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#CatTravels: 4 must-dos on a day trip to Kauai

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There’s a misconception that there’s nothing much to do on Kaua‘i.

But I have to disagree.

Sure, there are no major shopping malls or giant amusement parks. But there are plenty of other ways — hiking through native forests, kayaking around the Nāpali Coast, feasting at local haunts — to stay entertained.

Last weekend a group of gal pals planned a jaunt to the Garden Isle — mostly for a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Ni‘ihau, which I’ll blog about later — and we almost didn’t have enough time to do everything we had wanted.

We landed just before lunch and, of course, immediately needed food. And that’s how our weekend started.

We made the most of our 24 hours on Kaua‘i. Here are four things you can squeeze in if you’ve only got a day here:

1. Hamura Saimin Stand, 2956 Kress St. in Līhuʻe, 808-245-3271

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Open since 1951, this fourth-generation noodle shop is literally an icon in Līhuʻe. And around lunchtime any day of the week, this place is packed.

Saimin is the most popular dish on the menu here. For those of you who haven’t heard of saimin, it’s a noodle soup dish that came out of Hawai‘i’s plantation era, combining Japanese ramen, Chinese mein and Filipino pancit using curly egg noodles in a hot broth.

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Most of us ordered the small saimin, which comes with sliced ham, kamaboko (fish cake) and green onions. The noodles are made daily in the founder’s great-grandmother’s house.

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You can’t eat saimin without barbecue sticks; Hamura sells chicken and beef skewers that, for some reason, go perfectly with a hot bowl of noodles.

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Hamura also sells udon — these noodles are also housemade — in its signature broth.

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And you can’t leave Hamura without sampling its popular lilikoi chiffon pie — which can be packed to go, too.

2. Hanapepe Town, south shore, west of Kōloa

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It’s hard to believe this sleepy little town on the south shore west of Kōloa was once one of the island’s largest communities. Today, not much has changed over the last century. The old plantation buildings are still standing, now home to boutiques, art galleries and little restaurants.

The famous Swinging Bridge (above) is still there, built in the early 1900s as a way for residents to cross the river. It’s been restored and reinforced over the years, and people still enjoy crossing the narrow and shaky suspension bridge.

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Hanapepe is also home to one of my favorite spots to grab taro and sweet potato chips, fried right there by owner and sole employee Dale Nagamine.

Taro Ko Factory Chips (3940 Hanapepe Rd.) is located right at the entrance to the historic town, in a green plantation-style home that was once a popular saimin stand. (Remnants of the eatery — like the menu boards and wooden stools — are still there.)

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Every time I’m on Kaua‘i I try to stop by for a bag of chips and to visit Stanley Sakoda, who claims to work here but really doesn’t.

The chips are really worth the stop. The taro is still grown on the farm Nagamine’s family operated a generation ago. And the bags, which are $4.50 each, are utterly addictive.

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And if you’re lucky enough to be in Hanapepe on a Friday, stick around for Art Night. This weekly event, which runs from 6 to 9 p.m., is a street festival of sorts with food vendors and live entertainment lining the main roadway. Restaurants and art galleries stay open late, too. (Yes, 9 p.m. is late for Hanapepe!)

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We stopped at a very cool boutique called Machine Machine Apparel, owned and operated by Shannon Hiramoto. We loved the colors, the patterns, and how she mixes vintage and new fabrics. Such cool stuff here.

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There was a vendor serving only soup — and it was some of the best spoonfuls I’ve had. I didn’t expect to stop here and buy a bowl of Mexican chicken and rice soup when there were other vendors selling more street-friendly food. But I did. And I didn’t regret it.

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We stopped at Raphael’s Aloha Tacos booth, selling made-to-order tacos and burritos. The best part? The tortilla was made from taro.

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The longest line, though, was at this booth, The Right Slice, selling homemade sweet and savory pies. We didn’t make it in time to try the dozens of flavors owner and head baker Sandy Poehnelt whipped up. But we did try her mango lilikoi pie, which was actually the first flavor she ever shipped back in December 2009.

3. Drinks at The Feral Pig, 3501 Rice St. in Līhuʻe, 808-246-1100

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If the name, alone, doesn’t get you interested, the menu will.

Opened in August of 2011 by Scott Kessinger and Dave Power, this casual restaurant has perfected the combination of delicious and generous portions and well-crafted cocktails.

In fact, our server, Cisco, claimed he made the best Manhattans, period. So, of course, we had to sample one. (OK, two.)

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And we gotta say, the Pig’s Manhattan was pretty damn good. But so were the bites.

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We had the pupu-style steak, cut into bite-sized portions, with fries. The steak was perfectly cooked, tender and tasty. And then we tried an updated version of its Kaua‘i-grown shrimp topped with a tangy barbecue sauce with bacon. No complaints from us.

