Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Popcorn

Happy Halloween!!!

I thought I'd do something fun and festive with my daughter to commemorate Halloween today. So when this recipe for Halloween Popcorn came up on my reader from Sing for Your Supper, it gave me a great idea. I didn't want to buy a whole bag of candy corn, so my daughter and I fished out the small packets of candy corn from our Halloween candy stash we were going to pass out tonight. The kids won't miss it. Anyway, this recipe can't be more easy. It only takes 4 ingredients and is fun and yummy.

1 bag plain microwave popcorn, popped
candy corn
6 ounces white chocolate chips
Halloween sprinkles

Place popped popcorn and candy corn in a very large bowl. Melt chocolate in the microwave in 30 second increments, stirring each time, until melted. Drizzle melted chocolate over the popcorn and candy corn. Stir to coat each piece of popcorn. Pour mixture over a tray lined with wax paper and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle with Halloween sprinkles and allow to cool for 15-30 minutes. Break into pieces.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hawaiian Plate Lunch-style Macaroni Salad

One of my favorite parts of a Hawaiian plate lunch is the side of macaroni salad. No matter what the plate lunch is, I always have to have the mac salad. I've had many failed attempts at making a plate lunch mac salad, because I learned that its not merely about slapping on some mayonnaise on some elbow macaroni pasta. There was always something lacking.

After our recent trip to Hawaii, I've been on a Hawaiian food kick lately. Always looking for ways to recreate our meals from the trip. But the mac salad is always the missing part of the meal. After doing a quick search, I've adapted this mac salad from a recipe I found on and it came out just as I remembered a mac salad should taste like. I learned that the secret to a great plate lunch mac salad is using Hellman's Mayonnaise. Lots of it. And adding grated onion and eggs into the salad. Mmmmm.....'ono!

1/2 lb. elbow macaroni
1 celery stem, chopped finely
1/4 cup finely chopped carrots
1 Tbsp. finely grated onion
2 hard boiled eggs
1 1/4 cup Hellman's Mayonnaise, more to make it creamy
salt to taste

1) Cook macaroni until it is almost overcooked. Drain and cool completely.

2) Combine prepared macaroni pasta, celery, carrots, and onions in a large bowl. Using a fine mesh sieve, scrape the hard boiled eggs through the sieve and into the bowl of pasta. Stir in mayonnaise. Season with salt to taste. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Green Chicken Enchilada Soup

With the fall season in full swing, the weather starts to somewhat cool down. Even here in SoCal. And with cooler weather comes the flu season. My daughter has been trying to shake off a cold for the past 2 1/2 weeks, and is now trying to fight off a low-grade fever. Hubby and I are trying to fight off the onset of a cold ourselves. Our cold isn't full blown, but we feel it starting to creep in. And if we're all sick, its no bueno.

This recipe popped up on my reader recently from What's Cookin' Chicago? that I felt it was fitting to make for this cool weather. It was super easy to make and tasted so good and comforting. When it first came out of the crock pot, I thought it was a little spicy. But after adding all the garnishes such as avocado and sour cream, the flavors and spice balanced so well.

The author of What's Cookin' Chicago?, Joelen, recently discovered she requires a gluten-free diet. Therefore, this recipe is gluten-free. One of my good friends, Cathy, has been requesting me to start making gluten-free foods for a while now. And honestly, I don't know a thing about being gluten-free. So I'm glad that Joelen's blog features more of this kind of cuisine. So this recipe (and all future gluten-free dishes) is for you, Cathy :)

1 (15 oz can) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14.5 oz can) sweet corn, drained
1 (14.5 oz can) Rotel diced tomatoes and jalapenos
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped bell peppers
1 (16 oz bottle) salsa verde or green enchilada sauce
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
salt to taste
2 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
3 Tbsp. water

chopped avocado
crushed tortilla chips
chopped cilantro
sour cream
shredded cheese

1) In a crock pot, combine beans, corn, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, salsa verde/enchilada sauce, chicken broth and milk. Season with salt to taste.

2) Place chicken breast into crock pot and cover. Cook on low for 6-8 hours, or on high for 3-4 hours.

