We fell in love, culinarily speaking, with the exotic in the 1970s. Of course, growing up on the island in that era meant just about everything originating south of here fell into that category.
By the time I was 10 I was helping out in the kitchen, but my mom finally let me pick the menu and try some of those exotic ideas when I reached teenagehood. There wasn’t a lot of money to play with and we had to use what my family’s gardens produced, but at least I could finally ask for a few novel ingredients to try the recipes I saw on television and in magazines.
I’ll never forget the first time I was allowed to invite friends over for a dinner party sans parents. Here’s what graced the table, with a couple of minor updates to allow for what we’ve learned over the past 40 years.
I have no idea whether anyone in Hawaii ever ate this in the 1970s, but anything with canned pineapple—and that was the only kind we could get—was attributed to that part of the world so who am I to argue?
Pineapple found its way into some dishes that it oughtn’t have, and I won’t waste your time with those, but it belongs in this recipe in every way. The first time I made this I wouldn’t be surprised if it were cloying, a bit gloppy and more than slightly overcooked.
This version has acidity and heat to complement the sweetness. I’ve upped the vegetable content and added fresh ginger and garlic. If you don’t care for spice then leave out the jalapenos, but they add sparkle.
This recipe serves 6.
2 cups fresh pineapple, cored and diced, with juice reserved
1 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. olive or vegetable oil, divided
3 or 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tsp. five-spice powder
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 medium red, thinly sliced
2 bell peppers, any colours, seeded and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 or 2 jalapeno peppers, thinly sliced, seeded for less heat
1 tbsp. grated fresh gingerroot
2 to 4 tbsp. firmly-packed dark brown sugar, to your taste
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup white wine vinegar
2 tbsp. soy sauce
3 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
½ cup chopped toasted sliced almonds, optional
cooked rice for serving
Drain the pineapple chunks thoroughly, reserving any juice. Dry on a paper towel then add to hot butter in a non-stick frying pan. Cook over medium-high, stirring constantly, until the pineapple browns around the edges. Remove and set aside.
Add half the oil to the frying pan. Cut chicken breasts into bite-sized chunks and coat evenly with five-spice powder, salt and pepper. Fry until golden brown and just cooked through. Remove from pan and set aside.
Heat up the remaining oil and fry onion over medium-high heat until it starts to soften and take on some colour. Add bell peppers and cook 2 minutes. Add garlic, jalapenos and ginger and cook another minute.
Combine sugar, cornstarch, broth, vinegar and soy sauce. Add any juice you collected from the pineapple. Stir into pepper mixture in pan. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until it comes to a boil and thickens. Return pineapple and chicken and heat through. Stir in parsley. Serve over rice or noodles, or on a bed or greens if you’re cutting carbs.
Sprinkle green onions and almonds on top.
Carrot Cake with Crushed Pineapple
Just like the last recipe I doubt this cake ever graced family tables in Hawaii, but I was going for a theme and nothing was stopping me.
Canned pineapple absolutely works in this recipe, although I suppose you could make your own version of crushed in a blender.
This isn’t a light cake by any stretch of the imagination, although you could do without the icing and make it a tad healthier.
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
1-1/4 cups vegetable oil
3 cups finely grated carrot, pressed lightly into the measuring cup but not tightly packed
1 cup crushed pineapple, taken out of the can with a slotted spoon but not drained completely of juice—you don’t want it dry
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. each ground allspice, ginger and nutmeg
1 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped, divided
Cream Cheese Icing:
1-1/2 8-oz. packages softened cream cheese
1/2 cup soft unsalted butter
2-1/2 cups icing sugar, sifted
2 tsp. good quality vanilla
Beat sugars and oil until light and creamy—it won’t be as fluffy as sugar and butter. Beat in eggs one at a time then stir in carrot and pineapple.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and nutmeg and stir all at once into carrot mixture. Fold in most of the walnuts, reserving a little to sprinkle on top of finished cake. Pour into 2 greased and floured 9-inch cake pans and bake at 350 degrees F 45 minutes or until a tester in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely in the pans.
For the icing, beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add icing sugar and vanilla and beat on high speed until smooth and completely combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl often.
To assemble the cake, place one layer on a serving plate, flat side up. Top with a dollop of icing and spread to the edges. Place second layer, also flat side up, on top and frost the top and sides with remaining icing. Sprinkle remaining chopped walnuts evenly on top.
Cynthia Stone is an information manager and writer in St. John’s. E-mail questions to her at email@example.com