Sunday, July 26, 2009

Blackberry Pie

Of all summer fruit, I might not have given blackberries enough homage. Peach melba I have tried. An assortment of strawberry tarts and pies, rhubard crisp, pineapple upside down cake recipes I know almost by heart. Yet, in all my summers here I hadn't made one dessert that focused soley on the fruit. Shame on me. Blackberries have long been part of my fruit repertoire - had them in parfatis, in fruit salads, in preserves and smoothies - but never made them stand alone in a dish. Until now.

Naturally ripened blackberries do not need much else to enhance their favors. A tablespoon of vanilla, maybe a pinch of all spice, and perhaps a splash of deep red wine are all it takes. For baking, it is important to get the very ripe ones; the riper they are less sugar is needed. Look for almost even coloration (although the color changes when baked) and those without the hulls, since younger berries hang on to the hulls stronger than riper ones.

While I have included a crust recipe, store bought crust works just as well. However, I would suggest using a pastry crust rather than a graham cracker crust. The flaky pastry crust provides a noticable textural contrast to the soft berries.

Blackberry Pie
Makes one 9" pie

2 pints blackberries (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp dark red wine e.g. cabernet (optional)
1 nine inch prepared pie crust (recipe below)

1. Set oven to 450 degrees F.
2. Combine the first five ingredients being careful not to crush the berries; pour into the prepared pie crust. Bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes, then lower heat to 350 degrees F and continue baking for an additional 20 to 45 minutes until the juices thicken. (*See note below.) If the crust browns too quickly, cover with foil.
3. Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.

Cookie Crust
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg

1. Set oven to 350 degrees F.
2.Combine the first four ingredients. Mix in the butter until a crumbly dough forms, then mix in the egg until it all comes together in a soft ball.
3. Using the back of a spoon or the tips of your fingers, evenly spread this dough unto a well greased nine inch pie dish, along the bottom and up the sides.
4. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes until lightly golden brown.

*Note: If you prefer a softer, more homogenized filling, allow the pie to bake up to forty five to minutes to an hour at 350 degrees F. The photo above show how it would look after 30 minutes at this temperature; the berries still have most of their structure and can be picked off the top without fally apart, just the way I like it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fish Burgers with Avocado Sauce

For fish burgers, I prefer to use whole fish steaks rather than the traditional method of combining crumbled fish with breadcrumbs and eggs. Fish steaks just taste better in my opinion, and they provide more of that characteristic "juicy burger bite" than a soft fish patty can offer. Also, by using a marinade of a few simple ingredeints, you have a burger that is lighter in calories.
While this is an easy recipe, choosing the right type of fish is essential. Here, I opted for scarlet snapper steaks with the skin on. Snapper in general maintains its structure to high heat but, if unavailable, you can substitute other meaty fish such as swordfish or tuna; basically any fish you would grill.

Fish Burgers with Avocado Sauce
Serves four

1 whole Hass avocado, halved, seeded and peeled
1/2 cup fat free greek yogurt
1 roma tomato, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
salt to taste

4 snapper steaks about 1" thick (1 lb total)
6 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
salt and pepper
4 whole wheat hamburger buns, toasted
baby lettuce

To make the avocado sauce:
Combine avocado, yogurt, tomato, shallot, cilantro and salt in a food processor until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the burgers:
1. Using a microplane or the fine side of a box grater, grate the garlic cloves. Combine grated garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, chilli flakes, salt and pepper. Coat each side of the fish steaks well with this mixture. Refrigerate for at least half and hour.
2. Set a skillet over medium high heat and, once hot, add just enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom. Place the fillets, two at a time depending on the size of the skillet, skin side down and cook for four minutes. Flip and finish cooking on the other side for another three to four minutes or opaque throughout. Remove to a paper towel.
3. To arrange the burgers, place a handful of baby lettuces on the bottom half of a burger bun. Top with one fish steak, a generous dollop of the avocado sauce, and the top half of the bun.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Road to Hana

Ke'anae Coastline.

The above picture was taken at the Ke'anae coast and shows the coastline of that low-lying town has not changed much as compared to a thousand years ago. The one below shows a road seemingly cutting a densely forested peninsular in half. Both pictures were taken on the road to Hana in Maui. Last week I returned home after spending two idyllic weeks in Hawaii: five days in Oahu and nine days in Maui. Idyllic because the weather was perfect, it was off peak season so lines everywhere were short, and, for the first time, we did the drive to that quaint, quintessentially tropical town of Hana. The Road to Hana, as the entire endeavor is sometimes referred to, i.e. the drive, the many stops along the way, the distinctive foods- home made banana bread, lilikoi, papayas, mangoes, steamed breadfruit- that must be bought, the town itself, and the drive back can be a day long trip. We, on the other hand, decided to make it three days and two nights. And wisely so. After hearing stories and reading about the constant turns and downhills maneuvers on the Hana highway coupled with the fact that just the thought of all the curves is designed to give me notion sickness, I know we made a wise decision.