3) Remove chicken and cut or shred into bite-sized pieces. Return shredded chicken in the crock pot. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and water to make a slurry. Stir into soup to thicken slightly. Serve with your favorite garnishes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pumpkin Cheesecake Cupcakes

I love the fall season. The weather starts to cool, and the air is filled with the warm scent of cinnamon and nutmeg. Its also the precursor to the upcoming holiday season. Once Halloween is here, then its Thanksgiving, and then Christmas. My favorite holiday. One thing that's in abundance right now are pumpkins. Its pumpkin season and I've been scouring the web for recipes to use with the pumpkins we bought last week at the farm around the corner from our house.

One of my favorite pumpkin recipes, and one that hubby always requests me to make every fall, is my Pumpkin Cake Roll. I've always wanted a cupcake version of this yummy dessert and have always failed in my attempts. Then I found this great recipe for Pumpkin Cheesecake Cupcakes from Your Cup of Cake. Cream cheese and pumpkin go together so well that I knew this recipe would be awesome. And it was. The cake was really moist with a touch of cheesecake. I've finally found the perfect pumpkin cupcake.

Cheesecake filling
8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup oil
1/3 cup applesauce
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
2 eggs
2 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup milk
1 3/4 cup pumpkin puree

1) To make the cheesecake filling, beat together cream cheese and sugar until evenly combined. Add egg and vanilla and continue beating until smooth. Place in a bowl, cover and chill in the freezer while making the cake batter.

2) Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Line pans with cupcake liners.

3) In a bowl of a stand mixer, beat together oil, applesauce, sugar and brown sugar on low speed. Add eggs one at a time and mix well. Do not over-beat or beat on high.

4) In another bowl, combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add half of the dry ingredients into wet ingredients and beat over low-medium speed just until combined. Add milk. Add the remaining dry ingredients and continue beating until combined. Add pumpkin puree.

5) Scoop cupcake batter into cupcake liners about 3/4 full. Place a spoonful of the cheesecake batter on top of cupcake batter. Slightly swirl cheesecake batter into cupcake batter. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until toothpick test comes out with no orange batter (the cream cheese may come off a little). Cool completely before frosting.

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Buttercream
8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3-4 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
milk, if needed
cinnamon sugar (optional)

1) Cream together cream cheese and butter for about 3-4 minutes until smooth on medium speed. With the mixer on low, add confectioner's sugar, 1 cup at a time until desired consistency. Add vanilla and cinnamon. Add milk if necessary to thin out frosting to reach desired consistency. Frost cupcake and top with cinnamon sugar (optional).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lime Coconut Macadamia Nut Cheesecake

*You put the lime in the coconut......* My daughter loves that tune.

Have you ever tried the Mango Key Lime Cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory? OMG! It is to DIE for. I'm not much of a cheesecake eater, but occasionally when we find our way into the Cheesecake Factory, I like to split a cheesecake with someone or with a few people. One day, one of my good friends and I met for lunch and I wanted to try the Mango Key Lime Cheesecake. But I was stuffed. So I took it to-go. Then when I went home and took that first bite, I was like "where have you been all my life?" It was sinfully delicious. Its a Key Lime cheesecake filling, topped with a mango custard and a coconut macadamia nut crust. Sounds good, huh?

From our recent trip to Hawaii, I brought several bags of chopped macadamia nuts to bake with. I had so many plans for these little babies. And making a Lime Coconut Macadamia Nut Cheesecake was one of them. I did a quick search and found this recipe for a Toasted Coconut and Macadamia Nut Tropical Cheesecake from The Prepared Pantry. The recipe sounded just like the Mango Key Lime Cheesecake, but without the mango. I decided to give it a try and modify it a tiny bit by adding some coconut syrup to the crust to give some extra coconut flavor. It isn't the Mango Lime cheesecake, but it was pretty good. Next time, I have to try to find the mango custard to put on top of this cheesecake.

