Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Greek Easter Feast

Smoky Slow Cooked Lamb and Traditional Greek Salad

My most memorable Easter was spent on the island of Crete in Greece. Dustin and I were there in 2006  just after getting engaged, upsetting our lives to spend some time in Europe and figure out if marriage was right for us.

We'd rented a tiny studio apartment overlooking the ocean with two wooden twin beds, a hot plate, and a cold water shower. All the other tenants were Greek, including the friend we'd made at the car rental agency who'd found the apartment for us. We spent lazy days cruising the coastline by scooter discovering vibrant red poppy fields, tasting homemade moonshine and wine in the dark back-rooms of grocery stores, and purchasing our daily supply of perfect, sun-warmed tomatoes.

It was spring so the weather was still cool and the tourists were at a minimum. The Easter buzz began two weeks or so before the holiday. Everywhere we went, locals warned us that all businesses would be closed for several days around the holiday and tried to prep us on all the upcoming events. Coming from a background of fuzzy bunnies and egg hunts, we had no context for the festivities that were to come.

Traditional Greek Salad

I don't know the ins and outs of the Catholic religion/Greek orthodoxy, so forgive me if I explain this incorrectly. During the days leading up to Easter, the people will fast. On the eve of the holiday, people gather in the evening, in our case the town center was a small lake, and start to set off fireworks. It was quite pretty to see the reflection of the sparklers in the water as thousands of people gathered around in their Sunday best. As the excitement builds toward midnight, the fireworks become more intense. We were constantly dodging roman candles and M80s at this point, the devilish grins of teenaged boys illuminated by a constant spark.

A religious procession made its way to the lake, led by robed priests and what appeared to be a life-sized figure nailed to a cross. There were prayers and songs and candles held high by all in a moment of silent reflection. And in one fantastic finale, the figure on the cross was floated upright in the middle of the lake and set ablaze. Cheers rang out and firecrackers exploded everywhere. I swear someone threw dynamite into the lake at one point.

It turns out the figure on the cross was Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, whom everyone was happy to burn. We were some of the last people hanging out by the lake after midnight as the local people went to their homes to share a meal and break their fast. The next morning we were invited to our neighbor's apartment for dinner and ate some of the best food of our lives including grilled lamb and fresh bread.

This year, we'd tried to relive some of those memories by hosting a Greek style barbecue on our very different island home. Below you will find recipes for slow-cooked lamb and traditional Greek salad. We also enjoyed spanakopita, tzatziki, and grilled asparagus fresh from our garden as my nephews hunted for eggs in the sand.

Beach egg hunt

I hope you have a delicious, memorable, and special Easter.

Smoky Slow-Cooked Leg of Lamb
serves 10-15

5 lb boneless leg of lamb
5 cloves garlic
1/2 cup fresh rosemary
1/2 cup fresh oregano
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup water
olive oil
salt & pepper

In a food processor blend garlic, herbs, and some salt & pepper to form a paste. Cut lamb into large sections about 1 pound each. Rub the lamb with the paste, drizzle with olive oil and allow to marinate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

In a slow cooker, add lemon juice and 1/2 cup water. Stack lamb in the slow cooker, sprinkle with more salt & pepper and olive oil and cook on low for just shy of 8 hours. You want the meat to easily pull apart, but not so loose the it fall apart when picked up.

Prepared a charcoal grill with wood chips. Grill the pieces of lamb, drizzled with more oil, for no more than 5 minutes each side so as to impart smoky flavor and form an outer crust, but avoid drying out the meat. If the meat is falling apart (that's ok!) then simply grill it on a piece of foil so it won't fall through the grate.

Serve with tzatziki, on pita bread or make a gravy from the drippings in the slow cooker. Enjoy!

Traditional Greek Salad
serves 10-12

3 cucumbers
5-6 tomatoes
1/2 red onion
1 cup kalamata olives (or other Greek olives if you can find them)
5-6 oz feta cheese (be sure to get the block style and check that it is made with sheep's milk)
fresh oregano or a dried mediterranean herb blend
fresh lemon juice or your favorite vinegar
olive oil
salt & pepper

Cut cucumbers in half lengthwise and chop into 1/2 inch slices. Slice tomatoes so they are a similar thickness to cucumbers. Please in a bowl and sprinkle with salt & pepper.

