Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Blue Hawaii Cocktail

Blue Hawaii Cocktail with Elvis bobblehead

Elvis lives!

Hawaii was on fire in the early 1960s. And not just from volcanoes. It had become a state in 1959, the 50th to join the US. Then Elvis Presley made a hit movie called “Blue Hawaii” in 1961 — just as a cocktail of the same name was gaining popularity.

These events combined to generate a burst of interest in the Hawaiian islands, at the same time that jet travel was making them accessible to mainlanders. The Elvis movie in particular highlighted the beauty and fun available in what was (for most people) still an exotic part of the world. It also didn’t hurt that Tiki restaurants — very popular at the time — were drawing attention to Polynesia, the ultimate source of Hawaiian culture. No wonder Hawaii became such a popular vacation choice (and has remained one ever since).

But even if you can’t jet off to Honolulu, you can still enjoy a taste of tropical paradise with this blue-hued drink. Mix up a round and let your imagination set the scene: pristine beaches, cloudless skies, sighing surf. Elvis bobblehead optional. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Grilled Pineapple

Grilled Pineapple wedges on plate with mint garnish

High heat intensifies the rich flavor of this tropical fruit

Fresh pineapple makes any event seem festive. But what a letdown if the pineapple is less than ripe — as are so many you find in the supermarket. It tastes OK, but lacks the full, rich flavor of truly ripe fruit.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to remedy unripeness: Just grill the pineapple. High heat evaporates water while caramelizing sugars, turning an already good-tasting fruit into a flavor sensation.

No grill? No worries. You can get good results using your oven broiler or even a stovetop grilling pan. 

Grilled pineapple is great served by itself, or dressed up with other ingredients (sweet or savory, as you wish).  So it works as appetizer or dessert. Perfect.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Hula Hula Cocktail

Hula Hula Cocktail in cocktail glass with pineapple slice and maraschino cherry garnish

A brunch-friendly Tiki drink  

Tiki drinks live large.  They tend to be high-volume cocktails perfect for slow sippin’ by the pool, or as party fuel on a summer evening.  But their outsize presence means they don’t work well as brunch beverages or pre-dinner aperitifs. 

Except for the Hula Hula.  This drink is modestly sized (tiny, in fact, by Tiki standards).  It also doesn’t have the high booze quotient of the Zombie or even the Mai Tai, so it’s morning-appropriate, with a juicy flavor that complements brunch fare. If you elect to have it as a pre-dinner drink, the Hula Hula will leave your palate in shape to appreciate the meal. And unlike many Tiki drinks, it doesn’t call for multiple liquors or exotic, hard-to-source ingredients.

Almost everyone likes the Hula Hula. Its citrus component makes it perfect for brunch, but it satisfies those who want something stronger than orange juice. Just think of it as OJ’s evil twin.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Shrimp Toast Dip

Shrimp Toast Dip in red ramekin with tortilla chips

Lighten up this deep-fried Chinese/Tiki classic by turning it into a versatile dip or spread 

The Shrimp Toast you find on dim sum carts and Tiki-themed platters is totally delicious — but also insanely caloric.  The dish features a tasty shrimp mixture spread on very thin pieces of crustless dried white bread (usually cut into triangles).  These morsels are then deep fried until crisp and irresistible. 

Luscious.  But not for the faint of heart.  If only we could capture the deliciousness of Shrimp Toast without all that deep-fried fat . . . .

Hey, wait.  We can!  Just drop the “toast” (who’s going to miss white bread anyway?) and turn the shrimpy mixture (aka “the good stuff”) into a tasty dip/spread that’s party-ready and hostess-friendly.

Set out a bowl of it as dip, accompanied by crackers, crudités, whatever.  Or stuff the shrimp spread onto cucumber boats, mushroom caps, or some other tasty base, and serve as canapés. 

More good news:  You can prepare Shrimp Toast Dip several hours ahead, since there’s no last-minute deep frying required.  You’ll have more time to chat with guests, less mess to clean up.  And your bathroom scale will still respect you in the morning.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Scorpion Cocktail

Scorpion Cocktail with orange slice garnish and cocktail umbrella

A party-perfect Tiki drink from Trader Vic

The Scorpion Cocktail is legendary.  Multi-legendary, in fact — there are so many “authentic” versions of this drink that no one really knows which was the original.