1 1/2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
3/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts
1/3 cup toasted shredded coconut
4 1/2 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 Tbsp. coconut syrup
2 Tbsp. sugar

2 (8 0z) packages cream cheese
1 (14 oz can) condensed milk
3 large eggs
1/4 cup lime juice, preferably key lime
2 Tbsp. finely grated lime peel
whipped cream topping
toasted shredded coconut for garnish
lime slices for garnish

1) Preheat oven to 325 deg. F.

2) In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients for the crust. Mix until well combined. Press the mixture across the bottom and up the sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Refrigerate crust while making the filling.

3) Using a stand mixer, slowly beat cream cheese until soft and smooth. Add condensed milk, eggs, lime juice, and lime peel. Continue beating just until smooth. Pour mixture into prepared crust. Bake for 50 minutes or until cheesecake is firm.

4) Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides using a spatula and remove the ring. Refrigerate to cool completely. Garnish with whipped cream, toasted coconut and lime slices.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Chocolate Pumpkin Patch Halloween Cupcakes

I recently came across some pumpkin spice-flavored marshmallows in the shape of pumpkins. I knew my daughter would love them (because she loves anything that is marshmallow) so I bought a bag. The bag had some fun decorating ideas with the use of these pumpkin-shaped marshmallows. Then I strolled into Williams-Sonoma the next day and my daughter wanted me to buy some Halloween sprinkles. With all these festive decorating tools, I thought it would be fun to make Halloween cupcakes with my daughter.

Last year, I made Vanilla Halloween cupcakes and she wasn't much interested in helping me decorate them. This past year, she's shown a great interest in helping me bake and decorate, so she was happy to help out this time around. The bag of marshmallows suggested making a pumpkin patch on the cupcakes using the marshmallows. So I thought a chocolate cupcake base would look cool using my Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Cream Cheese frosting recipe, or any chocolate cupcake recipe. I think they turned out pretty cool. We also used the Halloween sprinkles, which she loved using on the cupcakes.

Pumpkin-Spiced marshmallows
sweetened shredded coconut
green food coloring

1) Prepare chocolate cake recipe according to directions. Line muffin tins with cup and fill with the batter about 3/4 full. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until toothpick test comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

2) Prepare frosting according to directions. Spread frosting on top of cooled cupcakes. Set aside.

3) Place shredded coconut in a small bowl. Add a few drops of green food coloring and stir coconut to distribute the color. Continue adding food coloring until desired shade of green is established. Sprinkle colored coconut on top of frosted cupcake. Arrange 2 pumpkin-spiced marshmallows on top of colored coconut.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sausage Pancake Egg Sandwich

I've been looking for great breakfast recipes to make on a lazy Saturday and found this recipe from Paula Deen a while ago. Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to make it until recently. We've been on a cereal diet since we got back from our vacation in Hawaii. And so we've only been eating cereal for breakfast. But I decided one morning to splurge and have a good breakfast and this recipe came to mind.

This definitely was a good breakfast. Hubby really loved it. It isn't for the diet conscious, but its okay to splurge every now and then. This dish gives a great balance of salty and sweet from the pancake or maple syrup used to top it off. A definite make-again recipe.

2 1/2 cups self rising flour
pinch of salt
2 cups milk
2 eggs
1/4 cup oil, plus more for cooking

1) Preheat oven to 200 deg F.

2) Combine flour and salt. Mix milk, eggs, and oil together. Add milk mixture into flour mixture and stir until well combined.

3) Heat a skillet or pan over medium heat. Rub butter on the bottom of the pan and add about a teaspoon of oil to prevent the butter from browning. Ladle 1/4 cup of the batter, for each pancake, onto the skillet. Cook pancakes for 2-4 minutes until the bottoms are brown. Flip the pancake over to cook on the other side, until lightly browned. Place pancakes in preheated oven until ready to serve.

Scrambled eggs
8 eggs
salt & pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. butter
4 cooked sausage patties, crumbled

cheese slices (Swiss or cheddar)
maple or pancake syrup

1) Heat a large skillet or pan over medium heat. In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs until the whites and yolks are combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

2) Melt butter in the skillet. Add eggs and reduce heat to medium-low. Add sausages and stir frequently until eggs are cooked through. Remove from heat.