Layer thinly sliced red onion and olives on top. Slice cheese into 1/4 inch slices and layer on top, sprinkle with herbs and salt & pepper. Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil when ready to serve. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

"Ono Grinds" Cooking Class at Kuaiwi Farms

Mulberry crumble

From farm to fork to happy belly, Una Greenaway takes participants full-circle in her "Ono Grinds" cooking class.

In addition to coffee and cacao Kuaiwi Farm grows a large assortment of fruits and vegetables, many of them rare exotics. Cooking class participants enjoyed a tour of the farm, picking produce as they went, including surinam cherries, chayote shoots, mulberries, and kale. The farm has several traditional garden plots dispersed among avocado, lime, and jabuticaba trees. It was inspirational to see the variety of produce that can be grown on only five acres. And they do it all organically, amazing.

Trees dripping with rangpur limes
Back in Una's kitchen, she showed us how to prepare several different dishes all with produce from the farm. We started with a simple guacamole served with yacon (pictured below) for dipping in place of chips and fresh, lilikoi lemonade.

Yacon "chips"

Outside on the lanai overlooking the farm, we enjoyed plates piled high with roasted taro, sauteed chayote shoots, Kabocha squash with a goat cheese sauce, kale salad and homemade sauerkraut. We ended the afternoon with a mulberry crumble that was sweet, delicate, and perfect.

Chayote shoots and kale
I not only learned several wonderful new recipes from taking Una's class, but left with a renewed drive to tread as lightly on this earth as possible. I do that by making local and sustainable food choices, gardening, composting, and recycling but feel that there is always more I can and should be doing. Not only that, but eating all this wonderfully fresh and healthy food made my body feel great.

Our lovely meal
You might remember that I took a chocolate making class at Kuaiwi Farm before. The farm also offers tours by appointment and various classes and workshops throughout the year. Produce can also be purchased with advance reservations. Visit their website for complete information on how you can be their next visitor:

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory Tour

Cocoa beans drying in the sun

The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory is one of only a handful of places in the United States where chocolate goes from bean to bar. In fact, it was the very first. And right here on the Big Island, no less.

The Coopers bought the small farm in 1997, with about 1 acre of already established cacao trees. Not knowing exactly what they had, the cocoa beans were tested and revealed to be of both the forestero and criollo varieties, ideal for making high-quality chocolate.

Which is exactly what they did. Today, the Coopers sell their single-bean chocolate (a rarity in the chocolate world) all over Hawaii in addition to offering tours of their farm.

Mr. Cooper, owner of OHCF, wows the crowd with raw cocoa peans straight from the pod 
Come on a tour and you'll be treated to the smell of cocoa beans drying on racks in the sun and a glimpse of the otherworldly manner in which cacao pods grow straight out of the trunks of their mother trees. Cooper likens the cacao harvest to an "Easter egg hunt," as the ripe pods come in various bright hues such as magenta, yellow, and orange. The pods are then split open to reveal slimy white beans that  self-ferment in wooden crates until they shed their outer coating. The beans are then dried, cleaned, roasted, winnowed (to remove the hard, outer shell), conched (the process of adding soy lecithin and vanilla powder), and tempered to become chocolate. Witnessing this involved process brings chocolate appreciation to a whole new level and is highly recommended.

Freshly picked ripe cacao pods

Tours can be had at their farm in Keauhou on Wednesday and Fridays at 9am for only $15. Be sure to book ahead, these tours sell out fast. More info:

This farm tour was part of the 2013 Big Island Chocolate Festival.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Big Island Chocolate Festival Prelude Reception

Chocolate and wine flowed freely under a gloamy light at the Big Island Chocolate Festival's kickoff event hosted by The Shops at Mauna Lani.

Chef Wressell explaining chocolate and wine pairings

The tasting reception included chocolate and wine pairings by chef Donald Wressell of Guittard Chocolate Company, known for his 2011 win at the National Pastry Team Championship. Wressell emphasized the similarities in both wine and chocolate tasting, in that terroir (where the grapes/beans are grown) plays an essential role in the overall flavor.

