Sunday, July 26, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Kailua, Hawaii

The Location: Kailua, Hawaii

2010 census: 36,513 people. 2013 per capita income: $25,138. 2010 census: 43.8% white, 21.1% Asian.

Kailua means "Two seas" or "Two currents" in Hawaiian. It is estimated that people came to Kailua and the rest of Hawaii in the 500's AD. During the 1500's, Kailua became home to the "Ali'i", or the ruling class that governed the region. Kailua became the residential seat for the Ali'i, replacing Waikiki.

Kailua remained a small town throughout the years of colonization by various cultures, until World War II, when Fort Hase and Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay were built. This brought in a large increase in population that never went down again after the war ended. The area continued to grow, with a hospital, churches, and schools being built. The first supermarket was opened in 1947.

Kailua Beach is thought to be the best beach in the entire state. It is a popular destination for all kinds of surfing, including traditional and wind surfing. President Obama has visited Kailua five times on his winter vacation during his tenure as president. This has increased tourism to the area, with people hoping to catch a glimpse of the president or his family.

The Food: Traditional Luau

This blog posts marks the halfway mark for this project. For my 25th post, I am honoring the 50th state! I researched foods from Hawaii that predated colonization of the region. Hawaii has been influenced by many cultures over the years, including American, Japanese, and even Russian. I wanted to find as close to "true" Hawaiian food as I could. This led me on a journey and a search for ingredients I've never used in my life and were rather perilous if used improperly. For this meal, it wasn't about the final product or how delicious it tasted. It was about trying out new ingredients and preparing them in ways I've never done before. And it was a lot of fun!

One of the ingredients I love most from Hawaii was one I wasn't able to use for this post. Pineapple, widely regarded as Hawaiian, is actually not Hawaiian. Pineapple hails from Brazil, which means, it's presence in Hawaii is the result of colonization. Coconuts were on the ok list, because these are thought to have been brought over by the Polynesian peoples who first inhabited the Hawaiian islands. They are also said to be responsible for bringing taro root to the land as well, which was something that played a very prominent role in my meal.

All of my recipes came from the internet, so I will not write them out here. I will write about the experience and result of making them and you can refer to the link to see the original recipe, if you are interested in trying it.

Lau Lau Pork:

This is the recipe that required the most amount of hard-to-find ingredients, and one that I was never able to find. I don't think it was missed, however. This dish required a trip to two different stores to procure everything. I visited my local Asian market for the second time in two weeks and became the very proud owner of frozen banana leaves and fresh taro leaves. Banana leaves are used to line the crockpot or whatever vessel you use to make the Lau Lau Pork. If you are like me, then you have never seen a banana leaf in person before. They are big! I unwrapped them and they are as tall as, if not taller, than I am! I only needed one to line my crockpot, so I put the rest back in the freezer for future use. What future use they might have besides making more Lau Lau Pork, I have yet to find out. But that will be the challenge, won't it?!

The taro leaves are also big, though not quite as large. They are also poisonous if not handled properly. Fun right?! Believe me, I treated these with great care, and wore gloves and everything. Apparently it's not like you get poisoned and die, but it can lead to skin irritation and kidney stones if not cooked thoroughly. So, treat it properly, treat it with care, but don't be terrified of it. If you know me, then you know how I feel about taking great risks to my personal safety. So, if I can do it, so can you! I cut the stems off the leaves and boiled them a couple at a time in water for a few minutes. This acts to start the cooking process and also makes them more pliable for folding.

For the pork, I just used pork spare ribs that I cut into large pieces. The dish is traditionally made with salted butterfish as well as pork, but I didn't have access to butterfish, so I left it out. For the seasoning, I used a combination of reduced-sodium soy sauce and red Hawiian sea salt. It's actually a sort of coral color and it colors the pork as well. If you can find this in your grocery store, I would recommend using it over Kosher or table salt. It's worth the extra money.