3) To assemble the sandwich, place a slice of cheese on top of one pancake. Top with scrambled eggs. Place another slice of cheese on top of scrambled eggs and cover with another pancake. Place a dab of butter and drizzle with syrup and serve warm.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

North Shore Shrimp Truck-Style Shrimp Scampi

*say that fast 10 times*

Hubby and I have been reminiscing about our recent trip to Hawaii. We miss it so much. Especially the food. Whenever we eat something really good that it left a lasting impression, the first thing that comes to mind is "I wonder if I can make this back home."

On one of our trips to Oahu's North Shore a few years ago, our family tagged along. As well as one of my cousins and her daughter. We decided to have lunch at Giovanni's Shrimp Truck one day after raving about their awesome Shrimp Scampi. This cousin of ours is a great cook. So when she tried their famous shrimp scampi, she immediately knew how to make it. So she gave me some pointers on how to make it. When we returned to the mainland, I decided to try it out and this recipe was born. And I've been making it ever since. It tastes almost as good as Giovanni's.

1 lb. raw shrimp (either peeled or shell intact)
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1) Combine shrimp, garlic powder, and salt in a freezer storage bag. Massage the seasoning into the shrimp. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

2) In a large saute pan, melt together butter and vegetable oil. Add minced garlic and cook until fragrant but not browned. Stir in the marinated shrimp. Continue stirring and cooking until shrimp is pink. Do not overcook shrimp. Serve on top of white steam rice and a wedge of lemon for garnish.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Battle of the Shave Ice: Matsumoto's vs. Aoki's

Whenever we're in Oahu, we always make it a point to visit Matsumoto's for their famous Shave Ice. Shave ice is a common thing to have in Hawaii. And Matsumoto's is so popular that they always have a long line forming out the door. For this trip, my brother suggested we give another Shave Ice shop a try, Aoki's, which is ironically right next door to Matsumoto's. So I had this brilliant idea to give BOTH a try to see who had the best Shave ice.

First we went to what we were familiar with. Matsumoto's. The line was long, but the service was pretty quick. You can order a plain shave ice, or shave ice with ice cream, or shave ice with Azuki beans (sweet Japanese beans), or shave ice with ice cream and Azuki beans. Then you decide what flavors you want for your shave ice.

My daughter asked for a plain shave ice with blueberry and pineapple flavors. Hubby and I shared the Hawaiian Special (pineapple, coconut, and banana) with ice cream and topped with condensed milk. We enjoyed our shave ice on the benches outside the shop.
Adding the condensed milk and ice cream made our shave ice so creamy and full of flavor. I think shave ice tastes best with them. So yummy. Unfortunately, my daughter dropped her shave ice. But they were kind enough to replace hers for free. I guess this must happen a lot. After enjoying our shave ice, we went back inside the shop and do some shopping. Hubby always buys a souvenir T-shirt from here, as well as gifts for some folks back home.

Next day, we decided to check out Aoki's. The line at Aoki's was equally long. They have a similar way of ordering: plain, with ice cream, with Azuki Beans or both. They also had a shop inside where they also sold souvenir t-shirts and other nick-knacks. But we opted out of those.

Hubby and I shared the Tropical flavors (which I forgot what flavors they were) with ice cream and topped with Li Hing Mui (the sweet and salty flavoring found in a dried salted plum). The Li Hing Mui gave a great balance to the sweetness of the ice cream and shave ice.

Our daughter asked for a plain cherry flavor. 'Nuff said.

The verdict: Though the flavors were both equally good, it all came down to the texture of the ice. Operating for 60 years, Matsumoto's really knows how to shave their ice. Maybe its the old machine that they've used for 60 years. But their ice is so much finer than Aoki's. There really is a difference. Matsumoto's ice literally melts in your mouth. Aoki's tends to have the crunch factor in theirs.

