Spicy Green Mango

--Living and eating with a dash of whimsy and a sprinkling of spice--

  • I'm a budding food-tographer turned blogger who's insanely passionate about food..real food...the kind that sprouts from the earth and you have to wash it to eat it. Yes, hearty real food. I live to eat and I eat to live and am loving every bit of it! If you're here, then I suppose we share the same passion! Enjoy!


Posted by Spicy Green Mango 63 comments

You're Here!  So am I!  Spicy Green Mango's still in the running to become the next Project Food Blog Star!  Voting for Challenge 6 begins Monday, October 25 and continues until Thursday, October 28 at 6pm (PST).  Cast your vote for Spicy Green Mango by following this link and clicking on the heart icon near the top of the page!  Alright, foodie rockstars, let's start grubbing and let me know if you would have wanted to ride shotgun to my picnic!

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Just an hour north of Sacramento, surrounded by the lush evergreen backdrop of the Sierra Foothills, is a playground for some darling little gems that have graced my imagination ever since I fell in love with the childrens classic, Johnny Appleseed. And who wouldn't?  This was a person whose mission in life was to sprinkle the land with apple seeds -- wow, what a cool life, I thought. So,  with visions of sugary apple pies dancing in my head, I still remember being the little girl in class, smiling and coloring my rows and rows of apple trees, as I prepared for my upcoming field trip to Apple Hill. It would be a day of many firsts: my first time frolicking in an apple orchard; my first time seeing an entire apple being pressed to the core so that I could taste its sweet nectar; and my first time appreciating the beauty of autumn's treasures with its vibrant hues of crimson and sunburst dotting each tree limb.

As I prepared for the sixth challenge of Project Food Blog where I would need to design a "meal on the go," it was only befitting that I set up my late apple harvest picnic at the same spot where such whimsical childhood memories took flight. And after discovering a scrumptious recipe for a harvest cake with the goodness of organic parsnips, rainbow carrots, grapeseed oil and apples, I knew that my decision was set.


So, with the Project Food Blog "cooler" swung over one shoulder and my trusting Nikon over the other, we made our way to Apple Hill to celebrate the end of the apple harvest season with a picnic that featured only the best of Spicy Green Mango:

The Show-Stealer
Crunchy Rice Salad (Naem in Laos)
(with roasted peanuts, fresh mint & cured pork served w/lettuce)
The Assistant
Roasted Spicy Eggplant Dip served with slices of a "Heavenly" Lao Beef Jerky

The Heart-Stopper
Autumn Harvest Cake
(with organic parsnip, rainbow carrots, zucchini, Empire apple & grapeseed oil)
The Quencher
Martinelli's Sparkling Apple Juice


A Picnic in the Orchard: Inspiration and Elements

Inspired from memories of childhood field trips, I wanted to keep my picnic as simple, minimalistic and convenient as possible. I packed my dishes in recyclable paper boxes, tucked in mini vintage bottles of sparkling apple juice and tied some twine & parchment paper to dress up my harvest cake that was oozing with so much yumminess with every mouthful.

In honor of October's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I also decided to incorporate shades of pink in the drink flags and food labels. A year ago, I completed the Susan G. Komen run and was truly humbled by witnessing the strength and resilience of the amazing women (and their families) who courageously battled this illness.  It's my belief that you don't necessarily have to be directly affected by a disease to make an impact for those who need it most. 



The rustic tablescape & spread to create the perfect picnic ambience 


The Show-Stealer:
A blend of grated coconut, red curry paste, paprika and eggs make this crunchy rice salad one that's bursting with the flavors of Southeast Asia.   During my vacation in Thailand, I was giddy with glee when I spotted a naem vendor in Bangkok and he had these mini balls and fresh veggies lined up to serve his next customer: Me!  Even with my bag of bbq chicken and papaya salad clenched tightly in my fist, I couldn't resist my bulging eyes and gluttonous belly when I ended up pitting in my order.

This is my homemade version of what my mom considers a huge undertaking b/c everytime she cooks this, she always makes enough to feed a little village.  Now, I want to scale it down a bit and surprisingly, the process is really easy and straightforward.   The crispy balls of fried naem are easily transported for any picnic or on-the-go occasion.


Crunchy Rice Salad (Lao Naem)
Makes about 25 balls
The salad can be served as an appetizer or main entree---the choice is yours.