Ruth's Chris chocolate samplings

Several restaurants offered sweet and savory samplings. Monstera created a spicy ahi roll with tuna, pineapple and chocolate sauce. Ruth's Chris Steakhouse served chocolates with mango, raspberry, and chocolate mousse as well as a lava cake. Just Tacos provided churros with white and dark chocolate drizzles. And the evening's standout, Tommy Bahama Tropical Cafe, presented pulled pork sliders with  a chocolate hoisin sauce and last year's winning dessert, a malted chocolate pie which didn't disappoint.
Westside Wines and Johnson Bros. of Hawaii both supplied the revelers with wines meant to pair well with chocolate.

Proceeds from the reception support the new Hawai'i Community College-Palamanui kitchen and Kona Pacific Charter school. The prelude reception was part of a series of events in the Big Island Chocolate Festival going on now through March 23, 2013. For a full list of event details visit .

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Vote for my Smoky Cheddar BBQ Grilled Cheese

St. Francis Winery is hosting "Say Cheese!" a gourmet grilled cheese recipe contest on their Facebook page. For my Smoky Cheddar BBQ Grilled Cheese to even be considered, I need your votes! Only the top 10 most popular sandwiches get tasted by the judges.

I'll warn you now, voting in this contest takes a moment. Click here to go to the contest page, like St. Francis Winery, then scroll down to vote for my Smoky Cheddar BBQ Grilled Cheese. You will also need to vote from a laptop or desktop computer, the app won't work on a smart phone or iPad.

Thank you for taking the time to help me win!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sam Choy's Keauhou Poke Contest

The Big Island got its poke on this weekend at Sam Choy's Keauhou Poke Contest held at the Sheraton Kona. Poke (poh-KAY) is the "soul food of Hawaii," according to Choy, and is traditionally prepared with raw fish, sea salt, seaweed, spices, and kukui nuts. 

Contestants put their "braggin' in the bowl" in many creative ways, stretching the concept of traditional poke into several other categories including spicy, cooked, with soy sauce, sushi style, and non-seafood  entries. Professionals and amateurs were both invited to compete. 

My Mexican-themed table display

Creative table displays accompanied the contest entries as poke chefs presented their work to the judges. Winners were announced after poke tastings were offered to the public for a small fee that  benefited the $1 million Equip the Kitchens Campaign for the future Hawai‘i Community College-Palamanui. A complete list of winners can be found here: Poke Contest Results.

The event also included live music, Hawaiian cultural demonstrations, and an island marketplace featuring locally made products.

Guacamole Poke (photo by Fern Gavelek)

Did I enter? You know it! My Guacamole Poke grabbed 2nd place in the amateur cooked category, see recipe below. I was especially impressed with the other amateur entries this year including a beautiful traditional recipe featuring opelu and opihi by Aunty Margie Hanselman, a fancy lobster entry by high schooler Alexis Fujikawa, and a very special venison recipe by hunter Ryan Koyanagi.

Poke has deep roots in Hawaiian culture. I love that. I also love that poke has evolved over the decades to incorporate the many cultures that have found a home on the islands, too. It is at once a revered cultural dish as well as a representation of the cultural mixture that makes up Hawaii today. I hope you get the chance to enjoy some soon.

Guacamole Poke
Makes about 2 lbs of poke

1 lb Kona Kampachi filets (introduced to me by the late Guy Toyama, please support a cause Guy would have been proud of here: Memorial Fund info)
2 TBL Hawaiian mac nut oil
2 TBL Mexican dry rub (salt, pepper, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, cumin, lime zest)
1 large Big Island avocado
1 Waimea tomato
1 Big Island grown green onion
½ cup Big Island grown cilantro
¼ cup Big Island lime juice
salt to taste
2 cloves garlic
1 Big Island jalapeno
taco chips to serve

Rub Kampachi filets with the Mexican dry rub. In a very hot pan, add mac nut oil. Sear both sides of the filets rare (about 1 minute each side). Cook times will vary depending on the thickness of the filets.