One might say that Matsumoto's is where all the tourists go to, so they go to Aoki's. Others just like Matsumoto's for the mere quality of the ice. I guess its a matter of preference. But whatever choice you make, make sure to eat your shave ice with a holder. Its the best advice anyone can give whenever eating shave ice. Its the best 50 cent investment you'll make :)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ted's Bakery

In the 8 years that I've been going and back and forth to Hawaii, I have always wanted to go to Ted's Bakery. I first heard about Ted's from an old co-worker of mine who raved about their haupia pie. She said you have to get to Ted's early in the day, or else they run out of the haupia pie. Okay, well what's haupia, I first thought. I came to learn, from one of the luaus we went to a few years ago, that its a coconut custard-like Hawaiian dessert. Not a huge fan of it, but when in Hawaii you gotta try it at least once. So, I had to try Ted's haupia pie at least once. However, we always seem to miss their shop when we drive up in the North Shore.

On this short trip, since we were staying in the North Shore, we had a chance to finally explore this part of the island and stopped by the famous Ted's Bakery for some lunch. Its pretty easy to miss this "mom & pop" shop because it has a small, hard-to-see store-front. But it was only a few blocks from the famous Sunset Beach.

As you enter this old school shop, you can't help but think that you just stepped into a liquor store. The interior was as drab as a corner liquor store. But when you look to the left of the store, you'll see a refrigerated case where they displayed their desserts. It was as if a ray of sunshine shined over this area.

Because our stay in Oahu was brief, we didn't want to buy a whole pie. But we did want to try as many varieties as possible. So we decided to pick up slices of a couple of pies. Then we proceeded to the counter to order our lunch. We ordered Ted's Bento, which consisted of fried chicken, fried mahi-mahi, teriyaki beef, a slice of spam and a few scoops of rice. Delicious. And huge. Enough to share. Which is what we did.

We also decided to order another plate lunch to eat for dinner later in the day. So we ordered the Combination #2, which included BBQ short rib, BBQ chicken, and breaded shrimp. This plate was equally delicious and huge.

Because we were full from both meals, we didn't get a chance to taste the slices of pie we bought until the next day. We ended up buying a slice of the Pineapple Macadamia nut cheesecake and their famous Chocolate Haupia Cream Pie.

The Pineapple Macadamia Nut cheesecake was pretty good, but my unexpected favorite was the Chocolate Haupia Cream Pie. Its a chocolate cream pie, with a hint of coconut flavor from the Haupia. It was a great flavor combination and pure genius.

I'm so glad we were finally able to find Ted's and stop by to try some of their specialties. Can't wait to stop by here again. Now that we know where it is.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Liliha Bakery

*cue the theme song to Hawaii Five-0*

We recently got into watching the newer series of Hawaii Five-0 and absolutely love it. Maybe it was because it somehow takes us back to the islands. They feature a lot of the scenery we're quite familiar with around the islands. Specifically in Oahu.

On one episode, Chin Ho and Danno were eating some Coco Puffs from Liliha bakery. The scene featured their famous grey carrier box full of cream puffs, and Danno devoured them and raved about them. We had to have some of that. So off we went in search of Liliha bakery.
I expected the place to be packed. There were a few people, but service was pretty quick. So I was pleasantly surprised. As you walk into the shop, you'll notice that it isn't just a bakery. They also had a coffee shop serving, what else? Plate lunches. But we weren't there for a plate lunch. We were there for these babies:

Four different varieties of cream puffs: regular cream puff, chocolate cream puff, green tea cream puff, and their famous coco puff. I ordered 3 of each to make a dozen. And they all came in their signature grey carrier box as seen on Hawaii Five-0.

Hubby also asked for the haupia stuffed malasada which was quite yummy.

Not long after we got back to the car, I opened up the box and had one of each.

Danno was so dead-on about these. And thank you, Chin Ho, for introducing these to him. Because they were to die for. My favorite was the green tea cream puff: green tea custard filling with a green tea topping. The "tea-ness" didn't overpower the cream puff at all. And the topping had a slight saltiness that balances out the sweetness in the custard so well. My next favorite was the coco puff, which had a chocolate custard filling and a creamy butter topping. So yummy!