Essentials:  You will need to preheat your deep fryer to 375 degrees (Fahrenheit) and fill it with enough oil to fry the naem.
  • 4 cups jasmine or white rice, cooked 
  • 2 cups coconut, grated
  • 1 tbsp red curry paste
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 large eggs
Optional:  2 cured Lao pork sausage rolls, sliced AND 1/4 cup of pork skins, thinly sliced

Condiments/Garnish:
  • 1 green scallion, sliced
  • 10-15 cilantro sprigs, chopped
  • 3-4 tbsp peanuts, roasted and roughly chopped
  • 5-10 mint leaves, chopped or whole
  • 2 tsp fish sauce
  • 2-4 lime wedges
  • 5 small dried Thai chili peppers, flash-fried in oil to deepen smoky flavor
 How-To:  You may fry the rice balls 1 day prior to your outing.  Be sure to store them in a dry, paper bag. 
  • Heat oil to 375 degrees (Fahrenheit)
  • In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients.  Roll up your sleeves and grab a fistful of the mixture and shape it into a tightly-packed ball.  The tighter the better b/c that will prevent it from breaking apart when it is fried. 
  • Fry the rice ball in batches of 4 or 5 to prevent the oil temperature from getting too low.  Fry each batch for about 10 minutes or until rice turns a golden hue
  • Let batch cool completely before attempting to crumple the balls.  The crispy outer shell provides a wonderfully pleasant textural variation for your taste buds.
  • To serve, simply crumple the shell of each ball, sprinkle in some sliced scallions, cilantro & peanuts, a squeeze of lime and some salt (or fish sauce) to taste and you're done! (If you decided to try the authentic route, make sure you also add in the pork skins and cured pork during this time as well--I always do!).  Serve it up with lettuce or your favorite leafy green and this will just leave your friends wondering what restaurant you hustled to cook up this dish for you! 
  • If you should be so inclined, traditionally, the naem salad can be eaten with some of your smoky fried chili peppers.
 

Roasted spicy eggplant dipping sauce that pairs really well with the beef jerky...tasty nibbles to please you!



 And who could possibly go to a picnic and not bring dessert?  One of my favorite things to do as the weather cools down is keep my home warm and toasty by doting my oven with plenty of home-baked goods.  The smorgasbord of root and squash vegetables continues to inspire me to push the envelope when it comes to enhancing my baking skills. Moist, soft and just perfect for a picnic, this harvest cake (although quite honestly, it is more of a loaf) is definitely all it's cracked up to be (and then some).  My sister and I baked it the night prior and fed it to our taste testers for a review--they loved it!




A Harvest Cake ( or a Loaf)



Although we missed the peak of apple harvest season, I was still determined to capture the beauty of the orchard by strolling among the apple trees, with my sparkling apple juice bottle in hand. Here's what I found lying on the ground and my oh my, they are simply lovely!









I spotted this tree from far away and couldn't help but become entranced by its aura...no styling, no props-- just some golden delicious apples not quite ready to surrender its stems to the ground below. I thought it was truly a lovely capture for the day and a very nice ending to my day of picnicking in an apple orchard.


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Five weeks ago, I entered Project Food Blog on a whim--hoping to simply advance past the first challenge and then leave it at that.  Little did I realize that I had so many more friends on the blogosphere than I could have ever imagined.  I am now at the halfway mark and I wanted to take a moment to thank you once and again for the amazingly kind words and encouragement I've received in the form of comments on my posts and via my social networks. In the end, there can only be 1 winner, but regardless of what happens, the journey has been sweet and I cannot wait to meet many of you at the Foodbuzz Food Blogger Festival come November. 

Voting for Challenge 5 ends Thursday, October 21 at 6pm (PST)...so cast your votes today!  In the meantime, I've been busy in the kitchen...should I advance, the pictures in this post are a sneak peek at what's in store....a bunch of organic rainbow carrots, pecans and grapeseed oil...what could Spicy possibly be up to now?



Love, LOVE the colors of these carrots--don't you?

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Posted by Spicy Green Mango 32 comments

 Many, many finger snaps and thanks to all of you who've supported me thus far in Project Food Blog. Alright, so the halfway mark is here and I'm calling on you to take me to the next challenge. I'll post a sneak peek very soon of what I've been up to.  To vote, follow this link and click on the little heart that says "Vote for This Entry" or simply click on my Project Food Blog widget on the right column of this screen. Voting begins now, October 18 until October 21, 2010 at 6pm (PST).  Thank you ever so much! 

