Thursday, December 29, 2011

On Location: Kauai's Waimea Canyon & Barking Sands Beach

The two hour time difference hasn't set in yet so we've been waking up quite early each morning. We decided to take advantage of the early morning hour by driving to the other side of the island on Monday.
The North shore of Kauai is wet, lush and resembling a rainforest environment while the South and West end of the island is very dry and desert like. In fact, Waimea Canyon resembles Arizona's Grand Canyon but is distinctly Hawaiian.
We drove the entire 18 mile access road along the canyon's edge to arrive at Kalalau lookout. From there we hiked yet another muddy, precarious trail out to the Pihea vista.
This is one of the more beautiful, magical trails we've encountered. Yeah, yeah, I was waxing lyrical about the last hike as well but seriously, folks, this one feels as if you are at the edge of the world. Over 4200 feet above sea level with no guardrails, this one is not for those who fear heights but since the trail itself is mostly flat, the Pihea trail is a more multi-level hike.
Upon finishing, we drove into the town of Waimea where my father had insisted we try the poke at the local Japanese market. Poke is ahi sashimi chopped into 1/2" cubes and lightly marinated in sea salt, soy sauce, sesame oil and scallions. Often it is mixed with sushi rice and garden greens to create a poke bowl, one powerhouse of a meal. On the mainland it is one of my most favorite dishes but on this island, it is truly beyond words. Fish has never tasted so good!
This market had an impressive array of different poke, from ginger to red chile pepper and even tako (octopus) poke. We got 2 lb. between the two of us and headed out to Barking Sands beach. 
This is the western most beach on Kauai and at over 12 miles long it is also Hawaii's biggest beach. After finishing every last bite of our poke and rice, we dove into the ocean together. All in all, it was a simply perfect day.
The sun began its descent as we dried off and took it all in. DH and I began waxing lyrical about our adventures together and I mentioned our misadventures too. "Things don't always go our way but it never feels impossible with you" I said, explaining what I meant by misadventure. And that's when he popped the question. "How 'bout joining me for one more misadventure?"
I said yes.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Breakfast; Kauai Style

For as long as I can remember and probably long before that, my parents have hosted Christmas morning breakfast. Being a nuclear family of three, it was a big shift having the 9 McFadden's up to the house. The festivities have only grown over the years as spouses and children have come into the mix. Somehow though, there's always enough space and food to go around. It is, and long has been, my favorite Christmas tradition. A very close second being Christmas pajamas!
Being the food obsessed lunatic I am, I've been controlling the menu for the last six years. I've managed to drive just about everyone crazy with my elaborate baked eggs, stratas and egg sandwiches.
This year though, DH and I decided to go out of town for the holiday, but that doesn't mean the tradition would die. I was relieved to hear my cousin Maggie would take the reigns at home. As for us, after an idyllic sunrise dip in the Pacific, we whipped up some macadamia nut pancakes and poached eggs. Since we didn't have any real maple syrup and since buying any on this island would cost more than my car payment, I decided to make a syrup!
Instead of maple though, I opted for a ginger infused simple syrup. 
DH is and old pro at the poaching station so the eggs were perfetto too!
Hope the family is managing without me...mele kilikimaka everyone!

Friday, December 23, 2011

On Location: Hiking Kauai's Kalalau Trail

It is estimated that as much as 3/4 of Kauai is inaccessible. The Robinson family owns the majority of the northwest, including the breathtaking Napali Coast.
The solutions to seeing these stunning, steep cliffs is to:
1. take a helicopter tour of the island
2. take a 16 mile kayak tour to the all but uninhabited Kalalau Beach
3. Hike the 11 mile Kalalau Trail to Kalalau Beach.
We set out on the Kalalau Trail beginning at Ke'e beach but planned to hike only the first 2 miles to the Hanakapi'ai Beach. We packed only a few snacks and some water assuming we'd be back before lunchtime.
so steep and so muddy!
slippery switchbacks
By no uncertain terms is this 8 mile (roundtrip)hike like any other hike either of us had seen before. This hike is NOT for the faint of heart. Steep, stair-like boulders along the first 1/2 mile give way to a muddy, slippery trail. Intermittent rains and strong head winds add to the adversity...and that's just the first 2 miles!
But if you can hack it physically, its 1000% worth it. 
The views of the Napali Coast boggle the mind with their dramatic natural beauty. The Hanakapi'ai beach below is equally majestic both from a distance and up close.
Upon first discovering the beach, 2/3 into the trying hike, DH and I both (silently) envisioned jumping directly into the water. Not 100 yards later, this sobering sign forced us to reconsider!
Oh well, the beach made a pretty idyllic picnic spot all the same. DH even found a feline friend to bribe with a little cheese. There are a strange amount of cats on the sands of Kauai!
Taking in the dazzling sands and waves of Hanakapi'ai, we decided to trek onward toward the Falls. 
Whoa. Compared to the second 2 miles, the first 2 miles were like a walk on the beach (somewhere other than Kauai, of course).
Wild mushrooms and orchids cheered us up along the way.