As we walked out of the bakery that day, we encountered their freezer that displayed frozen specialty items. Perfect to take home to eat later. They had frozen pancake batter, various cakes, and of course their famous cream puffs. I wish I had found the freezer sooner, before we ordered. I would have packed them to take back to the mainland. But I didn't want to get back in the long line. Now I'm going to regret that decision until my next trip back to Oahu. Liliha bakery, I'll definitely be back

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rainbow Drive-In

A plate lunch is the quintessential Hawaiian meal. Its a plate with a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. And if you're in Oahu, specifically in Waikiki, Rainbow Drive-In is the place to get your plate lunch fix. My brother raves about this place, and it was also featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on the Food Network. So during our quick trip to Oahu, we had to make the drive and brave the traffic in Honolulu to try Rainbow Drive-In.

In business for 50 years, their philosophy has always been hearty portions of great food, at a reasonable price for the working class. This still stands true and I can certainly attest to that when we ordered our food at the walk-up counter in Kapahulu. We ordered our food and it came out in quick minutes. I think it took longer trying to figure what to order, than when we actually got our food after we ordered. But hey, we weren't complaining.

I love beef BBQ served Hawaiian style, so I ordered the BBQ Steak, served with 2 scoops of rice and a side of macaroni salad. The beef was so tender and macaroni salad creamy. This was definitely ono kine grinds.

Known for their Loco Moco, hubby decided to order this specialty. A Loco Moco is a hamburger steak on top of 2 scoops of rice, all dredged in their house gravy and topped with eggs over-easy. I've had other versions of Loco Moco before, where the gravy used is the typical brown gravy. Rainbow's version was almost like a chili flavor with a slight sweetness. I guess its an acquired taste, because hubby loved it and I wasn't huge fan of it. I stuck to my BBQ steak.

Our daughter is not a big meat eater yet, so we had to pick something up for her. On the day we we visited Rainbow's, their special for the day was Spaghetti with wiener. Sounds like Filipino spaghetti to me, where the spaghetti sauce is slightly sweet and always has slices of hot dogs. This shows how big of an influence Filipino cuisine was to Hawaiian cuisine. Well, unfortunately, they ran out of the spaghetti, and so we ordered the next best thing. Saimin, which is basically Ramen.

The authentic Japanese Ramen, I've had the pleasure of eating and enjoying. Other Saimin dishes, I've also had, which were pretty good. Rainbow's, however, was pretty disappointing. It tasted more like it came from a packet. You know the one. The instant Ramen. Yeah, I guess they put more effort into their plate lunches. Luckily, our daughter can't tell the difference between instant ramen and a good ramen yet. And she needed to eat. No complaints from her.

I look forward to returning to Rainbow Drive-in someday, if only for their BBQ plate.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Gathering Place, Oahu

After 3 days on the beautiful island of Maui, we continued with our Hawaiian vacation and headed off to Oahu, the Gathering Place. I don't exactly know why this island is called "the Gathering place." Maybe because anyone traveling to the islands first land at Honolulu, Hawaii's capital. And many probably end up residing in Oahu, which is why it is the most populated island in Hawaii. But being that it is the most populated, makes it the island to visit whenever its your first time in Hawaii. There's lots to do on this island. And because there's lots to do, you'll encounter more tourists.

Its been about 6 years since our last trip to Oahu. But whenever we visit, we always stay at a hotel in Waikiki. On the beach, of course. But on this trip, we wanted to have a laid back kind of vacation. Away from all the crowds and tourists. So we decided to rent a beach house on the North Shore of the island.

Our beach house was located on the beach in the quiet town of Waialua. And we had the beach all to ourselves, with occasional people passing by for a walk.
(our own private beach)

The beach house had all the comforts of home. So I was able to cook breakfast every morning and saved money on food. A nice change of pace, since everything is a little pricey in Hawaii. Every morning, I cooked a typical Hawaiian breakfast consisting of rice, scrambled eggs, and Portuguese sausage or Spam.

And we always ate our breakfast (and all other meals) next to the bay window in the living room to have this beautiful view:
(this is also the view in our room)

Typical visitors we had at the beach throughout the day was a family of sea turtles that swim pretty close to the shore where you can practically swim with them. I don't swim well in the ocean, so I kept a safe distance.

The thing to do in Oahu is visit the pineapple plantation at Dole.