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A light early morning drizzle taps ever so lightly on my window panes and as I poke my head outside, I can almost taste the nippy air of early autumn.  It's mornings like this that bring back childhood memories of mom cooking a steaming basket of sticky rice and my little head peeking over the counter, with hands gripped tightly, waiting for a fistful of the tasty morsels, sprinkled with just a pinch of salt to give it that extra kick. Heaven in a handful is what I like to call it.

Through the years, these simple memories still adorn my world and make me smile. As I sat contemplating my entry for Challenge 5, which was to re-invent the pizza (loosely interpreted as having a base, sauce and at least one topping), I realized that I would use this opportunity to share with you my all-time favorite Lao breakfast: Grilled ginger-marinated pork belly atop a bed of Lao tomato jaew (pronounced "jay-ow," or otherwise known as my Motherland's version of a spicy roasted tomato sambal sauce) and warm sticky rice "pizzetas."  The dish is simple, but painfully nostalgic and brutally hearty with every bite.



Lao-style Pork Belly-Ginger "Pizzetas" with Smoky Tomato Jaew
Makes at least 10 pizzetas

STEP 1:  Sticky Rice (aka Sweet or Glutinous Rice)
Soak 2 cups of sticky rice for 2 hours. Drain rice and put in a steamer basket lined with cheesecloth. Steam rice, covered with lid, over boiling water until shiny and tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Sticky rice is best served hot or warm.

For a tutorial on steaming sticky rice, please head over to Import Food.  The only difference I noted was that the site tells you to steam the rice for 45 minutes, which in my book, is too long, so go with the 20 minutes that I indicated above.

STEP 2:  Ginger-Marinated Pork Belly
Essentials:
  • 1/2 lb pork belly, chopped into 3 inch chunks
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 ginger slices, peeled & minced
  • 3" lemongrass stem (discard outer layer), minced
How-To:
  • Combine all ingredients and coat the pork belly in the marinade.  Transfer to an air-tight bag or container and let marinade for at least 1 hour.
  • Grill or broil pork belly at 475 (degrees fahrenheit) for 30 minutes or until pork skin is crispy and sizzling. 
  • Once cooked and slightly cooled, cut pork belly into bite-sized slices
STEP 3:  Smoky Lao Tomato Sauce (Jaew Maak Len)*
Essentials:
  • 10 cherry tomatoes or 4 medium heirloom tomatoes, roasted
  • 6 Thai chiles; de-stemmed & charred (adjust based on your spice threshold)
  • 2 slices ginger, charred
  • 10 sprigs fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt (adjust based on your preference)
Useful Items:
  • Aluminum foil
  • 1 bamboo skewer, pre-soaked in water for 20 minutes
* Secret Tip:  Charring the vegetables for this sauce is the key to unlocking its smoky flavor

How-To:
  • Heat broiler to 450 (degrees fahrenheit) ; place a rack towards the top of the oven. (You can also wrap the tomatoes in foil and place it over a grill)
  • Places the tomatoes on a foil lined baking sheet and roast for about 20-25 minutes
  • Skewer and char the peppers and ginger, turning once, for about 5 minutes. Let cool.
  • Transfer peppers & ginger and  to a food processor;  pulse until chopped. Add tomatoes; pulse until chunky. Transfer sauce to a bowl; stir in chopped cilantro, fish sauce and salt.
STEP 4:  Assembling your Lao-style Pizzettas
  • Take a fistful of sticky rice, form into a ball and flatten into small round pizzettas
  • Spoon a dollop of Lao tomato jaew onto the sticky rice, spreading evenly to coat and form a layer
  • Top each pizzetta with 2-3 slices of pork belly and garnish with freshly-sliced scallions

Below, the freshness involved in making the smoky tomato jaew and Sparkling Italian blood orange soda.

And of course, for my foodie fans who are adamant about the traditional Italian-style pizza, I made those as well.  How could I forget about them, right? After slathering on a generous layer of Tuscan tomato-basil sauce, I topped them with yellow & red heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella & basil, and Columbus Italian dry salame all piled on top of a rustic pizza dough. 




And of course, who could possibly forget cute little vintage Coca Cola bottles with our pizza spread of roasted bell peppers and grilled corn?  Apparently, "Not I," says Spicy. 

