It’s unanimous.  Kaua’i is ruled by roosters who announce the day starting at 5 am.  I don’t understand why food is so expensive on this island since it is ruled by chickens that are beyond range-fee.  They are everywhere: side of public highways, parks and resorts.  Watching them makes me hungry.

After a 23 year hiatus, Warren, I and the kids are on the lovely island of Kaua’i at the Kiahuna Outrigger Plantation.  In a moment of rain weather weakness, we decided to get out of Dodge (Santa Cruz) and head off to the tropics during spring break.  Kaua’i is as breathtaking as we once remembered and the resort is excellent.   We booked the vacation thru Costco (cheap bitch) and so far we are delighted with the accommodations.  If you are interested, we are staying in condo #100 which is a 2 bedroom/2 bath unit with a small and delightful view of the ocean from our living room balcony.  The unit has been recently upgraded and looks better than my house.  Beware, though, if you are an air-conditioner addict, this is not the place.  Many units use the tropical breezes to cool off the rooms.

The wild rooster of Kaua'i

Now about the important stuff.  Since it is now 8:30 am, and we got to the condo last night, I’ve had no time to check out local food, except the Safeway and Foodland.  Foodland does carry organics and local produce but I am shocked at the prices, except for Japanese cucumbers and papaya.  So for breakfast, papaya with lime and Hawaii’s excellent coffee is a treat.

Since we had no time to make dinner last night when we arrived, I grabbed a rotisserie chicken at Foodland.  Usually these are fatty and overdone with sauce, but this was succulent.  The sauce was Huli-Huli and it is brain-dead to make.  Use it to marinate or barbeque on chicken, fish, beef or pork.

Huli Huli Sauce – prepare this in the morning

1 cup of soy sauce

3 heaping tablespoon of  brown sugar

1 teaspoon of finely chopped ginger

Salt and Pepper to taste.

Mix well soy, 2 heaping tablespoons of brown sugar, ginger.  Pour mixture over meat ready to marinate in a glass or ceramic container (I use my lasagna pyrex dish).  Put remaining brown sugar on top of meat and refrigerate. Turn over meat occasionally.  After 3 – 8 hours of marinating, roast, bake or barbeque meat.

Aloha. Pictures to be up as soon as I can find editing software.

You know it is not the healthiest thing to serve, but everyone loves it – Fish Fry.  For years I’ve been frying away different white fish – Dover Sole, Pacific Cod, Tilapia, and Skai – and have finally perfected the recipe.  Eat this with something healthy like steam asparagus and a green salad (don’t forget your SaladSuccess shaker to make the dressing).  Since we are coming into spring, perhaps a strawberry and rhubarb cobbler to top off the meal.  The two tricks to this recipe are using baking powder and beer.  I’ve tried all beers from Coors Light to weird lagers that my husband has collected in the fridge and the result is similar – great beer batter.  Anyway, enjoy and don’t feel too guilty.  Use vegetable oil to fry to fish – it is lighter and less expensive than olive oil.

Best Beer Batter for Fish Fry Bonanza – Prep time: 5 minutes, cooking time: 15 minutes.  Makes enough batter for 2 lbs of fish.

INGREDIENTS

2 lbs or less of white fish such as cod, sole, tilapia, skai

½ cup flour

½ tbsp baking powder

1 – 2 lemons, grated for lemon zest, quarter the remaining lemon

½ cup beer

1 large – extra large egg

1 tsp (or less) Kosher salt

½ tsp freshly grounded pepper

DIRECTIONS

In a bowl, combine flour, baking soda, lemon zest, salt and pepper.  Whisk in beer and egg until mixture is smooth.  Add fish and gently mix so that fish is covered with mixture.

In a large frying pan (medium high to high heat) pour enough oil to cover bottom by approximately ¼ inch.  When oil is really hot (add a couple droplets of water to oil and see if it sizzles and evaporates) carefully add pieces of fish.  Cook fish for 3 to 4 minutes on each side until golden brown. Sprinkle with salt and serve with lemon quarters and tartar sauce (mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce or Dijon mustard couple finely chopped pickles or relish, salt & pepper).

On that tension-filled day, I never was the girl that got piles of cards on my desk.  Nor did I have boyfriends who smothered me with gifts of jewels, furs, trips and chocolates.  So over the years, Valentine’s Day has been a ho-hum holiday.  In fact, it really means that it is my best friend’s birthday, and she is a real sweetheart.

When we, my husband and I, moved out to California in the late ‘80’s, we made a pact never to spend a lot of money on flowers.  Plants grow so quickly and easily in California, it seemed ridiculous to plunk $60 on a dozen long-stem red roses.  Soon we found out that roses were to be had for $3.99 a dozen, and that sealed the deal: he could only buy me roses if he found them for under $7 a dozen. It was a smart decision.