No amount of descriptors could have prepared us for the amount of red dirt mud that we would encounter on the Hanakapi'ai Falls trail. The first mile is a mud bath, slogging through thick, slimy mud. The second mile is a water bath, with river crossings up to my waist...and I'm on the tall end of things! 
No amount of pictures could define the agony of this trail nor the ecstasy of finishing at the face of the waterfall. Hungry, tired, wet and muddy, I'd still do it again tomorrow...or maybe tomorrow's tomorrow! 
***a very important wardrobe note***
Foolishly, the guidebook advised wearing long pants the ideal attire would be lightweight, waterproof(ish) shorts, tank, a top layer (jacket, button-front shirt or large cotton scarf) for the rains and a one piece swimsuit underneath. DO NOT wear ANYTHING you couldn't stand to ruin as the red dirt seems to stain irrevocably. We both wore hiking boots but I'd even consider something like...I can't believe I'm saying these words...Tevas. There, I said it. Now let's all pretend this part never happened! 

On Location: Kauai!

Apologies to the loyal readers of butterdate for the long absence. Since the Thanksgiving festivities I've all but kept out of the kitchen. In fact, just about every waking minute's been leading up to DH and I's Christmas vacation to the garden isle of Kauai.
I am not one to boast but the beauty and natural bounty of this island are too good not to write about; its just so 'butterdate' here! Throughout the next two weeks we will be posting highlights from our adventures here. Hiking, kayaking, biking and beaching...and of course eating will be the focus of these travel guide-posts.
Hope these find you well, warm and full with holiday cheer, wherever you may be!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Morning!

Well, the big day is upon us! I awoke early, as excited and anxious as a child on christmas morning. First things first, the turkey needs to come out of the brine. Wow, lifting a 20# turkey out of a 22 qt bin is a serious workout! I have never felt more like Julia Child than when I found myself lifting and handling a 20# bird on Thanksgiving morning.
In addition to all the other sides, I decided last minute to make a stuffing with andouille sausage, roast chestnuts and the turkey drippings for the traditionalists. I just couldn't bring myself to stuff the bird for a number of cowardly reasons so this is my consolation stuffing.

Right now, its all calm, cool and collected here on 63rd street. Let's hope that peace maintains!
Hope you all are having a grand ol' time whatever you are doing, watching, cooking today.
I am very grateful to all you who support this little adventure called butterdate!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More T-day Prep; sides & table arranging

Every veteran I asked about hosting (cooking) Thanksgiving dinner warned me: prepare everything you can ahead of time. I took their well weathered advice to heart and since 9 p.m. last night I have been in over the stove or the sink, chopping, sauteeing, roasting, ect. in an effort to leave only the turkey to prepare tomorrow. 
In the mean time I decided to set the table to see what we are missing, thank goodness DH's sis, Casey lives so close. We are still short a chair and a few forks but I think it looks pretty great. One day we will have everything we need but for now its nice to have it a little hodge-podge. (this is what i tell myself anyway!) 
that's a lot of gravy!
1. Turkey Gravy
The best part about doing a trial turkey is that you're able to make turkey gravy for game day ahead of time. Nothing says thanksgiving like a 1/2 gallon of homemade turkey gravy!
2. Spiced Cranberry Sauce
Since the brine for the turkey contains so many exotic spices, I decided to carry it over and make a cranberry sauce with a little kick too. Homemade cranberry sauce is so easy and cheap, its shocking those gelatinous cans ever became as popular as they are. Simply combine fresh berries with honey, brown sugar, orange peel, cinnamon sticks and whole cloves over medium heat until berries begin to burst. Done. Yum.