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It's true!  Spicy Green Mango is dishing up a dessert to tickle your sweet fancies for Project Food Blog's Challenge 4 where I've been tasked with creating a step-by-step photo tutorial of an amazing recipe. Thank you SO MUCH to all of you who've voted thus far and I am baffled by all your wonderful comments. Voting for Challenge 4 begins on October 11 and ends October 14 at 6pm (PST), so vote here and click on my PFB widget!

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The air is beginning to feel a bit more brisk just as the deep crimson leaves that once adorned my Japanese maple tree only a few months back begin to fall, blanketing my lawn with a quilt of autumn foliage . The sight of leaves turning fiery shades of amber, orange and red are in one word:  breathtaking!  I've realized just how much I've become entranced with the autumn season; it's Mother Nature's way of telling me to trade in my baskets of sweet, sun-ripened strawberries for her golden, sun-kissed pumpkins that are waiting to be harvested.  And ultimately, it also means welcoming another family of seasonal fruits and vegetables into my home. 

For this round of Project Food Blog, I was asked to create a mouth-watering recipe pictorial of my choice.  To celebrate my love for the changing season, I wanted to select an ingredient that was truly in touch with this time of year, but one that would also pay homage to my Southeast Asian heritage.  So, how could I possibly go wrong with...PUMPKINS!  And the recipe? Well, the literal translation is essentially SweetWater Pumpkin {naam waan maak euh in Lao) -- a special treat from my sweet tooth to yours. 



And the best part? There's only 4 main ingredients:
  • Coconut Milk
  • Sugar/Kabocha Pumpkins
  • Water Chestnut Gems
  • Tapioca Pearls
It begins with a smooth coconut milk broth that's been sweetened and simmered to provide the perfect playground for my SweetWater Pumpkin dessert to perform a richly refreshing dance on my taste buds.  Wait!  Rich and refreshing? Hmm...is this even possible, you ask? Why, yes, of course! I chose to add in water chestnut gems which really gave it that refreshing crunch, while the combinations of Sugar & Kobocha pumpkins added a nice layer of richness that elevated my entire dessert experience.  And then it all comes together with the silkiness of the dainty tapioca pearls.  Mmm...yum!  Are you ready to see how I did it? Well, wonder no more.

TIPS before you BEGIN:
Each ingredient of this dessert can be prepared up to 2 days in advance.  The trickiest part is the preparation for each, but I promise you that it is soo worth it.  It's the best way to end a great dinner or simply for enjoying all on its own.  If you don't include any of the water chestnut gems, you can definitely serve this warm, but if you do choose to include the chestnuts, then serve it chilled.  Otherwise, enjoy!

STEP 1:  Simmer the Coconut Milk
Essentials:
  • 1 can of coconut milk (13.5 oz)
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
How-To:  Combine all ingredients and simmer in a pot over medium flame for about 30-45 minutes*.  Remove from heat, let cool and set aside. 
* If you wish, you can skim the top of the coconut milk and remove any floating coconut particles. 




STEP 2:  Prepare the Pumpkins
I chose 2 types of pumpkins: Sugar and Kobocha pumpkins, but you can choose whatever pumpkin you wish and it doesn't have to be 2 kinds--I was just experimenting with both. 

Essentials:
  • Half of a small to medium-sized pumpkin
  • 1 tsp of white limestone paste
  • 8 cups water (4 cups for soaking pumpkins and 4 cups for boiling)
  • 1 sturdy knife 
The Sugar Pumpkin:  Rumor has it that these sugary little darlings are great for pies and baked goods, so I naturally gravitated to them on my recent trip to the pumpkin patch, which I will definitely be blogging about soon!   They are easy to handle, their skins isn't as tough as the Kabochas, but when it came down to the taste test, they were a bit bland in my book (but maybe that's because I didn't rub any sugar, which usually is the case if you use them for pies and other desserts).  But I've fallen in love with their color and the texture is silky and smooth.

How-To:  Seeding/Prepping the Pumpkins
  • Prepare a pot of 4 cups of boiling water
  • Using your hands, scoop out the seeds and set aside (you can sprinkle them w/salt & roast them for a snack later)
  • Use a spoon to scrape  the remainder of the flesh, leaving a smooth interior
  • Cut the pumpkin into wedges so they can be easily peeled
  • Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin from each wedge -- I realized later that this step was missing in my photos, so I made sure to include it with my Kabocha preparation!
  • Dice the pumpkins into bite-sized pieces
  • * Dissolve 1 tsp of white limestone paste in 4 cups of water. Strain the mixture through a sieve (discarding any clumps of limestone) and use the water to soak the pumpkins for about 20 minutes 
  • Place pumpkins in boiling water and cook until they are tender to the bite (10-15 minutes)
* As with most Thai/Lao dessert recipes, using limestone paste is the secret to making sure that your pumpkins do not become one goopy mess when you boil them b/c the paste individually binds each pumpkin chunk so that they retain their shape throughout the cooking process & when it's incorporated into the SweetWater.  Cool, eh?
 