While fish cools, chop the avocado, tomato, onion, green onion, garlic, cilantro and jalapeno. Toss very gently with lime juice and some salt.

Cut fish into chunks and very gently toss into the vegetable mixture.

Serve with taco chips. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Vegan Avocado Ice Cream

What if I told you this ice cream was vegan?

What if I told you this can be made without an ice cream maker?

It's creamy and simple and pretty darn healthy for a dessert. Oh, and if you make it with Maui sugar, it makes a nice little Sustainable Sunday treat. Would you run off and make some? Let's do it!

Avocado Ice Cream
serves 3-4

2 very ripe avocados
1/4 cup sugar  or agave syrup
2 TBL lemon juice

Chocolate sauce:
1 part cocoa powder
1 part agave syrup

Cut avocados into chunks and toss with lemon juice. Place in a freezer safe container, taking care to spread the chunks out some so they don't freeze in one large block.

Once avocado is frozen, place in a blender or food processor with sugar or agave and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust sweetness or add more lemon juice if desired.

To make chocolate sauce, mix cocoa and agave together in a small bowl.

Serve immediately topped with chocolate sauce. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Award Winning Shrimp & 'Ulu Cakes at the 'Ulu Festival

We celebrated the starch of the islands (breadfruit) this weekend at the Puna 'Ulu Festival, an event to support Kua O Ka La Public Charter School. The event was held on the school grounds, which happen to be next to the enchanting 'Ahalanui Hot Ponds.

The event included music, cultural crafts, cooking demonstations, 'ulu and poi pounding, kapa making, games, and a cooking contest.

The cooking contest participants were challenged to incorporate niu (coconut) into their dishes with 'ulu as the main ingredient. I chose to enter an appetizer recipe, although there were entries for entrees and desserts. I'm happy to report that my Shrimp & 'Ulu Cakes won first place in the appetizer division! Recipe is below.

Unfortunately, I got a little caught up in the excitement of the festival and failed to snap a photo. The photo above is of the cakes pre-fried.

If you are an island resident, please consider incorporating more breadfruit into your diet. It is not only a nutrient-rich starch that can easily take the place of potatoes in any dish, but being locally sourced, is an environmental superstar, too. Here are some other recipe ideas using breadfruit: 'Ulu Gnocchi with Hamakua Mushroom Ragout, Mashed Breadfruit with Roasted Garlic & Goat Cheese, or any number of recipes on Sonia Tastes Hawaii (Sonia was one of the judges for the cooking contest and a champion of culinary food sustainability).

Shrimp and 'Ulu Cakes with Coconut Cream
serves 8-10

1 pound shrimp
1 small green ‘ulu 
2 TBL fresh Big Island lime juice
2 TBL mayo
2 chopped Big Island green onions

1/3 cup chopped Big Island cilantro
salt & pepper to taste
1/3 cup flour
1 beaten Big Island egg
1 cup panko
Vegetable oil
For topping:
1 can coconut milk
lime zest & cilantro for garnish

Peel, chop and steam ‘ulu until soft. Mash well with a little salt.
Sautee shrimp in a pan with a little oil and some salt & pepper until just pink, 3-5 minutes. Remove shells when they have cooled and chop.
In a large mixing bowl, gently combine mashed ‘ulu, shrimp, chopped green onion, lime juice, mayo, & salt and pepper to taste. Chill in fridge for about 30 minutes. 
Using your hands, make patties with the mixture, a little larger than a golf ball, pressing to flatten. 
Set up a dipping station with a separate dish for the flour, egg, and panko. Bring a skillet over medium high heat and add oil. Dip each cake first in flour, then egg, then panko and cook in hot pan until browned on both sides.

For topping you will need to place your can of coconut milk in the fridge overnight. Place a mixing bowl and beater in the freezer for a few minutes. After milk has chilled for at least several hours, flip can over and open the bottom. Drain clearish liquid and place hardened coconut milk in the cold mixing bowl. Beat in medium-high for 3-5 minutes or until stiff peaks form. Use the coconut whipped milk to top each cake. Garnish with some lime zest and cilantro if desired. Enjoy!


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