4. Waimea Canyon and Koke‘e State Park, west side

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I almost feel like writing something is completely unnecessary when you see these photos.

Of course you should check out Waimea Canyon. You should decide to pull up a beach chair and gaze upon this view for a few hours. It’s that amazing.

Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon is a popular attraction for the obvious reasons. It stretches 14 miles long, one mile wide and more than 3,600 feet deep. The panoramic views are completely breathtaking, with crested buttes, rugged crags and deep valley gorges that no photograph can do justice. And check out the Waipo‘o Falls in the distance.

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Follow the main road, Waimea Canyon Drive, into the mountains and you’ll end up at Koke‘e State Park, littered with hiking trails and offers a commanding view of the amphitheater-headed Kalalau Valley (above) along the Nāpali Coast. You’re up about 4,000 feet, looking into this lush valley. It’s pretty unforgettable.

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So booking your trip yet?

Comments { 7 }

#WeekendDish: Homemade, restaurant-quality salsa

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There are a few things I never even think about making.

Like mayonnaise or marshmallows.

Same can be said for salsa.

Why make it when you can buy it — and it’s easier, cheaper and probably better-tasting?

I decided to try making my own salsa after a girlfriend wanted a spicy condiment to serve with some smoked pork she was planning to make. I had fully planned to just buy a fancy jar, but she insisted I make it from scratch. I mean, if she had to make her pork from scratch, I should suffer, too.

Fair enough.

Here’s the thing: I had no idea how to make salsa — just a vague notion it would require tomatoes, peppers and maybe lime juice.

So I searched online, looked through some cookbooks, and came up with a simple — OK, not as simple as just buying a jar of the stuff — recipe that turned out surprisingly good.

I mean, I might not ever buy store-made salsa again!

Here’s what I did:

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Here are the players. Ignore the small can of salsa — I used that to prop up the small can of chipolte peppers in adobo sauce.

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First, I cheated. I used a can of petite tomatoes, already diced and paired with jalapeño peppers. This cuts down your prep down greatly. I dumped the entire can — with the juices — into a small food processor.

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Next, I added about 1/4 cup of diced onions. You can add more if you want.

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I like my salsa chunky and fresh, so I added a few grape tomatoes into the mix. You can use cherry or Roma tomatoes, too.

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Then I diced up about a quarter of a full-size red bell pepper. In hindsight, I would have used yellow instead for both color and sweetness. Still, this worked. I added this (and the tomatoes above) into the food processor.

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Salsa needs kick, so I added two more jalapeño peppers. I removed the seeds and ribs — I wanted to cut down on the heat — but you can keep them, if you prefer a super spicy salsa.

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I sliced the peppers really thin and added them to the food processor.

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Here’s the secret ingredient: chipolte peppers soaked in Filipino adobo sauce. This gives the salsa that vinegar-y kick — and some heat. If you can’t find it, don’t worry. The salsa doesn’t need it.

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I just added a heaping tablespoon of this stuff to the mixture. Not much, but the heat and the smoky flavor go a long way.

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Next, I added a teaspoon of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt. That’s it.

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I added the juice of a whole lime. It was a small lime, so if you’re using a larger one, you might want to cut down on the juice.

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Finally, the cilantro. I realize this is controversial as a lot of folks — including a bunch of my friends — hate this herb. That’s fine, you don’t need it. But the Chinese parsley gives the salsa such a nice, fresh flavor.

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Pulse the mixture in your food processor about eight to 10 times, that’s it. You’re just trying to mix everything evenly and get a nice consistency. Don’t over-blend it unless you like a smooth salsa. (I don’t!)

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And that’s it! Your salsa is done! It might be more expensive than store-bought salsa, but trust me, this one has more body, more flavor and more depth than anything you’d find in a jar.

*******

Here’s the recipe:

Cat’s Salsa

Ingredients:

1 16-ounce can of petite-cut tomatoes with jalapeños
1 heaping T. of chipolte peppers in adobo sauce
1/4 cup onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
2 jalapeño peppers, sliced thinly
Handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, diced
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
Fresh lime juice
1/4 to 1/2 cup cilantro, if desired
1/2 tsp. cumin, if desired

Directions:

Put everything in a food processor and pulse eight to 10 times. Store in refrigerator until serve.

Comments { 15 }

Got leftover pumpkin? Make cupcakes!

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It seems like the only time of the year I make anything with canned pumpkin is Thanksgiving.

This year was exceptional, too, since, in addition to a pumpkin cheesecake, I made pumpkin soup with apples, carrots and onions.

And then I was stuck with half a can of pumpkin puree.

What now?

Turns out, you can whip up a pretty nice cupcake with just half a cup of the pureed squash.

