salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for 3 hours or more before serving


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Party Shortcuts: Hummus Dip a New Way to Serve up a Old Favorite

Ok! Ok! I have a confession to make. I love hummus. I mean who doesn't really. And I know that I could drone on and on about how to make hummus and what no,t but really there are so many good varieties of the stuff out there in the grocery case why put yourself through the effort. ( Although making it at home in bulk is actually cheaper)

So what could you possibly do or say on a food blog post about hummus. Well only this, and I know it's a cheap shot not in the vein of my usual recipe profile but this is a super easy and super quick way to up your entertaining repertoire. Plus it adds dairy to an otherwise vegan dish. Which you might not like but if you do, you will like this a lot.

To make this dip you simply take a container of hummus and a container of greek yogurt, stir them together with a few glugs of olive oil and some salt place in a bowl garnish with more olive oil and some pine nuts or aleppo pepper and viola! An amazing dip. Serve with pita triangles and you have a party.

Hope you enjoy this easy tip Ya'll!

Recipe ( if you can all it that )

1 16 oz. container of Hummus
1 8 oz. container
Good quality olive oil
Toasted Pine nuts
Aleppo Pepper flakes
Some parsley chopped or dried for garnish

Stir together and add salt to taste, then garnish with more olive oil and the pine nuts and or pepper flakes.

Friday, March 14, 2014

St. Patty's Day Foods Bangers and Mash an Irish Tradition

So we are getting ready for St. Patty's day in NYC. It's a big holiday here in these parts. So this year I am combing two for my favorite things, sausages and mashed potatoes. Well not just ay Mashed potatoes but my potatoes Colcannon a traditional Irish mashed potato preparation which I have posted about before but will include again just because I think some of you might not have seen this one.

Bangers are the traditional term for sausages in Ireland and to some extent in the United Kingdom. Irish bangers are mostly pork sausages very mildly seasoned and served up grilled often with an onion pan sauce. Here in the States at Trader Joe's they sell these lovelies around the time that St. Patty's gets going. Here they are:

 Basically you fry them up in a little oil and serve them up hot and juicy. The traditional pairing as I said is with Mashed potatoes!

Now I love mashed potatoes. They are probably on the scale of one to ten in the top 9 percentile of the foods I love. I have had them in so many ways I cannot even tell you. My friend John makes them with rosemary and lots of cream cheese. I love them loaded like at Vickery's my favorite bar restaurant in Charleston, and I love them whipped into perfection with lots of butter and cream like at a fine French restaurant.

Now I am supposedly a little Irish on some level, what with my father's family coming from the English and German stock they did. Irish is always in the mix there somewhere I suppose. But whether or not one is Irish or not St. Patricks Day is a fun and rowdy time for all. I mean let's face it major U.S. cities go as far as to dye their rivers green for the holiday! I mean people get very into this celebration. I for one find it a little bit too much as I grow older, but I can appreciate the good time.

Now Potatoes Colcannon or "white headed potatoes" as there are known from lore in Ireland are a dish which normally contains potatoes and cabbage and onions and maybe scallions and of course loads of butter! So when I set out from that point I thought about what I do and don't enjoy about the idea of cooked cabbage. I think maybe it's from having too much boiled cabbage growing up but I sort of don't fancy it. However, I am intrigued by how the two elements of mashed potato and the cooked cabbage made such a great dish when I first tried it at a Hillstone restaurant. However I knew after all this time and the foodie things I have experienced that if I were to make them, I could up the anty.

My thought processes about this made me think about two things. I have read that colcannon can be made with Kale. I like Kale. So I thought why not work with that. The second thing I thought about was that I like green foods. So if I were to make colcannon I would like it to be a little more green than the version I had at Cherry Creek Grill. Now I have expressed before in the blog my love of colored foods. Foods that take on a different color shade due to some emulsion of another food or addition of herbs etc. are so great to me. Great to me from a taste standpoint first, but also from a composition standpoint when talking about putting foods together on a plate. So I wanted to make a greener spicey and more flavorful version of the dish I loved so much when I had it the first time, whew...not a short order!! Cause why.....Hillstone rocks but here it goes!!

My first inclination was to take example from one of the Chefs at work who created gorgeous green basil ( not pesto ) whipped potatoes a couple of years back for the Spring menu that year. He told me the trick was to blanche the basil so that even when it was added to the warm potatoes it would retain it's green color and not turn a pasty brown. An old culinary trick but an effective one. Next I thought about my ingredient list. I already had the Kale, but why stop there. So I added for the onion more green power, leeks and scallions. And for a bit of a kick a bit of garlic for even more added fun. For the consistency I decided that buttermilk would do a better job and flavor than just cream and of course lots of butter.

