Pineapple-Apple-Macadamia Nut Pie

While on vacation recently on Maui, my family had lunch at award-winning Leoda’s in Olowalu, on the Honoapiliani Highway about 5 miles south of Lahaina. In addition to remarkably good burgers, sausages, and sandwiches, Leoda’s is famous throughout the Islands for their desserts and baked goods, which incorporate lots of local produce.

We enjoyed several tiny little pies with our meals, including a banana cream, an Olowalu lime, and a pineapple-apple. To this Midwesterner’s taste buds, used to all manner of apple pie treatments, this was a complete revelation! Sweet but not to put your teeth on edge; citrusy tart but not sour; satisfyingly dense but not gut-bomb heavy. I did actually say out loud in the restaurant, “why don’t we do this on the Mainland?” And conversations I’ve had with coworkers and family since then have generated much the same reaction. Talk about a delicious mix of cultures!

Back home, I consulted one of the Minnesotan holy books of baking, “Betty’s Pies Favorite Recipes” – not that she ever made a pie like this, but for advice on how to mix fruits together successfully.

By comparing several recipes, and with a bit of luck, I found this combination worked especially well. The flour and cornstarch are a bit higher than with a usual apple pie to handle the extra moisture from the pineapple. Care needs to be taken with the macadamias to prevent burning, but to give them enough time to brown and release their wonderful crunchy aroma.

Filling:

  • 1 9-inch unbaked pie crust
  • 4 cups peeled, sliced baking apples
  • 2 cups (one large can) crushed pineapple (unsweetened variety preferable)
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Topping:

  • ¾ cup old-fashioned oatmeal
  • ½ cup coarsely-chopped macadamia nuts
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, in small chunks
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 425°. Make sure your baking rack is centered in the oven to ensure even heating all around the pie.

Dice the baking apples and squeeze as much juice as practical from the can of pineapple, then combine in a large bowl. Add the remaining filling ingredients and mix well to thoroughly coat the fruit. Set aside and prepare the topping.

For the topping, in a smaller bowl mix the dry ingredients and butter until moist clumps form.

Apply non-stick spray to your pie pan and place and crimp the crust. Add the filling mixture and pack to compact. Then sprinkle the topping mixture over the filling, covering it evenly and completely, making sure the blobs of butter are well distributed.

Bake at 425° for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375°. After another 10 minutes, cover the top of the pie loosely with aluminum foil to help prevent the macadamias from scorching. Continue baking for another 35 minutes – or as long as needed for the apples to get tender and the sauce to start bubbling at the edge of the crust.

Cool 2 hours after removing from the oven; serve hot or cold. The pie will keep for a week in the refrigerator, but you’ll have polished it off well before then…

Fast but Good Ramen

We had been traveling for five days and this was our first full day home. Still experiencing jetlag / daylight-time / up-way-too-early hangover, I hadn't realized tonight that our usual dinnertime had come and gone, and I was wondering why I was feeling so uncomfortable...

There was one slice of last night's pizza still in the fridge, but I needed to make something nutritious for our daughter and was craving Asian food after being in an area where we couldn't get it.

And of course, it had to be fast... using whatever I had in the refrigerator and cupboard.

I had picked up this premium ramen noodle at United Noodles earlier this winter, and this seemed to be the right time to try it. This package had four "biscuits" of noodles - so the price per serving is actually well under $1.00.

It comes with the usual foil packets of dry flavoring, but also packets of congealed fat to add in. Use them - it makes a big difference!

It comes with the usual foil packets of dry flavoring, but also packets of congealed fat to add in. Use them - it makes a big difference!

Other ingredients:
* Baby carrots, sliced into bite-sized chunks
* Spinach, chopped into thin julienne strips
* Half a turkey kielbasa, sliced in quarter-inch medallions
* A dash of soy sauce
* A couple dashes of lime juice
* A couple dashes of sesame oil
* Five-spice powder
* Pickled ginger
* 1 teaspoon Sesame seeds

I put a pot of water on the stovetop at high heat while I chopped the carrots, spinach, and kielbasa. As the pot came to a boil, I added the carrots and kielbasa to it along with the soy sauce, lime juice, sesame oil, and a shake of five-spice, and also two biscuits of the ramen noodles.  I placed the spinach in the serving bowl for later.

After 3 minutes I added the foil packet of spices and the plastic packet of pork fat to the pot, let that boil for another 3 minutes, and then turned off the heat.

I transferred the contents of the pot with most of the broth into my serving bowl, hit it with another shake of five-spice, the sesame seeds, and about a forkful of pickled ginger strips.

Along with five-spice powder and a good-quality soy sauce, pickled ginger is another must-have "secret ingredient" that makes your home-cooking taste more like what you'd get from a real Asian restaurant. A little goes a long way!

