The weather this winter has been colder and snowier than normal across the globe. Winston-Salem has been no exception. For some people, winter weather is exciting and fun. For me, the fun portion of snow is when the snow falls to the ground but doesn’t contaminate streets or sidewalks. One big snow is nice but lingering snow turns to slush and ice in a vicious cycle. As such weather drags over several weeks; it appears to affect the general mood of people. A tired, unsettled feeling seems to linger until the first signs of spring appear. Little things like the temperature shifting above freezing and enjoying good food hit the spot for lifting spirits.
As I thought about the upcoming January Cooking Night, I considered a Cajun theme. Spicy food reminiscent of Mardi Gras seemed like a good plan. As the date approached, I dug through several recipes and recipe books worth of both Cajun and Creole dishes. However, nothing I looked at made me feel excited about cooking. I just wasn’t feeling it. The dinner was less than a week away but while I had heard back from people interested in coming to cook, no one had any comments on preferred dishes. It struck me that maybe the best solution was to change the theme and restart the menu.
Remember the movie “A Muppet Christmas Carol?” In the movie, Scrooge’s workers (a Kermit as Bob Crachet, Gonzo, and a bunch of rats as fellow accountants) are complaining to Scrooge about the cold office. The rats walks up to Scrooge and implore, “ Mr. Scrooge, its awfully cold. The book keeping staff would like to request an extra lump of coal.” Mr. Scrooge replies, “How would the book keeping staff like to suddenly be UNEMPLOYED.” The rats reply by dancing in grass skirts singing “This is Miami in the sun, Oy, Oy!” Thinking warm thoughts and pretending to be in a warm locale seemed to help the rats. With that in mind, a Hawaiian themed Cooking Night seemed to be the perfect choice.
A recent copy of Cooking Light showed some tasty looking coconut shrimp with fiery mango salsa. The only problem was that I know a little about the food preferences of my friends that come to cooking night. The shrimp would go over well but most of them would not prefer the heat from fiery mango salsa. The shrimp would make a good appetizer but perhaps an alternate salsa would be ideal. I decided the salsa could wait for a little more thought.
The next decision was the entrée. Tasty options abounded from poultry to seafood. I settled on grilled mahi mahi with a teriyaki marinade. Hawaiian vegetable sides were a little more challenging. I didn’t think any of us would enjoy poi. I learned that Hawaiians eat sweet potatoes too. Baked sweet potatoes would be easy to prepare and a healty choice since they are a natural source of fiber and a host of vitamins.
Last (but not least) was the main event…dessert. Hawaiian dessert selections tend to contain either coconut, pineapple or other citrus. While several of my favorite desserts include coconut, many of my friends are not coconut eaters (craziness, but I realize its not uncommon). No one had a known grievance with pineapple though. I was feeling stumped. Pineapple upside down cake…nah. What about pineapple sorbet? Tasty, but no ice cream makers were in easy access. Since I had work to do besides contemplating food, I decided to shelve it and see if anything came to me when I didn’t expect it. I like cream cheese frosting, and I love lemon curd. Further, in a choice of cake or pie…I’m a solid pie selector. It struck me that a pie with pineapple curd could work but I didn’t know how it would taste. What about cream cheese frosting with pineapple curd on top? Now we’re talking. But one friend of mine is lactose intolerant. While she wouldn’t ask for a modification, I wondered if there was a way to make the recipe more flexible. Individual pies? One step better…we’d make mini tarts! Everyone could fill their own. If they wanted more pineapple or more cream cheese, they could help themselves! Perfect.
Someone asked me recently which I enjoyed more, baking or cooking. I answered that I didn’t know. I asked Mel and she informed me that I definitely preferred baking. After thinking about her answer, I realized she was right. This is further confirmed by the fact that after considering the food to be prepared, I thought we really needed fresh Hawaiian style bread. I knew the bread couldn’t be made in the cooking time frame so I started it early so it could be baked to time with everything else getting done.
Oh yeah, one last thing. Earlier I knew I needed an alternate salsa. I also thought a coarse salsa would work well as a topping for the fish. After skimming through a number of recipes, I decided to make up my own version.
As far as planning went, the timing was excellent. I prepared the curd the morning of cooking night. I started the bread about 4 hours before I wanted it to be done. As fellow cookers arrived, the bread was shaped into rolls and placed on pans to rise while other work was being completed. The sweet potatoes were wrapped and placed in then oven. The marinade for the fish was prepared and the fish marinated for one hour prior to going on the grill. During that time, the shrimp were breaded and fried. While Andrea and Ruthann attended the shrimp, Neil graciously sliced fruit to prepare the salsa. Kyndra and I prepared the tartlets. There was room for both tarts and sweet potatoes so we baked them together. Rebecca took on the cream cheese frosting. As Jon took the fish to the grill, the sweet potatoes and tarts were removed and the bread went into the oven. We snacked on shrimp while we waited on the fish. The bread and fish were done at about the same time. This was definitely the best timing we'd had so far. Everyone enjoyed it and it came together in about 1 1/2 hours (not counting prep time for items that had to be started early)!
Tab’s Pineapple Citrus Salsa
1 c. pineapple (I used fresh)
2 kiwi (peeled and diced)
1 mango (peeled and diced)
2 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp cilantro (chopped)
2 tsp grated ginger (I highly recommend using a microplane here)
1 jalapeno pepper (diced)
Toss all together.