To insure the dish had both color and texture I decided that blanching the greens quickly then pureeing them with some buttermilk and butter would be the emulsion that would color and flavor my colcannon nicely. Then for some texture a few reserved scallions for garnish as well as a big "knob" of butter to finish off the dish. Sounds yummy. You bet! So enjoy trying this and Happy St Patty's Day.

Potatoes Colcannon with Leeks and Kale

4 or 5 good sized Yukon gold or golden yellow potatoes scrubbed and diced into pieces
handful of salt
2 leeks cleaned light green and white parts only
2 cups chopped kale packed tightly
1 large bunch scallions thinly sliced on the bias 1/2 cup reserved for garnish
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup sour cream
1 stick butter cut up
1 tablespoon minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste


Place potatoes in a heavy bottomed pot with salt and bring to a boil
Cook till potatoes are easily pierced with a fork
Then remove from heat and hold warm.
Meanwhile bring another pot of water to a boil
Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.
Add kale and leeks and blanche quickly until the kale turns bright green then remove from the boiling water  about 4 to 5 mins and place into an ice bath in a large bowl to stop the cooking.
Drain on paper towels and set aside.
Place greens into a blender with the scallions and blend with 1/4 cup buttermilk and 1/4 stick of room temperature butter
Blend until pureed and still a little chunky (ie. not thin think texture).
Open potato pot lid and add the emulsion mashing the potatoes until mashed add sour cream and 1/4 stick butter salt and pepper to taste and the garlic.
Mash and stir till well combined. If not loose enough add the buttermilk a little bit at a time till you have the consistency of whipped mashed potatoes.

To serve place the potatoes in a large serving bowl and garnish with the remaining butter and scallions or serve in small bowls and place a knob of butter in each and garnish with the scallions and serve with grilled bangers! Happy St. Patty's Day!


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Cream of Artichoke Soup or "California Dreamin" on such a Winters Day

This weather has been really getting to everyone up here in NYC this winter. I think everyone is ready for a little springtime relief. But I am not waiting till then. I am taking matters into my own hands and having a little California Dreaming cooking moment right now. That's right just like the song by the Mama's and the Papa's although I prefer the updated Beach Boys version.

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey
I've been for a walk on a winters day
I'd be safe and warm if I was in L.A.
California dreamin', on such a winters day.

Whether you know it or not most of the Artichokes grown here in the US come from California. In fact the town of Castroville has the self-proclaimed title of "center of the universe". It's committed when it comes to this bulb of the sun flower cousin that is so tasty, in fact the town even holds an annual festival for the artichoke.

And I love artichokes. Oh yes I do. In fact when I was about 3 I opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a jar of marinated artichokes and consumed the whole thing. An act which promptly had me break out in a rash and required a trip to the Doctor's office. Needless to say I don't remember that too well but to this day I have an undying love of the artichoke in all of it's culinary incarnations.

So truth be told this recipe did not come about on it's own. I had a couple of bags of frozen artichoke hearts lying around and decided they needed to be cooked. So in researching what to do with them I came across an article about a James Beard award winning restaurant in California called Duarte's. They are one of 5 to 10 restaurants in the country dubbed a "classic" by the esteemed James Beard Foundation. Oh yeah did I mention they have been around for 118 years. That's pretty awesome sounding. So in my readings I found that they had a famous recipe for cream of artichoke soup. Well I am a sucker for a creamy anything and I love old classic places so my interest was peaked. Well it could not be simpler. There were a few recipes out there on the web for this soup but I think I got one that's spot on. It's not complicated but wow is it good. While it is vegetarian it is not low calorie, sorry. I suppose you could make it without the cream since you add it at the end ( which I actually did, but was not as good so I added the cream.).  Eat this with some crusty bread and a fresh green salad and you have a Californian style meal that's sure to satisfy.

Duarte's Tavern Cream of Artichoke soup.
Recipe based roughly on various versions of this soup.
Makes 6 servings


3 tbsp. butter
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 lb. frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and roughly chopped

1 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup grated parmesan ( optional )
Lemon wedges, for serving


Heat butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
Add garlic and onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8 minutes.
Add wine
Add artichokes; cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes.
Add stock; bring to a boil. 
Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until artichokes are very tender, about 20 minutes. 
Transfer stock and vegetables to a blender; puree until smooth. 
Return to saucepan, add cream ( and cheese if using ) and the lemon juice, and bring to a simmer over medium heat 
Cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced a little, about 15 minutes. 
Season with salt and pepper, and serve with lemon wedges and crusty bread on the side.