He also found out that I’m not a chocoholic and that for people that are poor at planning, reservations on the California coast seem to be impossible to get on Valentine’s Day.  And so are babysitters.  So we’ve changed game plans; we have a day of love.  The kids make valentines for all of us, my husband usually finds a card at the last moment, and I cook to sweeten up the evening.

About that chocolate thing of mine; it is not genetic, the rest of the family loves the stuff.  But we have recently found a central ground.  We just can’t resist those Cella’s Milk Chocolate Covered Cherries with 100% liquid filling.  I know that they are crap but in three days, they’ll all be eaten. Being a cheap bitch, I already bought them on sale – one box per family member.  Happy, sweet indulgence.

And so I part with you a sweet recipe for Amaretto Shrimp.  It’s fast, easy to make, and irresistible to your crowd. My family of 5 powers through 2 lbs of shrimp, but for an intimate dinner of 2, I’d suggest ½ to 1 lb.  I make it with white rice, but you could use any delicate-tasting grain.  Top it off with a green salad, shallot vinaigrette and an Alsatian Gwerztraminer wine.

Sweet Shrimp in Amaretto – Prep time:  20 minutes, Active Cooking: 10 minutes or less, rice takes 50 minutes

2 lbs of raw shrimp

½ lb sliced bacon (pan fried or even better, roasted)

1 clove of finely chopped shallots

Olive oil

½ cup Amaretto

½ cup of heavy cream

Salt and Pepper to taste

For rice: 1 cup rice for every 2 cups of water.  In a pot, boil water and at full boil, add rice.  Come to a second boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cover pot with a tight lid.  Ready in 45 minutes to 1 hour.

For roasted bacon:  set oven at 400 degrees.  Cover a sheet pan with parchment paper and place a rack on top of it.  I use a cooling rack.  Cook until crisp – about 20 – 25 minutes.  Be careful getting pan out of the oven since the fat from the bacon has dropped down to parchment paper.  When cool enough to handle, chop bacon and set aside.

For shrimp: In a large frying pan, add enough olive oil to cover bottom and place on a medium heat.  Add shallots and sauté for 1 – 3 minutes.  Add amaretto and cream, and cook until it begins to bubble (don’t boil).  Add shrimp & bacon – cook until shrimp turns pink – 3 to 5 minutes.  Take pan off of the heat, and serve over a bed of rice.  Add salt and ground pepper to taste.

For those of you without a SaladSuccess shaker, use 3 parts olive oil, one part sherry, wine or balsamic vinegar, a tsp. of Dijon Mustard, 1/2 finely chopped clove of shallots, 2 dashes of salt and a dash of pepper.  Toss into a jar with a closed lid, and shake until about 20 times.

We are in the middle of the rainy season here in central California and sniffing the air has become an art form.  I was driving my little daughter to a play date and just as I pulled into the driveway, I smelled it everywhere.  What was that delectable odor, what was that perfume?”  Finally, it dawned on me; and field of bay leaf trees growing wild.  So, as a good little cheap bitch, I quickly tore off a few branches, thus saving myself a small fortune in bay leaf purchases.

There are other freebies that are located in my garden and grow all year ‘round; parsley, mint, oregano, thyme and rosemary. Rocket (arugula,rockette, roquette), mache (rapunzel, field salad, or lamb’s lettuce), and chives are free too, since they reseed themselves.  We call them volunteers.  When I am in the grocery stores I’m stunned how much they are charging for a small packet of herbs and forget buying mache, it’s exorbitant.  And they are all so easy to grow.  So the next thing I am putting on my gardening list, is to buy a bay tree starter.  Just think of the years of enjoyment we’ll get from this one small purchase.  And it’s a real cheap bitch purchase.

Now talking about cheap, white fishes such as Dover sole, tilapia and skai are very inexpensive at the moment.  I found both skai and tilapia on sale at my market for $3.99 a pound and decided that for under $8 dollars we would eat regally, all 5 of us.  So instead of pan frying, I want this delicate white fish to be cooked in its juices with wine, lemons, onions and herbs.  To do that, and to have an easy cleanup, I cooked the fish “en papillote” or less elegantly, in parchment paper.  This is the best and healthiest way to cook a fish other than grilling which can dry out a low fat fish.  Parchment paper from the grocery store is expensive, but a large roll (don’t worry, it’s no larger than the 200 ft of aluminum foil at the grocery store) is cost-effective and I found it at Costco.