 


Based on my mother's recommendation, I also opted for Kabocha Pumpkins as well, and my oh my, they are delish!  Once cooked, kobochas impart a rich, buttery flavor that can't be beat.  Not only that, but the green skin of this pumpkin coupled with its golden flesh is just mesmerizing.  I'm such a sucker for color!


 


STEP 3:  Crafting the Water Chestnut Gems
Essentials:
  • Half can water chestnuts, diced
  • 1/4 cup tapioca starch/flour
  • 3 cups of water
  • Food Coloring (liquid form): 
    • Purple Gems:  The ratio of drops to produce purple is 3 Red: 2 Blue
    • Orange Gems:  The ratio of drops to produce orange is 3 Yellow: 2 Red
How-To:  Water chestnuts are crunchy and refreshing and once they're cooked with the tapioca flour, that's when the magic happens.  The shiny (sparkly) sheen from the translucent tapioca shell makes them resemble little gems and will keep your guests swooning for more. I decided that I wanted to make purple and orange water chestnut gems. 
  • Bring water to a boil. Place diced water chestnuts into a mixing bowl. Combine food coloring for desired color. Toss the colored water chestnut pieces with the tapioca flour
  • Shake off any excess flour and drop the water chestnut pieces into the boiling water. Give it a good stir and cook until the pieces float to the surface or until starch is translucent. Remove from pot and soak in ice water, then drain well


STEP 4:  Tending to the Tapioca Pearls
Essentials:
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of extra small tapioca pearls, soaked for 40 minutes
  • 4 cups water
How-To: Smooth and silky, these little pearls roll off your tongue and really enhance the overall texture of the dessert.  Bring the water to a boil and pour in the soaked tapioca and cook for about 2 minutes or until pearls are translucent.  Since they have been soaked, this will reduce their cooking time tremendously.  Remove from pot and soak in ice water, then drain well.

 

And after everything is prepped, mixed and done, what you've just created is really nothing short of fabulous and decadent.

 


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Posted by Spicy Green Mango 87 comments

Thank you for all my wonderful fans/friends/foodies/blogstalkers for your votes. Here's my 3rd entry for  
Project Food Blog's Challenge on dishing up a luxury dinner sans the fuss! 
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Your task is to cast your vote and tell me if  you would have loved to RSVP to this dinner.  Show your love by clicking here on the heart or on my Project Food Blog widget on the right of the screen.  Voting for Challenge 3 begins Monday, October 4 and runs thru Thursday, October 7 at 6pm (PST).


When I think of luxury, my mind immediately takes me back to Hawaii, stirring up memories of me sipping on mai tais and oozing aloha attitude through and through. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to have a special somebody in my life call this island his home. While the island's azure waters and bountiful fresh produce & seafood left me happy as can be, what I truly miss about our time in Hawaii was what some refer to as the "aloha spirit" (thanks, Liren) or in my case, the "aloha attitude" where smiles are shared liberally, luring you to pause and smell the plumerias.  We had the lifestyles of beach nuts, but the lavish taste buds of passionate epicureans.

I miss walking into a fine dining establishment with sand between my toes, sporting my flip flops after having just stepped foot off the beach and being greeted with a warm, friendly smile--those days made me understand right then and there that great food didn't have to come with all the fuss.


LUXURY sans the FUSS:
The idea behind this type of dinner party is to incorporate casual elements into the evening, while still retaining certain luxurious touches into the menu selection, tablescape d├ęcor, and whatever else you feel embodies luxury dining in your book.  I really feel that the simplest details can exude luxury, such as keeping my florals fresh and earthy with special attention paid to what's local and in season. 