Two taro leaves are overlapped and then you place some of the seasoned pork mixture in the center. Fold it up like a burrito and if you are able to get your hands on the ti leaves that I was unable to get, use those to tie it up. If not, use toothpicks like I did. I used three toothpicks per bundle. Place each bundle into the banana leaf-lined crockpot and repeat until they're all used up. I had one taro leaf leftover so I just placed it on the top to help cover everything.

Put a cup or two of water into the crockpot over the leaf bundles. Place another piece of banana leaf over the top, and fold in the overhanging leaf so it's all well contained. Place a piece of aluminum foil on top of that and top with the lid. Turn the crockpot to low and cook for at least 8 hours. Make sure you actually plug in the crockpot, unlike me. Fortunately my sister was home when I called her on my way to go see Ant-Man and she was able to plug it in for me. Otherwise this would have been a blog meal fail. A very sad and expensive one.

The banana and taro leaves smell strong when you cook them. It reminds me of the smell of jasmine rice, if you are familiar with that scent. The taro flavors the meat and blends well with the soy-salt seasoning. The recipe I based mine off of calls for 4-6lb. of pork, but I used about 1.75lb, so I did the seasonings based on two pounds. This meant 1 1/2 Tbsp. each red salt and reduced soy sauce. However, when I saw just how much one tablespoon of salt looked like on the meat, I chickened out and left it at that. The water you add to the crockpot does help dilute the saltiness a bit so it turned out perfectly for my tastes, but if you like things salty, go ahead and add that extra 1/2 Tablespoon of red salt. This turned out really good!


Poi is made from taro root. It is gluten free, fat free, and full of vitamins. Taro root, like the leaves, can also be poisonous if not cooked thoroughly. I got mini taro roots, which most likely means that they were picked before they were fully grown, from the same Asian market that the banana and taro leaves came from. They are sort of hairy on the outside, so when I thoroughly washed these(while wearing gloves), I tried to get as much of that off as I could.

This was a really simple recipe to make. Cover the taro root with water and boil it for about an hour or until softened completely. Remove from the water and peel. Traditionally, poi is made by men. The cooked taro root is placed on a wooden board and mashed with a rock. It's a sacred tradition in Hawaii, so you should enter into making it with reverence. For the people, for the land, and for the ingredient. However, I'm not a man, and though I do have a wooden cutting board I could have used, I didn't have access to a rock, so I just used my potato masher. I think it turned out pretty much the same.

Poi is pretty much everything you've ever heard about it. It's softer than mashed potato, and has a slightly bitter taste to it. I ended up sprinkling a little of the red salt into it just to give it a bit of flavor. I ate a little of it but it definitely isn't something I would seek out again. I did wonder what it would be like if I prepared it like mashed potatoes, meaning adding milk and butter to it. It sort of congeals when it sits for a while so it also made me wonder what breading and frying it would be like. It also turns purple when it oxidizes, but when I ate it, it was still off-white in color.

Haupia: Coconut Pudding

I have never had luck making pudding, besides the packaged kind where you add milk. I tried many times when I was in high school to master pudding-making, only to be banned by my parents from trying it again after so many failed attempts. So, you probably won't be terribly shocked to hear that my pudding-making attempt was yet again a fail. The recipe is basically coconut milk flavored with sugar and vanilla and thickened with cornstarch. You pour it into a pan and let it chill and cut it up into squares. Alas, mine never thickened enough and ironically, turned out to be like what we know as pudding. Except it wasn't supposed to be that way at all. Sigh. The flavor was on point, though. I replaced the regular sugar with coconut sugar, which is an actual thing. The recipe said 4-6 Tbsp. cornstarch and I used 4. I probably should have used 6...But as I said, the flavor was good.

Not everything from this meal turned out perfectly, and not all of it was to my tastes. But that wasn't important. The important thing was immersing myself in ingredients and a culture not my own, for a day. It was a good way to see the world from somebody else's perspective. The Lau Lau pork was fantastic and I have leftovers that I will eat with rice. This was a wonderful meal to make in the summer time, even though yesterday was cold and rainy. It made me think of hot, tropical days in the sun, something definitely lacking in yesterday's weather.