I also made a chicken and rosemary flavored polenta which is so more exciting than rice and once again, cheap.  Polenta is one of the simplest grains to cook, but if your cupboard is bare, okay, bring out the rice.  Of course don’t forget a nice salad – greens, rocket, mache, feta crumbles with a shallot vinaigrette and a glass of Reisling (if you want to go nuts, spend the wad on Jos. Meyer’s family of Reisling wines – they are from the Alsace region of France and totally to die for).

Poisson Blanc en Papillote (White Fish cooked in Parchment Paper – sounds better in French):  Prep – 5 minutes: Cooking time: ½ hour:  Serves 4-6

2 lbs of a white fish – Tilapia, Skai, Dover Sole

¼ cup of white wine – I use 2 buck Chuck from Trade Joe’s

¼ cup chicken broth

3 -4 bay leaves

1 -2 lemons

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Set oven to 375 degrees. Place fish on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cut a similar sized piece of parchment paper.  Pour chicken broth and white wine over fish, place onion slices, lemons and bay leaves on fish.  Sprinkle salt and pepper.

With the 2nd piece of parchment paper, place over fish and fold 2x both edges of parchment papers together and staple edges so that it makes a sealed package.  When complete, pop into the oven for 30 minutes.

Chicken and Rosemary Infused Polenta: Prep – 5 minutes,  Cooking time – 20 minutes, Serves 4 – 6

4 cups water

1 cup polenta

1 tsp. of chicken broth –  Better than Bouillon found at Costco or better grocery stores. (If you have liquid broth, substitute 2 cups of the water for 2 cups of the chicken broth).

1 sprig of rosemary

Boil 4 cups of water (or 2 cups with 2 cups of chicken broth, bouillon, or stock) with “Better than Bouillon” in a medium size pot.  At full boil, gently add polenta, lower heat to a simmer and whisk mixture until there are no lumps.  Add sprig of rosemary. Serve in 20 minutes.

Last night, while making Dover Sole en Papillote, I reached far back into my herbs, and brought out a huge bag of dried Herbes de Provence.  I open the bag and took a whiff – Yuck, dead herbs.  As per my rule of cooking thumb:  If it don’t smell, it don’t taste!

Years ago I was invited, along with my mother and Aunt Jessie, to a wedding shower, which is not where I shine brilliantly.  My sister-in-law grabbed me by the arm and told me to behave, and being a good woman, I quietly sat in the back while the dome of boredom surrounded my body.  We were at the worst part of the party; the party games.

Why in the hell do 20-something year old women and their mothers like these stupid games? And to make it worse, I’m suppose to join in and pretend I am having a great time.  What makes it really bad, is that if I really concentrate and play, I win EVERYTHING.  Then everyone hates me more.  So there I am, on a couch, wasting another beautiful California Saturday playing children’s games.  Then the hostess announces that the next game is Guess the Spices.  My spirits rally, I have a little fun playing this game since I know spices, and I have a great nose.

Proudly, the hostess brings out the unmarked bowls which were then passed around. In the corner, I start to hear the sounds of shock and low snickering.  The sound started to get louder and louder, and suddenly a large outburst of laughter came out of my mother, followed by my aunt (a very gentle and kind person), who said indignantly “How old are these herbs!  They’re dead.  Is this game a joke?”  Needless to say, the hostess, her daughter and my sister-in-law’s faces turned red.  They were terrible cooks who rarely used spices, let alone fresh ones. Well, all of a sudden the party got interesting and for once, I wasn’t in the hot seat.

So if you don’t want a red face or to be known as a terrible cook, throw out those dead spices and herbs and buy some new ones.  Spring is coming, plan an herb garden, and if you need herbs for the winter (mine grow year round), dry them or have fresh herbs growing by a window sill.  There are great on-line sites such as Penzey’s that sell wonderful spices, herbs and mixes.  There is no excuse for putting that dead crap in your wonderful meals.

Here’s Broccoli Soup – low fat, low cal, inexpensive and will satisfy most the picky eaters

BROCCOLI SOUP

6 large sprays of broccoli

2 quarts of water, chicken broth ($$) or chicken stock ($$$$)

2 heaping tablespoons of Better Than Bouillon (don’t use if you are using broth or stock)

4 potatoes – if you want a thicker soup

Salt and pepper to taste

Creme Fraiche, sour cream or parmesan cheese to garnish with a tab of butter

DIRECTIONS

In a large soup pot boil water with bouillon/water/stock, potatoes, and broccoli. Once soup has boiled, cover pot with a lid and reduce to a low flame for 45 minutes.  Once the potatoes are cooked, take out cooked and pulse thru the food processor, then return to soup.  Salt & pepper to taste. Garnish with a tab of butter and crème fraiche, parmesan cheese, or sour cream if available.