And quite honestly, I am not a fan of places that adhere to a strict dress code--it really takes the fun out of eating in my world.  Tell me this:   How am I supposed to enjoy a meal when the lovely dress I picked out for my date also means that I can only nibble on my dinner b/c I'm too self-conscious that my zipper might pop? Or if I'm worried that my hubby is going to strangle himself because his tie is making him feel stuffy and uptight?  Yes, I repeat: strict dress codes TOTALLY detract from having Spicy Green Mango enjoy her meal.  Of course, this doesn't mean I'll show up to your dinners in cut-offs and a stained T-shirt.  Hey, I try to keep it classy, too, you know.

ENTER the BOARD SHORTS:
The timing of Project Food Blog’s Challenge 3 couldn’t have been more perfect — it was my hubby’s birthday weekend. When I told him I was tasked with planning a luxury dinner, he was skeptical at the idea, so he asked, “Honey, what am I supposed to wear?  A dress shirt and tie?” And just as those words escaped his lips, I knew he was dreading my reply.  As I sat anxiously brainstorming my dinner plans, I casually replied, “Your board shorts..like the time we were in Hawaii.”  If only I could capture that look of euphoria in his eyes, you could only imagine the huge sigh of relief that escaped his chest. I knew he wouldn’t object to anything else I had in mind. 

I kindly asked the rest of my guests to come as they were--as comfy as can be.  My dear friend, Jenny (also co-founder of a sustainable vintage shop--Retrofit Republic) even came dressed in her vintage pants with elastic waistbands---the woman is serious about her dinners :)



COLOR & THEME:
My initial desire was to create a non-frilly tablescape that was masculine, but with subtle touches of softness to freshen it up and make it a festive occasion. I opted for a cool color palette inspired from my days in Hawaii---sage to represent the azure waters of the Lanikai beaches and a soft yellow to symbolize the rays of sunshine. I also really liked that the colors were unisex. As I was shopping for flowers, I realized that the Craspedia Billy Ball flowers I had initially wanted were nowhere to be found, so I had to compromise with another yellow flower that turned out to be equally pleasing. I also opted for succulents b/c I love their natural design and desert allure (a striking contrast from the islands). The basil addition came on a whim as I was hunting for herbs in my parents' garden and was mesmerized by the beautiful stems of cinnamon basil blossoms sprouting among the pepper plants. I realized instantly that these basil had a special spot on my tablescape.


 



CRAFTING a MENU:  BRING on the LUXURY


As soon as the sun transcended the horizon and we finished our early jog along the shores of Waikiki, our Saturday mornings in Hawaii were marked by a trip to the city's Chinatown to slurp down a hearty bowl of pho noodles before toting bags of golden pineapples and rosy rambutans from the open-air market vendors lining the stalls near King Street.

Having access to the freshest fruits, vegetables and fish on the island was undoubtedly the BEST part of living in the land of aloha.  As I reminisce about my moments on the island, how could I possibly pass up an opportunity to bring the flavors of the island back to the Mainland? Not a chance!

One of our favorite places in Hawaii was the Ocean House Restaurant  at the Outrigger---the setting is quite possibly one of the most picturesque and romantic spots along Waikiki.  Situated just steps from the beach, on any given evening, you can  listen to locals crooning  live music from the nearby bar, while the ambient flames from tiki torches can be seen swaying in the coconut-scented island breeze. The menu is both inspired by this special place and our recent vacation in Thailand--a co-mingling of two of our favorite beach destinations to date.  

Whatever dinner menu you decide to craft, remember that the best ones will have a story behind them.  It's not only a great topic of conversation, but it layers on a personal touch to your party.  When our guests arrived, they instantly knew what inspired our dinner menu and they were more than happy to partake in helping us relive those days of fine dining.




 



 SWEET ESCAPE:  ASK for HELP to MAKE it SWEETER
My sister can whip up the most whimsical designs and I absolutely adore her for that. We tag team b/c I get juiced with an inspiration, incorporate my artistic design elements and and then she takes it to a whole 'notha level.  The fresh meyer lemon cake (thank you, Ina Garten) with whipped vanilla buttercream and the birthday bunting decor was entirely her doing and then I topped it all off with fresh guava leaves from my parent's backyard along with presenting the masterpiece on my lovely wicker cake pedestal.  Her creativity inspires me and it keeps me beaming for more. 

The key lesson here is to commission (um, I mean ask..hehe) an earnest sous chef to also help with the preparation--it makes your life a heck of a lot easier and really gets somebody else to showcase their talents.  My sister professes that she is not a chef, but she can bake and bake well.  I have no complaints in this department, so I obliged.


Five minutes after singing the birthday song, this is what we had left.  Wish I could share it with all of you.


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