Notes: For a nice shrimp dip, a portion of the salsa was tossed into a small food processor until the texture was closer to chip salsa. The rest was reserved in a coarse state for placement on the fish.
We used the recipe from Cooking Light, January 2010. We only made the shrimp portion. The recipe can be found here.
Teriyaki Mahi Mahi
We used the recipe found here.We skipped their salsa and used the one above. I thought the recipe could’ve been a lot more flavorful. If you have a preferred Teriyaki Marinade, go for it. Marinate your fish an hour and grill it. While I thought it lacked flavor, other in the group really liked it so you may want to try it for yourself. Adding the salsa on top made it great but standing alone it was a little bland to my taste.
Baked Sweet Potatoes
Wash sweet potatoes with water to remove soil. Cut 2-3 slits in each potato. Wrap with aluminum foil and place in a 375 F oven for about an hour. When done, these may be dressed with butter and brown sugar.
Grilled Pineapple Planks
In a last minute decision, pineapple was sliced into planks and grilled off the heat as the fish was finishing. They were tasty and simple. For a good demo on how to cut up a pineapple (it was my first time) watch this video.
I used a copycat recipe from recipezaar. I didn’t bake it the same way they did. Note: This makes a lot of bread. The bread is good though. I shaped the bread into rolls before baking rather than making loaves. The rolls rose a lot more than I expected. They were tasty but I would encourage you to make biscuit sized rolls as they more than doubled in size while I waited on other parts of the meal to be far enough along to bake the bread.
Pineapple Cream Cheese Tartlets
Step 1: Pineapple Curd (Make this ahead of time!!! Curd requires time to thicken!)
The basic mechanisms for the curd recipe came from Rachel Ray. The recipe was a little confusing and I wound up modifying it by mistake. The results were still tasty though! I think the original will have a thicker texture but mine still became pudding-like.
1 stick butter
¼ - ½ c. sugar
1 large egg plus 4 large egg whites
1/2 – 1 c. chopped fresh pineapple
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Beat ¼ c. sugar and 1 stick of butter together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and egg yolks one and a time, and beat for one minute. Add lemon juice and ½ c. of pineapple. At this point in the recipe, I looked at the original and became confused. I doubled the pineapple in my confusion only to realize I was correct the first time. ARG! I added an extra ¼ c. of sugar to compensate. Choose whichever amount you want of pineapple. The lower amount will likely yield a firmer curd. The higher amount turned out fine for my purpose but it was an accident. After stirring all the ingredients together, pour the mixture into a sauce pan and bring to a boil, while whisking constantly. After 6-7 minutes the mixture should be thickened and coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the sauce pan into a bowl for refrigeration. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours. If you have time and are a planner, preparing the curd either the morning before or the night before you need it allows the thickness to be maximized.
Step 2: Tarts
The basic recipe for tarts was from Williams Sonoma Baking. I modified the instructions to give you a better feel for what I experienced.
1 ¼ c. plain flour
½ c. powdered sugar
¼ tsp. salt
½ c. cold unsalted butter
2 large egg yolks
1-2 Tbsp heavy whipping cream
Mix together flour, powdered sugar, and salt in a medium sized bowl. Cut butter into small pieces (I cut it into roughly ¼ inch slices but it doesn’t have to be quite that small.) Cut the butter into the flour using a fork or a pastry cutter until the texture of the mixture is like a bowl of crumbly peas. Beat the egg yolks in a separate bowl. Add 1 Tbsp cream to the egg yolks and stir together. Slowly pour the egg/cream mixture over the flour mixture and stir together with a fork. Now, this mixture will seem very dry and appear to be too dry to work. Avoid the temptation to add more cream. Keep working the dough with your hands. If you absolutely can’t take it anymore, add 1 Tbsp of cream and work it into the dough. I found the dough to seem very dry. 1 Tbsp of cream was plenty though. This does not make your dough overly moist. Continue working the dough until you can make a ball. Lay a silpat or silicone baking mat on the counter if you have one. Then sprinkle the surface with flour. If you don’t have a baking mat, sprinkle the surface liberally with flour. You’ll be sad if the dough sticks to the surface and you have to reroll it out. Roll the dough out to about ¼” thickness with a smooth sided cup or rolling pin (whatever is handy to you). I was working in a limited amount of space with 6 other people so I used a smooth sided cup. Then using either a round biscuit/cookie cutter or the top end of your cup (two tools in one!) cut out 3 inch circles of dough. Lightly grease a 12 cup muffin pan with vegetable oil on a napkin, Pam, or Baker’s Delight. Place dough circles into the muffin cups to line the cups. Bake at 350 F for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.
Step 3: Cream Cheese Frosting
Everyone makes this a little differently. This is how my mom and Mamaw make it. I heard no complaints on this and it is super easy to put together.
1 lb box of powdered sugar
8 oz cream cheese
1 stick butter or margarine (softened but not melted)
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Mix butter and cream cheese together until fairly smooth (some lumps are ok). Add sugar and beat until mixture is smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Step 4: Assemble Tarts
You can really do this any way you want. I took a tart and filled it halfway with cream cheese frosting. Then I added pineapple curd to fill the tart. I dotted the top with a bit of cream cheese frosting. Enjoy!