Along with five-spice powder and a good-quality soy sauce, pickled ginger is another must-have "secret ingredient" that makes your home-cooking taste more like what you'd get from a real Asian restaurant. A little goes a long way!

And here's the finished product, four servings total. Plenty of greens and veggies with just enough low-fat meat to get your needed protein. The carrots had cooked to a soft texture while the spinach stayed crisp. The pork-fat packet gives the broth a smooth, smoky texture (and really doesn't add too many calories when split over multiple bowls.) 

The judgment - would my daughter eat it? Enthusiastically, slurping the bowl clean and asking for seconds!

The judgment - would my daughter eat it? Enthusiastically, slurping the bowl clean and asking for seconds!

Of course, with more in the fridge I would have sliced up some green onion, cilantro, and perhaps some red pepper, but these ingredients did the job tonight - tasted authentic - and even gave me enough for lunchtime leftovers tomorrow.

 

Carrot Soup

We had an especially long growing season in Minnesota in 2015, but it was the end of October and I still had not cleared out the carrot patch I'd watered but otherwise ignored in our garden most of the summer and fall. I ended up filling a gallon-sized bag to overflowing with carrots that mostly resembled those "fun size" ones at the grocery store. But they tasted fantastic! (mental note to perhaps thin the carrots out in June next year...) It was too much volume to keep in the fridge, so I had to cook them down into something I could keep in the chest freezer.

I read several different carrot soup recipes, and played around with them to get the Asian flavor I was looking for, while using up what else I had on hand:

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups chopped carrots
  • 1 stalk celery, cleaned and chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons five-spice powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ginger paste
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice

Preparation:

Set a stock pot on medium heat and add the vegetable broth, peanut butter, and lemon juice. Let that warm up while you prepare your vegetables.

In a medium saucepan, saute the garlic and ginger paste in 2 tablespoons of butter for 2 minutes, then add the celery, red pepper, and onion, cooking for another 3 minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the carrots and the remaining tablespoon of butter and let that cook, stirring well, until the carrots are spatula-tender.

Combine the vegetables with the broth, and add the five-spice and pepper. Bring this to a boil and let simmer for 20 minutes, then take off the heat.

If you have an immersion blender, stick that in the pot and go; otherwise carefully pour small batches into your countertop blender - this is a thick liquid that keeps its heat; take care to not get scalded.

I served some for dinner right away with rice and chicken, and put the rest in freezer bags.

The soup works very well as a side sauce for meat and rice; on its own I would add red pepper and chopped sausage. Lots of vitamins in here; I'm looking forward to eating this through the cold winter to come!

Lemongrass-Coconut Chicken Soup

I was inspired to construct this after reading through Ming Tsai's excellent "Simply Ming One-Pot Meals" and a productive trip through the St. Paul Farmers' Market on a summer morning.

We had reached the point in Minnesotan Summertime where all the vegetables were in-season and inexpensive; I'd returned with an overflowing bag and not enough refrigerator space: time to get cooking.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 4 stalks of celery, washed and sliced
  • 2 medium white onions, thin-sliced
  • 1 Anaheim pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 large leek, trimmed on both ends, washed, and sliced in 1/8-inch coins
  • Fresh ginger, sliced in 1/4-inch medallions - about 4 medallions
  • 3 stalks of lemongrass, trimmed to the light parts, crushed / scored
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 2 large chicken breasts, thin-sliced
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 8 large Thai basil leaves, sliced

Preparation:

In a stock pot, set your chicken stock and fish sauce on medium heat to get warmed up while you handle the other ingredients.

Saute the lemongrass and ginger in the oil in a medium saucepan for about 4 minutes; swap those out and add your vegetables to saute for about 5 minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the cooked vegetables to your stock pot, then cook the chicken in your saucepan. Once it has just turned white on the outside, add the chicken to the stock pot.

Increase the heat so that the mixture comes to a simmer, and cook for about 5 minutes.

Add the lemon juice and coconut milk, stir and let cook for another 2 minutes. Add the basil and serve.

A simple bowl of steamed rice on the side is a light and aromatic complement. This is a good summertime soup, but also great for "I have a mid-winter cold" situations.

Congee with Leeks

For Chinese New Year 2015 I was supposed to bring a potluck dish to the annual gathering of families who'd all traveled together in China when we adopted our kids. It was only a few days out and I'd run out of ideas - and didn't want to grab take-out on the way to the event. Then inspiration struck as I stood in the produce section of my local Asian supermarket: beautiful, fresh green leeks...

I had never cooked with leeks before, but knew they were in all sorts of East Asian dishes, so I grabbed a stalk and got to slicing at home.