I would highly recommend Lau Lau pork. It takes a bit of prep work, and a trip to an Asian grocery store for the proper ingredients, but once it's in the crockpot, the job is done. If you don't think you're brave enough to try poi, rice would be a perfect starch for this. The haupia, if done properly, would be a good dessert, but if you don't care about pre vs. post colonization ingredients, fresh pineapple would also be a lovely finish to the meal. In fact, I might have some tonight with my leftovers!



Haupia and Lau Lau Pork recipe

Kailua info

City pic

City Map

Lau LauPork-my recipe based on this one.

Haupia-my recipe based on this one.

City Info

Poi Recipe

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Dearborn, Michigan

The Location: Dearborn, Michigan

2013 census: 95,884 people; 87.9% white(of this, 42.4% are people of Arab ancestry. People of Middle Eastern descent are counted as white for US census purposes. As of 2000, the number of Arab Americans in Dearborn was 40,000.); 4.% African American. Per capita income as of 2013-$19,592.

Dearborn is a suburb of Detroit. Prior to the European invasion, the region was home to Algonquian-speaking Native American groups. The French were the first Europeans to establish a trading post and other connections in the region, though this was lost to them as part of losing the Seven Years' War with Britain. Dearborn was established in 1836, named after Henry Dearborn, a general in the Revolutionary War. It was incorporated in 1893. Today, Dearborn is home to several prestigious museums, including The Henry Ford, and The Arab American National Museum.

Dearborn is the often thought of as the Arab-American capital of the nation. Like other towns with large ethnic enclaves, this town has grown to house a large group of Arab Americans who either immigrated here, or were born there. Immigration began in the first half of the 20th century, with most people coming to work in the auto industry.

While not all Arabs are Muslims, many of them are, which makes Dearborn the city with the second largest Muslim American population, behind New York City. With this comes a lot of fear and misinformation by some people. The internet is rife with it. Contrary to popular internet belief, Sharia Law has not taken root and is not the "law of the land" in Dearborn. It is not the hub of ISIS in America, nor is it where terrorists are born and bred. For the most part, it is home to people who merely wish to be left alone to practice their religious beliefs in peace. There is also a certain amount of harassment they must endure as well, unfortunately. One popular story on the internet shows a video of white Christians being "stoned" by "cruel" and "aggressive" Muslims as they are driven out of a community festival. What the video doesn't show, however, are the protest signs filled with words of hatred and messages about "burning in hell", etc. The video does show people throwing empty pop cans and water bottles and driving the protestors back out of the festival with very little assistance from the police, from whom the protestors demanded help. However right or wrong it may be to counteract hateful protestors who are harassing you and your community, one does need to see the entire story in its proper context before passing judgement on a huge section of the American population.

So, you might be asking me right now, why Dearborn, and why now? I have been looking forward to this post since I started this blog. This past Friday night marked the beginning of Eid al Fitr, the huge celebration at the end of Ramadan. Ramadan is the month of fasting that most Muslims participate in. During this time, no food or liquid may be consumed during daylight hours. Imagine what that must be like, particularly in the hot summertime. Ramadan occurs at different times each year, but this year it took place in the super hot summer. This is dedication! While there are many different ethnic groups who are predominantly Muslim, I wanted to focus on Middle Eastern food because I love it so much and haven't cooked it in a very long time. Dearborn fit into this perfectly, and with Eid falling on the actual day I planned on doing the post for it, I couldn't resist. Though I did not partake in the fasting, I did partake in the feasting, and so, I present to you...

The Food: Middle East Feast

This ended up being one of my favorite meals so far. When this project is over, I will go through it and pick my top ten meals and favorite dishes, etc. This one is guaranteed to be in my top ten. It was just that good. It was also one of, if not the most labor intensive meals I've done so far. Many of the posts I've done have been crockpot meals or simple dishes, but this one took hours over the course of two days to prepare and I loved every second of it. I made three dishes- an entree, a side, and a dessert.