But we do know that it became one of Trader Vic’s best-selling Tiki drinks, along with the Mai Tai and Fog Cutter.

The Scorpion (aka the Scorpion Bowl) was typically mixed in quantities large enough to serve several people — and it made a memorable impact. It showed up in a communal ceramic bowl with “feet” that looked like topless Tahitian babes. A gardenia floated serenely on top. Drinkers would use long straws to sip from the bowl while admiring the botanical feature.

My Scorpion recipe is meant for one. But if you want to serve this drink in quantity, don’t fret. In the Notes, I provide a scaled-up version that’s fit for a crowd. You’ll need to source your own gardenias though.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Candied Bacon

Candied Bacon on Black Acrylic

The deep, succulent flavor of glazed bacon makes for a great party snack

“Eggs, I love you.  Honest, I do.  But I need a little space!”  So said the bacon at the back of my fridge.

OK, not really.  But sometimes we need to be reminded that bacon is more than just a breakfast side dish or a faithful flavor enhancer.  It can shine all on its own — as it does in this quick and simple recipe.

Add a bit of brown sugar to bacon, then bake until it’s crisply glazed.  Result?  A sweet-and-savory finger food that’s perfect for munching as a party appetizer or as a snack with cocktails.

Its piggy goodness would be a great addition to a Pupu Platter, that assortment of starters served in Tiki- and Polynesian-themed restaurants.  And since August is Tiki Month here on Kitchen Riffs, what could be better than an appetizer recipe that’s platter-able?

This dish is a snap to prepare, you can make it ahead of time, and it’s beyond delicious.  Magic, I’d say.  Oh, and it has one other magical property:  When your guests try it, it disappears.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Volcano Bowl Cocktail

Volcano Bowl Cocktail in traditional Tiki volcano bowl with flaming crater, and drinking straws

Long straws keep your hair away from the flaming “lava”

Tiki drinks strive to be exotic — which is why they’re often served in unique mugs and glasses.  And one of the best Tiki potions is the Volcano Bowl Cocktail (sometimes called the Flaming Volcano). 

Traditionally, this drink is served in a communal volcano-shaped bowl (usually one adorned with “South Sea” images — the tackier the better).  It tends to be prepared in hefty quantities — enough for four people (or at least two particularly enthusiastic drinkers).  Everyone sips from long straws to avoid getting singed by the flaming crater at the center of the bowl.

Unless you’ve been to a Tiki- or Polynesian-themed restaurant, you may never have sampled one of these.  After all, your local housewares shop probably doesn’t carry volcano bowls.  And unless you’re serving a crowd, the quantities that most recipes yield are a bit unrealistic for a casual before-dinner drink.

But no worries.  You can easily scale down this recipe and serve the drink in an ordinary glass. 

Or, if you’re planning a party, why not go all out?  It’s easy enough to buy volcano bowls online.  And this recipe is perfect for a crowd.

So light those Tiki torches, don a flower lei, and mix up a Volcano Bowl Cocktail.  (Just check your fire insurance first.)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Crab Rangoon

Crab Rangoon on plate with dipping sauces and Tiki Mug in background

Queen of the Pupu Platter 

This August is Tiki Month here on Kitchen Riffs!  All the food and drinks will be Tiki-themed.  First up?  Crab Rangoon — crisply fried dumplings filled with a savory mix of cream cheese and crab.  You won’t be able to eat just one!

Crab Rangoon is a staple of the Pupu Platter (the appetizer assortment that’s ubiquitous in Tiki- and Polynesian-themed restaurants around the world).  In the US, you’ll also find this dish at more than a few Chinese-American restaurants. 

And by the way, have you ever wanted to make your own Pupu Platter?  Well, you’re in luck!  All our food posts this month will feature recipes that are platter-appropriate.

So dust off your Tiki torches and flower leis, and start planning your next backyard party.  The guests will go wild over your Pupu Platter — especially its star, Crab Rangoon.