Hana Highway along east Maui.

We arrived in Kahului after four activity packed days on Oahu: kayaking, touring the LOST sights, snorkeling, touring the north coast. So by this time, we were ready for the laid back scene that is most of Maui. Kahului is a small port city and an airport town; consequently it is very commercialized and there aren't many good beaches, although some are within driving distance. This is not to say that I would overlook the town. In fact, I am always srtuck at the view of the West Maui mountains from here, its grandeur and yet its peacefulness. This time, however, Kahului served as our first pit stop before Hana. We'd have dinner and spend the night there, awaking refreshed and ready for the long drive ahead.

We started our drive the following morning after stopping for coffee at Maui Coffee Roasters, touted as the best coffee in west Maui, and I will have to agree. As with my previous trips to the islands, I relied on Maui Revealed, part of a series of guide books by Andrew Doughty which has now become my holy grail for everything Hawaii. His Maui edition has indepth descriptions of every must-see spot along the way, and those which can be overlooked. Since the highway sits between the edge of the mountain and the ocean, many of these sites include gorgeous waterfalls and gulches. And it wasn't long until we reached the first of the must-sees: Lower Puohokamoa Falls. If you don't know where to stop you'd probably pass the access point: nothing more than a small dirt pullout on the left side of the road, followed by a barded wire face, a short, very precarious trail, and you're at the viewing point directly across from the falls. This one was breathtaking, not because it was the first waterfall we encountered but its one hundred plus drop into the river below is simply majestic.... and frightening. It set the tone for the many other waterfalls we would see as we continued. Some even more majestic, some not as lofty but charming nonetheless.

Just when it seemed that the highway followed a distinct sequence - road, ocean view, tropical forest, waterfall, road, ocean view, forest, waterfall- we came upon the exit for Ke'anae, the quaint coastal town which, in 1946, was almost destroyed by a tsunami. The exit leads directly to Aunty Sandy's Banana Bread stand, in my opinion the best banana bread from Kahului all the way to Hana. (Yes, I tried them all; there was just no other way to make an informed opinion.) Their bread is made fresh, right then and there. Aunty Sandy somehow coincides her baking with each onslaught of visitors because the bread is still warm when you buy it. Having had our fill of warm banana bread and coconut candy, we drove past the stand and into the village itself. The further in you get, the magnitude of the unspoilt coastline begins to emerge. This is a prime example of what the islands looked like thousands of years ago, when hot lava met the ocean.

The sign in front of Aunty Sandy's Banana Bread stand.

Black Sand Beach at Wainapanapa State Park.

Back on the highway, it took us a little over an hour to finally get to Hana. Beautiful, mysterious, heavenly Hana. Never had I envisioned such a place existed in the United States. Most striking to me was the silence. No matter where we were, all we could here was either the ocean waves or the sound of the wind, and it's easy to understand why. With the exception of a general store which closes at seven pm, the two main hotels, a single gas station, and couple restaurants , commerce is almost nonexistent. And I am sure the prospect of the long drive from the main tourist center (central and west of the island) unofficially regulates the number of visitors there at any one time.

In spite of its remoteness, there is a lot to see and do in Hana. The famous Honokalani Black Sand Beach, picture-postcard-gorgeous Ohea Gulch, and family friendly Hana Bay. Then there is a visit to Ono Organic Farms, one of the highlights of the entire trip for me. Ono is hawaiian for delicious and everything is ono on this farm. From the welcoming cup of coffee to the very last piece of fruit. For thirty five dollars per person, owner Lily Boerner takes you on a tour through her tropical fruit tree paradise. Being an island girl myself, and having grown up on a similar style estate, this was like revisiting my childhood. Guavas, papayas, caimito (what I knew as caimet), soursop, passion fruit. I also had the opportunity to try news ones such as cheromoya, sweet passionfruit and a couple different varieties of bananas. As if that weren't enough, the farm sells organic coffee beans, jams, jellies, and spice rubs.

Standing in Oheo Gulch.

Fresh organic fruit from Ono Organic Farm. Clockwise from top right: papaya, lychee, guava, caimito, and pineapple.

Lily Boerner, owner of Ono Organic Farms, cutting into caimito and soursop.

For me, Hana was more than just another tourist attraction in Maui. It was a sanctuary, the ultimate hidden paradise. From its breathtaking natural formations, to its solitude, to the soothing sounds all around, to its fresh organic foods. It was a place where nothing else but the person you're with, and the moment you're in, mattered because everything else seems to be taken care of.