This post also marks a first for me in that I went to a family gathering and shared my food with my family. Many of them read this blog but have never had a chance to actually try the food, and this was their chance to taste some of it, finally. I'm glad it all turned out as well as it did because I had an audience to impress! They seemed to like it all, or at least they were very polite and ate it anyway!

Shish Tawook:

This entree was a last-minute thing because I was going to have access to an actual grill and wanted to take advantage of it. It is a flavorful dish, and I really enjoyed it. Grilled chicken skewers that were marinated in a yogurt-based marinade. There were tons of spices and lemon juice and it was just fantastic! The recipe comes from the internet and I didn't alter it at all. I will share the link in my sources section at the end, but I won't type it out here.

Fatoosh Salad:
1 large pita bread(I tripled this recipe and ended up using the entire package of pita bread even though it was more than it called for.)
2 cups finely torn romaine lettuce, lightly packed(I used a combo of romaine and Boston lettuce and I liked the contrast of colors and textures.)
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped(Even though I tripled the recipe, I only used this amount and it was fine.)
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped(I used one regular-sized English cucumber. I did not peel it though I did seed and chop it.)
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. minced parsley(I skipped this)
1/2-1 tsp. oregano(The recipe doesn't specify fresh or dry and I didn't want to spend the money on fresh so I actually used dried and put it in with the dressing. I would recommend doing this if you plan on using dried.)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice(Fresh-squeezed really is best for this one.)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. crushed garlic
Pinch salt/pepper

For Salad: Slice the pita bread into 8 triangles. Separate each triangle in half, creating 16 pieces total. Place on a baking sheet and toast briefly under the broiler, just until crisp and lightly brown. Watch closely so the bread does not burn. (Will only take a few minutes.) Break the triangles into large pieces and set aside. Combine the remaining salad ingredients in a large bowl.
For Dressing: Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper(Summer's Note: And add the oregano here if using dried) to taste in a small bowl, and whisk until well combined. Pour over the salad and toss gently. Add the toasted pita pieces just before serving and toss once more. Serve at once.

Makes 4 servings; 142 calories, 8 g. fat, 3 g. fiber

This salad was fabulous! It's sort of a Middle East version of a Panzanella, the Italian bread salad. Since I was making this to take to a gathering, I had to prep everything and put them in separate containers and assemble it at the party. I transported the lettuce in that bowl and had the dressing in a carefully sealed container that I would be able to shake to mix the dressing. Everything was carefully packaged to prevent spilling and it turned out wonderfully! The lemon is tart but not overwhelming. It's really light and refreshing. I highly recommend this salad!

Ma'amoul-Date-filled Cookies:
1/4 cup orange blossom water(Available at Middle Eastern grocery stores though I found mine at the HT Market out on Aurora next to Oaktree Cinema. Do not use the smaller bottles that can be found in some alcohol sections of grocery stores as this is essentially orange extract. What you need is the type made from actual water and orange blossoms. Believe me, I know the struggle of finding this but it's worth it. I went to four stores before finding it and after buying the wrong kind first. If you know of a store that sells rose water, chances are they sell this too. Try that place first.)
2 cups flour
1 cup semolina
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, cubed
1 1/2 cups pitted dates, chopped
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar

*In a small bowl, combine orange blossom water with 1/3 cup water. Refrigerate for 5 minutes.
*In a large bowl, whisk together flour, semolina, sugar, and salt. Using pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles fine bread crumbs; drizzle orange blossom water over flour mixture, stirring briskly with fork until dough holds together. Form into ball; press into disc. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes. (Can be refrigerated up to 3 days.)
*Meanwhile, in saucepan over medium-high heat, bring dates and 1 cup water to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened and smooth; about 5 minutes. Let cool. (Summer's note: This can be done ahead of time as well. Just reheat over low heat until the chill is gone when you go to fill the cookies. Keep covered in the pan in fridge or put in a leftover container and refrigerate.)
*Drop dough by 2 Tbsp. onto waxed-paper-lined baking sheet to make 26 mounds. (Summer's note: I didn't measure this, I just pulled the dough into 26 pieces and then pulled parts off the larger ones and added to the smaller ones to make sure they were all approximately the same size. The dough is very workable and forgiving so don't worry about overworking it.) Place 1 ball in palm of hand; press thumb halfway into center of ball, forming a cup shape to hold filling. Spoon in 1 tsp. filling; fold dough over filling and pinch edges to seal. (Summer's note: This did not work because there's not nearly enough space to put that much filling without it spilling out the edges when you try to seal it. What works better is this: Take the ball of dough in your hand and pat it down as thinly as possible so it resembles a small pizza dough, or a potsticker wrapper. Place the teaspoon of filling in a line along the center and fold dough in half. Seal the edges so it resembles a potsticker but place sealed-side down on the baking sheet.) Repeat with remaining balls and filling. Place, pinched side down and about 1" apart, on parchment paper-lined or greased baking sheets. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
*Bake in center of 400 degree oven until bottoms are golden grown, 20-25 minutes. Transfer to rack. Dust with powdered sugar. (Summer's note: I did this in one turn with the oven. I put one rack on the top and one on the bottom and switched them halfway through baking and it did just fine. I found mine only needed about 19 minutes to cook, possibly because I'd had to stretch the dough thinner than it called for.)
Makes 26 cookies; 153 calories, 7 g. fat, 1 g. fiber

These were fantastic! I had a hard time not eating all of them myself. My family enjoyed them a lot as well, which surprised me since many of them don't like cooked fruit mixing with dessert products, generally speaking. So, they must really have been good! The flavor of the orange blossom water is difficult to describe. It's floral, but not overwhelming. It's not particularly orangey, but has a slight citrus flavor. I wouldn't recommend not using it and if you were inclined to try rose water instead, I would not use the amount listed in this recipe. Rose water is much stronger and way more overwhelming. I would cut it down to maybe a half teaspoon and regular water to make up the difference. I also think walnuts or pistachios would be an amazing addition to this cookie. Mixed in with the dates would be the natural place to put them.

This was an amazing meal and I'm so happy I got to share it with others! I love Middle Eastern food so all the hours I put into it, were spent in love and joy of the food. If you have never tried anything like these recipes, please try them out. You might just fall in love with a cuisine that has a rich, and very long history. You will be transported half way around the world, but remember, that it's also just as American as any other food I have celebrated here!

Shish Tawook Recipe

City Info

City Map

City Pic

I am not going to post links to the hatred I found on the internet regarding the citizens of Dearborn. The video and story I referred to can easily be found online and I will leave that up to you to research if you are so incline. I choose to not spread hate, either on this blog or in my life in general.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Mesilla, New Mexico

 The Location: Mesilla, New Mexico

2013 census: 1,896 people; 48.2% Hispanic, 48.1% white. 2012 per capita income $34,206
Mesilla means "Little Tableland" in Spanish. Prior to the European invasion, the area was home to the Mansos and the Apache Indigenous peoples. The entire region was incorporated in 1848 when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, establishing the US border further south, which made Mesilla part of the United States. By 1850, the region was being colonized by the US, displacing the Apaches who were already living there. When the Apaches acted to defend their lands, the US government responded by building Fort Fillmore to fight against them. At this time, the US declared the whole area part of the United States, even though Mexico still claimed it as theirs. It took three years to settle the issue, but the United States eventually bought the land from Mexico, making it officially part of the US.

During the Civil War, Confederate troops from Texas invaded and the Union troops stationed at Ft. Fillmore surrendered. The Confederate troops took over the fort and Mesilla became the capital of the Confederate Territory of Arizona. In 1862, the Battle of Glorieta was fought and lost by the Confederates, forcing them to retreat back to Texas, thus ending Mesilla's involvement in the war.