When there, we always swing by the shop and pick up their famous Dole Whip. Our daughter had a sample of their sweet pineapple after we took the train ride around the plantation, so we decided to pick up some fresh cut pineapples at the shop as well.

A common pupu (or appetizer) in a Hawaiian meal is poke (poh-keh). Its chopped up pieces of ahi tuna with seasonings. It tastes best when served with taro or sweet potato chips. We visited a local supermarket when we took a trip to Waikiki one day and found a service counter dedicated to poke. So hubby and I decided to pick up a couple of different versions of poke and a bag of taro chips. I ordered the avocado poke that was super ono. It had a mild spice and the creaminess from the avocado. I'm gonna definitely try to replicate this.

Hubby ordered the the plain poke which he said tasted too plain. He liked my poke better.

Where we stayed in the North Shore, food trucks are pretty common. I guess you can say that Oahu was the first in the food truck movement. Shrimp trucks is the thing to do up in the North Shore. And the most famous one is Giovanni's Shrimp Truck.
You can't visit the North Shore without having some Giovanni's. So we decided to pick some up on our last day in Oahu.

Their most popular dish is their Shrimp Scampi. Its a plate of their sweet and succulent shrimp, heavily seasoned with butter and garlic, then served with 2 scoops of rice and a wedge of lemon. I could eat this meal everyday. It was that good. It was bomb dot com.

We were able to visit many other places in Oahu, which I will feature in the next couple of posts. This post was just about random things in Oahu. We definitely enjoyed our own private beach. And we'll definitely miss seeing this everyday:
I wish I could take this with me. Aloha. A hui hou (until we meet again).

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Valley Isle: Maui, No Ka Oi

I've been on a hiatus for 2 weeks because, you guessed it, we were in the Aloha State of Hawai'i. Actually, we were only in Hawaii for a week. The other week was spent getting back in the groove of things at home and at work. And plus, we were getting things set up for our daughter's first day of preschool this week. So its been quite hectic around the house this past week.

Our Hawaiian vacation was a long time in the making. Two years, to be exact. We've been holding off on vacations until hubby finished school. But all we did in the past 2 years was daydream about the day we get to finally go back to Hawaii for a vacation. And as soon as his last semester of school started, we began planning and booking our trip to the islands to not only celebrate hubby's finishing school and passing his boards, but to also celebrate our 8th anniversary. We've had this trip booked for 7 months and have been counting down the months and days since then. I guess you can say that this was a long awaited and well-deserved vacation. And so the next series of posts will be dedicated to our Hawaiian vacation.

Because this vacation was a long time in the making, we wanted to go all out and visit 2 islands. Whenever we go to Hawaii, we only usually go to the main island of Oahu. We've only been to one other island on our honeymoon, which was the Big Island of Hawai'i. And so we decided to add Maui to the mix of islands we've visited.

Maui is called the Valley Isle because of the numerous large valleys on the island. Maui is not as commercialized like Oahu is. Maui has more of its countryside preserved, whereas Oahu is almost overpowered with high rise hotels and tourists.

(the view from our room)

After a long day of travel, we finally arrived at our hotel at the Westin Maui Resort and Spa in the late afternoon. We settled into our room and decided to have dinner at one of the hotel's restaurants, 'Ono Bar & Grill, which featured traditional American favorites with an island twist. Like this plate of onion rings topped with furikake seasoning:

Furikake is a mix of different seasoning and shaves of nori/seaweed. I learned on this trip that almost everything is topped with furikake, which gives the dish a good and slightly salty taste.

A traditional Hawaiian meal usually consists of Kalua pork, which is the infamous roast pork slow-cooked in the ground. I love Kalua pork, so when I saw that they served it in a sliders form, I was all over it. The pork was so flavorful. And not too salty, unlike some Kalua pork I've had. Serving this with a side of taro chips really completed the meal.

Hubby ordered the Kahuna Dog, a traditional hot dog, topped with their house chili that is slightly sweet, cheese and other toppings.

What was great about this restaurant was that kids ate free for each paying adult. So our daughter's meal of spaghetti was free. A plus, especially since everything sold in Hawaii can be pretty pricey.