Between the aromas of the gravy and the cranberry sauce I was in heaven.
3. Lemon Barley Shitake Stuffing
This is not your traditional bread stuffing. In fact it is not even technically a stuffing but rather a dressing because it is not stuffed into the bird. Rather, it is a delicious pearl barley dish spiked with roast hazelnuts and shitake mushrooms. I made this dish 2 years ago when we celebrated Thanksgiving in Forestville and it's become a regular ever since. Like turkey, the mushrooms pair perfectly with Pinots so there's no debate about serving it!
4. Roast Winter Veggies
I swear I had a vision with this dish...I was going to carefully select a medley of winter veggies at the Farmers Market this past Sunday but when we arrived, the rain began to downpour. I quickly grabbed whatever I could; a bunch of beets here, a handful of squash there, some pretty rainbow carrots over there, and I was off to search for a dry haven. As a result, its not the most precious of my side dishes but it'll do. I figure roast squash, beets and rainbow carrots never had many complaints, right? that leaves only the jalapeno cornbread muffins to make tomorrow. Oh, and the turkey! But you know there was no forgetting about that 20# fowl in the room!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Trial Turkey; the art and science of brining & breast meat

After entirely too much contemplating, I decided to bite the bullet and cook a test turkey. I'm not totally sure what finally convinced me but sure enough once I'd made up my mind, it became immediately evident that 6-8# turkeys are harder to find than you'd think.
Every grocery store I tried had birds beginning at 12# and up. Late Friday night though, I tracked down a 9 pounder at Whole Foods in Berkeley. A little bigger than I'd hoped for but at least it was an organic and free range bird from Diestel Ranch in Solano. Bi-Rite sells mostly Diestel Ranch birds so I figure I am in good company.
As mentioned, I brined the bird for 24 hours in a concoction of apple cider, salt, brown sugar, soy sauce, scallions, garlic, ginger, star anise, cinnamon and black peppercorns. Brewing this aromatic blend perfumed the whole house with a most delicious scent. Once the turkey was cleaned and dried it was submerged into the now room temperature brine to do its thing.
One hears a lot about brining this time of year but if you are (or were) anything like me, the word didn't register high on your radar. Well, in my turkey crash course I've learned a lot about the art of brining. A brine is essentially a salt-based marinade, be it wet or dry, that keeps the cooked meat moister by hydrating the muscle tissue before cooking. In other words, because the brine is saltier than the turkey (or chicken, or pork chop, or shrimp) the turkey absorbs salt into its muscle tissue and therein denatures the proteins. If using a liquid brine, the liquid works its way in between the proteins to result in a moister meat from start to finish.
After a full 24 hours, the bird was ready to emerge out of the brine and be prepped for roasting. Once the bird was dry, I loosened the skin from the body then applied the melted butter and salt & pepper evenly throughout. Next I loosely filled the cavity and bottom of the pan with apples, celery and onions to add aromatics. Finally, I soaked cheesecloth in the remaining butter mixture and draped it over the breasts. 

The real crux of cooking a whole turkey is that the light breast meat cooks at 10 degrees lower than the dark leg & wing meat. Therefore, if one waits until the dark meat is fully cooked, the light meat will almost inevitably be dried out. There is an endless no of ways of dealing with this issue that range from the logical to the extreme: cooking the bird breast-side down, draping the breasts with cheesecloth, draping the breasts with bacon strips (srsly!?), tenting the breast with foil and finally ice packs on the breast until just before roasting.

Apparently I am among many perfectionists when it comes to getting a good turkey. I opted to drape the breasts in butter-soaked cheesecloth but ended up leaving it on too long, preventing the skin from crisping and browning. Also, even though I took the bird out once the legs reached 155 degrees, the final meat tasted just slightly underdone. Technically, it was most assuredly not undercooked but when there's even the slightest pink it can be concerning. 
For Thursday, I will leave the bird in slightly longer to avoid any questions of doneness. Hopefully between the brining and the butter and the cheesecloth it will still be a moist, delicious bird.