During the time of the Wild West, Mesilla was a commercial and social hub. Events such as stage plays, cockfighting and bullfights were lively draws to the city. The clientele coming to such events were known for their lawlessness and the city was a rather violent place to live. People like Pancho Villa and Billy the Kid were known to frequent the town. Two stagecoach lines went through Mesilla, making it easy to get to.

When the railroad was coming through the territory, Mesilla bid for it but bid too high and it went to Las Cruces instead. The commercial and social dominance of the region was then shifted to Las Cruces and Mesilla had very little growth after that point. Because the people who live there still wanted to keep the flavor of history, much of the town was carefully preserved or rebuilt to look like it had in the 1800's and today it is known for its tourist appeal because of this. Each year the city holds large Cinco de Mayo and El Dia de Los Muertos celebrations which draw many tourists to the town.

The Food: Posole

Normally I would wax poetic about the history of the dish I made, but what I discovered made me so uncomfortable that I am actually not going to write about it here. If you want to know, you can easily find it on the internet, but do so at your own risk. The basic history, though, is this: Posole comes from Mexico and has a very long history that goes back to ancient times. It was a dish eaten in ritualistic fashion for spiritual ceremonies and though it is still very popular now, the recipe has changed over the years.

Posole is essentially a meat, chile, and hominy stew. This is the first time I have ever eaten hominy and I have been looking forward to trying it for a long time. It did not disappoint. The flavor and texture of hominy is fantastic! It tasted like eating corn tortillas in little nugget form. It's chewy and filling and acts as the starch in the dish. At first I was concerned that such a simple recipe would be enough to work for an entire meal. The hominy is definitely enough to fill you up. Though I did dip a flour tortilla in the sauce and that was lovely too. And because New Mexico is known for their chiles, I wanted to feature a dish that used them, and this dish did just that. In fact, the chiles and sauces I bought came from New Mexico, which made it feel extra special to me.

 I had a basic recipe I found and a couple recipe cards of my own but I really just turned this into my own dish. I will share the link of the base recipe but type out what I did. This was really easy and I did it in the crockpot so it was even easier! I got a late start but it still ended up being done in a few hours anyway. It was a bit spicy, so you might cut back on the spices I added if you like less spice. Here's the recipe:

Summer's Crockpot Posole-
1 (25oz) can hominy, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz) can green enchilada sauce
1 (15 oz) can red enchilada sauce
1 (4oz) can diced mild green chiles
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 lb. pork spare ribs, trimmed of fat, diced in bite-sized pieces
1(ish) Tbsp. canola oil
1(ish) tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt/Pepper to taste
Cilantro-You might think this is a travesty, but I used dried cilantro because I am one of those cilantro haters. However, I don't hate the taste as much as I cannot stomach the smell, so dried cilantro fixed that issue for me. I didn't have to chop any, but I got a bit of the flavor, but not so much that it ruined it for me. You are more than welcome to use fresh if you like, but if you do, add this to the crockpot about a half hour or so before you'll be serving the posole. You can also use it as a topping for the dish too.

In a frying pan, saute the onions and garlic until softened. Add the pork and brown on all sides. Add chili powder, cayenne pepper and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.

Pour the hominy, enchilada sauces, and green chiles into the insert of a crockpot. Rinse out the inside of the cans with water and add this to the crockpot. When the meat is browned, pour the contents of the frying pan into the crockpot as well. Stir well and put the lid on it. Turn it on high for about 3 hours. This makes 4 servings.

This was such a delicious meal and it was so easy to make. I think the hominy was the best part and I really need to research other dishes for it because I could see myself eating that all the time now. If you like spicy foods, you will like this. And if you prefer one of the colors of enchilada sauce over the other, you can absolutely use all of one or the other. I just couldn't make up my mind so I did one of each. I highly recommend dipping tortillas in the sauce. It's really good that way! If it's too spicy for you, I suppose you could mix in some sour cream to cut the heat a bit, but I didn't try that. If you try it like that, you'll have to let me know what you think!

City History

Basic Recipe

City Pic

City Map-Note, the blue is Mexico, not the ocean.

City Info