So if you’ve got some canned pumpkin to spare, here’s a great recipe to use those leftovers — after Thanksgiving and, really, all year long:

Pumpkin Cupcakes
Adopted from The Neelys

Ingredients

Pumpkin cupcakes:
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. canned pure pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs

Maple cream cheese frosting:
1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese
2 T. butter, at room temperature
2 T. pure maple syrup
2 c. powdered sugar
Chopped toasted pecans, for topping, optional

Directions:

For the pumpkin cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 1 (12-cup) muffin pan with paper cupcake liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, add the butter and the sugar. Beat with a hand-held mixer until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the pumpkin puree and the vanilla extract. Slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time. Incorporate the dry mixture into the wet mixtures together until thoroughly combined.

Using an ice cream scoop, fill each cupcake liner 3/4 of the way full. Bake until the tops turn golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the oven to a wire rack and cool completely before frosting .

For the cream cheese frosting: Add the cream cheese, butter, maple syrup, and salt to a large bowl and beat until creamy. Gradually add the powdered sugar until thoroughly combined.

Top the cupcakes with the frosting and chopped pecans, if you want.

Makes 12 cupcakes

Comments { 5 }

Weekend Dish: Spanish rolls

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One of my favorite things to eat — I mean, I should really have stock in Nanding’s Bakery in Kalihi — are Spanish rolls.

Seriously, they are the perfect snack for anyone who loves — like me — bread, butter and sugar.

Spanish rolls are a popular yeast-raised bread — similar to pandesal — that originated in the Philippines. The dough is shaped into long, buttery logs — bastón — and rolled in a mixture of breadcrumbs and sugar.

I can — and have — eaten several in one sitting

I asked my mom — to me, the world’s greatest cook and baker — to try to make some for me. She loves making homemade bread, and I figured this would be a great project. We’d both benefit!

So she scoured the web, searching for a recipe for Spanish rolls, and found this one.

We tried it, it worked, and we’ve already made it twice!

Here’s the recipe:

Spanish rolls
Jane’s Kitchen

Dough ingredients:

3 1/4 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1 pack active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm milk
1/4 cup warm water
1 fresh egg, lightly beaten
4 T. butter, melted
4 T. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Ingredients for the filling:

1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup bread crumbs and 2 T. sugar (for dredging)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a small bowl or cup of warm water, add the yeast and a teaspoon of sugar. Stir, then set aside in a warm place for at least 5 minutes until foamy.

In a mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients — flour, sugar and salt. To that add the warm milk, butter, egg and yeast mixture. Mix until it can be formed into a dough.

Place the dough on a on a lightly floured surface and knead for at least 10 minutes or until it becomes a smooth, elastic ball.

Put the dough on a grease bowl. Turn the dough once to cover all sides with grease. Cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place for at least 1 hour until it doubled in size.

While waiting for the dough to rise, you can start preparing the filling. In a bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup sugar until creamy. On another bowl, mix the bread crumbs and sugar. Set both bowls aside.

After an hour, knead the dough for at least 2 minutes then divide into four 16 equal parts. Flatten the doughs into a rectangular shape about 3×5 inches in size. Brush the dough with the prepared filling leaving about a half an inch from the edge without. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Roll the dough from corner to corner. Dredge the rolls into a bowl containing the breadcrumbs and sugar mixture. Place them (seam side down) on a greased or non-stick baking tray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Set aside for another 30 minutes.

Bake the rolls in the oven for least 20 minutes.

Comments { 12 }

Weekend Dish: Elote y Calabacitas

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One of my besties is a vegetarian, and I always felt bad when we went to dinner parties that the only thing she could eat at the buffet was a iceberg lettuce salad.

So I got in the habit of learning how to make hearty vegetarian dishes for potlucks. I mean, it’s not like we carnivores can’t partake in veggies, too. But at least my girlfriend — and other vegetarians — would have something more substantial to eat than baby carrots.

This was one of my go-to recipes, a quick and simple Mexican side dish with corn, tomatoes and zucchini.

And yes, it calls for bacon — not vegetarian! — but I’d always put that on the side.

Here’s the recipe:

Starts with bacon

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Fry bacon in a skillet and set aside. This is going to be the garnish on the dish. To make it vegetarian, fry this separately. But if not, keep the bacon fat; you'll cook the rest of the dish in it.

Elote y Calabacitas (Corn and Zucchini)
From “Mexican Cooking Made Easy” by Diane Soliz-Martese

Ingredients:

2 strips of bacon (or more, if you want)
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped tomatoes
2 cups zucchini, cut to 1/4-inch slices
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. cumin
Ground pepper
2 c. canned whole kernel corn, drained

Directions:

Fry bacon in a skillet, then remove and crumble for later. Add onions to skillet and saute over medium heat until soft. Add tomatoes, zucchini, salt, sugar, cumin and pepper and cook until vegetables are tender. Add corn. Mix and cook until hot. Place in serving dish, sprinkle on crumbled bacon.

Comments { 5 }