After soaking and rinsing the leeks to get sand and dirt out, I sliced the stems into 1/8" thick coins.  Apparently you can do amazing "onion" rings with these guys, but that wasn't going to be on the menu.  What to cook, what to cook... None of the families had done congee yet, and when I'd tried it at home in my rice cooker, I wasn't satisfied with the results. After reading six different recipes that all disagreed about the water-to-rice ratio, I averaged them out and improvised a bit to get this:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 standard-sized leeks, washed, ends trimmed, and sliced into 1/8-inch coins
  • 1 cup sausage, kielbasa, or meat of your choice, chopped
  • 4 medallions sliced fresh ginger
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 cups water

Toppings to taste:

  • Chopped cilantro (don't be shy about it, take a good handful)
  • Sliced green onion
  • Pickled ginger (VERY authentic)
  • Crushed peanuts

Preparation:

Combine the leeks, meat, ginger, broth, and water in your slow-cooker and set to medium heat; give it at least an hour for the ginger to infuse its goodness. (Alternatively, you could use 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger, but make sure it's fresh.) Once the ginger has done its work, fish it out of the broth.

Meanwhile, rinse and drain the rice. Mix with salt and oil, then let sit for 30 minutes. Rinse gently and drain again; you want some of that smoky goodness of the sesame oil to stick. Add the rice to the broth.

Reduce heat to low, and let it cook overnight - the longer the better!

The guests at the New Year's party literally ate the entire pot. It was not TOO thick, had a pleasant savory feel, and the leeks - which had virtually dissolved - weren't oniony at all but had a fresh vegetable aroma that reminded us of oncoming springtime.  Definitely a hit, and will make again for guests or weekend snacking.

Thai-inspired Pumpkin Soup - from the garden!

This summer our family expanded our backyard garden plot and grew a pair of pumpkin bushes, ending up with seven very nice pie-pumpkins (as opposed to jack-o-lantern pumpkins, whose flesh is not so good for cooking). (In fact, there were three other pumpkins we grew that weren't ripe enough when frost came that did get turned into jack-o-lanterns!)

Fate of the three that didn't ripen in time

Fate of the three that didn't ripen in time...

Fire Dragon Pumpkin!

Fire Dragon Pumpkin!

With far more pumpkin available than we could turn into baked goods in time for Halloween and Thanksgiving, we pureed most of the harvest, bagged it into quart-size Ziplocs, and froze it for future use.  Today, I decided, would be the future.

The recipes I had taken notes from were Thai squash-based soups, but I thought they would work just as well with fresh pumpkin. So here's what I made:



Thai-inspired Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients:

  • Pureed flesh from a 2-3 pound pumpkin -- you do not want the canned pumpkin that has already been spiced & sweetened for use in baking; it needs to be as fresh as you can get (or frozen in my case). Squash will work fine too - I have seen frozen Butternut cubes at the grocery store, for instance, that you could puree in a blender.
  • One small yellow onion, chopped
  • Two medium carrots, julienned
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 small cans coconut milk (they're about 165 mL per can; the larger-size can may be too much for this recipe) - your local Asian supermarket will definitely have this in stock
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce - again, see your Asian grocer
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of nutmeg

Preparation:

  • In a slow-cooker or stock pot, start the pumpkin going with the chicken stock, olive oil, fish sauce, and soy sauce.
  • Saute the garlic and onions, then add to the pumpkin-and-liquid mixture.
  • Let this combination simmer until the pumpkin has thoroughly dissolved into the stock.
  • Add the carrots, plus the dry spices, and finally the coconut milk.

The pumpkin is still a bit frozen here - took about 30 minutes to dissolve into the chicken stock

The pumpkin is still a bit frozen here - took about 30 minutes to dissolve into the chicken stock.

After adding the coconut milk, the texture changes from watery to creamy, and the color from yellowish to a nutty golden brown

After adding the coconut milk, the texture changes from watery to creamy, and the color from yellowish to a nutty golden brown.

In my slow-cooker, I switched the knob to medium heat and let it be happy and bubbly for a good two hours; there was no scalding in my ceramic pot. In a metal pot, you'll want to watch for burning.  As the ingredients are already cooked, all the soup needs to be is hot.

When serving, you could add toppings to taste like:

  • Cilantro
  • Thai basil
  • Green onion
  • Peanuts or cashews
  • Toasted coconut
  • Lime juice
  • Sriracha sauce


Here, I added cilantro, cashews, and a few leaves of basil:

Creamy, warm,  and not spicy at all. More filling than you would think at first look!  

Creamy, warm, and not spicy at all. More filling than you would think at first look! 

This soup pairs well with grilled meat and steamed rice, and would actually be nice for breakfast alongside a toasted bagel, now that I think about it!