Our body clock was pretty much still on Pacific time, so after dinner, we turned in early. Besides, it had been a long day and we were very exhausted.

(our first Maui sunset. Breathtaking.)

Our vacation package included free daily breakfast buffet, again at 'Ono Bar & Grill. The breakfast consists of the typical pancake/french toast/waffle choices, eggs, and breakfast meat (bacon, sausage or Portuguese sausage, which happens to be my favorite), fruits, bread, and cereals. A pretty good spread.

And the view wasn't bad either. We were given a choice to eat poolside, or with an ocean view. And of course, we asked for the the ocean view.
(our view every morning at breakfast.)

After we were stuffed with our awesome breakfast, off we went to start our activities for the day. Everyone I knew who's been to Maui told me that I HAD to the road trip to Hana. Its literally about 4 hours of a road trip, filled with 600+ sharp turns on the side of a hill heading to the town of Hana. And along the way, you'd encounter several waterfalls and amazing views. Supposedly, there really wasn't much to Hana, but everyone said that it wasn't about the destination, it was all about the experience of the drive. I knew going into the road trip that I may not be able to make it all the way to Hana because I get car-sick pretty easily. Needless to say, we only made it about a quarter of the way and about an hour-and-a-half of driving, that I asked hubby to turn the car around. I got seriously car-sick. And I figured, the further we went meant it would take twice as long to get back. My stomach wasn't gonna handle another minute. So we made frequent stops when we headed back to get fresh air. Hubby and I were quite disappointed. Aside from the views of the ocean, we didn't see any waterfalls. This was pretty much a wasted road trip. I could've been sitting on the beach. Oh well.

After finally making it down to a smoother ride, my stomach went back to normal and we began to get hungry. We wanted to eat where the locals ate. And what's more local than a plate lunch? I read a lot of great things about Aloha Mixed Plate on Yelp, so we decided to check it out.

A mixed plate lunch is a typical Hawaiian meal. Its origins began in the early plantation days, when plantation workers of different ethnic backgrounds (native Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, Filipino) brought and shared their native specialties with one another. And the "mixed plate" was born. Aloha Plate Lunch specializes in different mixed plates, and is always served with a couple of scoops of steamed white rice and macaroni salad. We started our meal with the garlic fries, again topped with furikake.

I ordered the BBQ mixed plate, which consisted of BBQ chicken, teriyaki beef, and kalbi short ribs. So "ono" (good/delicious).

Hubby ordered the Hawaiian plate that consisted of Kalua pork and lomi lomi salmon.

We had planned on eating light for lunch because we were going to a luau for dinner, but we just couldn't resist the plate lunches. Its one of our favorite things to eat. And we ate it all up.

After our meal, we headed back to the hotel for a quick dip at the beach before our luau at the hotel.

(sunset before the luau)

We've been to quite a few luaus in Hawaii since our honeymoon. Its a very touristy thing to do, and we vowed to not do it often (or at all), but this was our daughter's first experience in Hawaii. What better to experience Hawaii than to party it up "Hawaiian style" with a luau. Besides, I want some more Kalua pork :)

While waiting for the luau to start, we were served with a bottomless supply of drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). I wasn't much of a drinker, but since I was on vacation, why not? I had a few sips of the Mai-Tai and the Blue Hawaiian, which was quite good and not too strong on the alcohol. Yeah, I'm a light-weight.

Our first course was an array of pupus such as lomi lomi salmon (raw salmon ceviche), poke (ahi tuna), salad, and pipi kaula (beef jerky).

Our main course consisted of Kalua Pork, of course, teriyaki beef, and mahi mahi.

And finally, for dessert, we had a macadamia nut tart, pineapple upside down cake, Kona chocolate cake, and haupia (a Hawaiian coconut dessert).

During the meal, we were entertained by dancers performing an array of Polynesian numbers.

The luau was a great way to end our Anniversary day and the end of our stay in Maui. Our stay on Maui was pretty relaxing. Residents of Maui take pride in living there. We were glad to have experienced this other island because now we understand why "Maui, No ka oi" (Maui, the best).