Monday, December 31, 2012

TRIP: Hawaii 2012 Day 8

Ok 2013 is closing and i'm bound and determined to finish this post tonight before the "Dick Clarke's special" rings off the new year.

Day 7 is having trouble exiting my camera. It was a day off so you're not missing much we went to the Chinese restaurant at the hotel and had some Bejing duck and Abalone cold plate (abalone is an expensive ingredient VERY.) If I managed to pull the photos then i'll finally post day 7.

Day 8 we went down south to the City of Refuge (the pictures are also stuck on my camera) But the best part of was our visit to Super J's with their famous Lau Lau. I saw them on the food network on one of those "best things I've ever eating" shows. I'm so glad I took notice because it would not have otherwise jumped out at me. We drove by the place and I exclaimed "ooh ooh that's the super J's  place" so after the island of refuge we returned to check the place out.

Just like in the show Janice was sitting in the open space before the counter wrapping pork in taro leaves.

It's a family event, everyone pitches in wrapping up lau lau, they make between 500 and 700 TWICE per week. Here Ti leaves are wrapped around the taro package. I finally got brave and ventured in and asked some questions. I think I was intimidated by their stardom. But Janice and Julie were the nicest people and eager to share stories about the restaurant and food. Apparently the Super "J" in Super J's is the fact that the entire family (including the family dog) has a first name staring with J. It goes deeper than that, Janice is seeing through her father's dream of opening a restaurant. Her father had a farm down the road and the family started selling Lau Lau to neighbors door to door. Before long there was enough demand for a restaurant and Janice took the legacy on to fruition.

Everyone is family here. Julie encouraged us to make a space at the end of the Lau Lau table and I'm glad we took a chance to get to know the family. The food was amazing, Janice told us the long cooking time was to get rid of the spiky crystals on the taro plant. The lau lau was so very tender and we got the traditional macaroni salad. This was very different from the other places we've has macaroni salad. There's a clear tuna (that I didn't even notice in the other versions) and the pasta had a great flavor that I wished for a bit of salt on other occasions. The kalua pork braised cabbage was delicious.  Janice told us to pour the salmon lomi lomi as a salsa on the white rice which turned out to be a great combination. The lomi lomi was not nearly as salty as we had before.

We asked about the Kulolo and Julie gave us a free sample. WOW so good! The construction paper signs and paper plate signs were an awesome indication that the food was down home tasty cooking.

Kulolo is a grated taro pudding/cake. It has coconut milk, brown sugar, butter and is cooked for about 6 to 10 hours. I plan on figuring this one out because it was so good! It reminds me of a savory dim sum dish of grated daikon steam cake. The cake was easily four inches deep.

Finally my wife asked to get a group photo, we asked a couple at the counter to help us take the picture. The picture has been cropped by request by my wife. Again possibly the nicest people I've ever met. I felt like I walked into Julie and Janice's kitchen and sat like a neighborhood kid asking for a Lau Lau

Saturday, December 29, 2012

TRIP: Hawaii 2012 Day 6.5 Coffee Tour

Ok the Coffee tour and roasting class was so awesome and informative I had to break it out into it's own post. We learned so much about the coffee plant, the process of arriving at a bean and finally roasting, grading and what makes a good cup of coffee. There's a lot of pictures so this will be a long post but hopefully informative. Also note that all of this information is based on Kona coffee specific to this farm, why? At Mountain Thunder they farm at higher altitude, by hand, and conform to organic farming practices. I'll try to call out the info that's specific to this farm but since I've not been to another coffee plantation to compare this information I can't be sure what's specific to Mountain Thunder and practices are different at a commercial producer that's trying to control environmental conditions to produce the highest yield all at one time.

Ok it all starts here with the coffee plant and the coffee flower which is part of the gardinia family. The coffee plant only flowers when it has sufficient water to support a flowering. There is a specific season for coffee but it spans something like six months.

So what you'll have is flowers that open up after rain spells. Then what will happen is what you see pictured above, ripe red berries and green young berries. Some beans growing from early rains producing flowers and some growing later from later rain spells and subsequent flowers. So the farmers here have to go thru each plant and pick out ripe berry and go back to the plant later to harvest beans throughout the season. If they don't they risk mature berries falling and creating more coffee plants that compete with the mature plants for nutrition and water. Commercial plantations water at specific intervals to space out berry production so they can be certain to shake out all the berries on a tree and know they are all ripe. It removes some of the random factor on flowering of the plant.

Here's a macro on a ripe bean from my new olio clip for my iphone. (it does fisheye, macro and wide angle) I like the new toy.

It's not that easy waiting for the coffee to grow. The plants need fertilizer and you can cheap out with commercial stuff that wears out the plant and soil or go natural (they use donkey poo and remanent coffee cherry here). Then you have weeds to contend with. Thankfully geese like to eat this invasive species (and hence why they keep geese here). The weeds are a vine like plant that wrap around the coffee plant and sprout leaves making them hard to remove once they take hold.

Once upon a time they did pickings in 100 lb bags and a good picker could get 400 lbs per day. This is still true but technology has made it easier to transport beans on larger pallets and bags. All beans from Mountain Thunder are hand picked still because of the multi stage beans maturity that I described above.

Ok so once you pick the berries you have to separate the outer fruit from the seed (the outer fruit is called the cherry). The inner seed is usually two coffee beans with the flat faces facing each other on the rare event you have a single bean which is called a peaberry. Apparently at higher elevation there's a slower growth rate on the coffee which increases the chance of producing a peaberry. A peaberry is a desired result because the plant is devoting all of the nutrients into one bean instead of two. I drew some arrows if you click in to describe some various bean states.

The berries are sucked up into a giant machine, the berries are separated from the cherry outer fruit and then the green beans are sun baked fermented to dry up 20% of their moisture. From a 7 lb yield  6 lbs are the cherry fruitso you are left with 1 lb of bean. Once sun baked you lose another 20% of water weight then you hull the paper husks and lose another 20% weight.

The beans are then sorted. Our guide holds up a sample sifter. Kona coffee is sorted into several categories based on screen size, but even post the screen size there is a percentage of "damaged" beans and bad beans are judged by color and weight.

After being sorted the beans are shaken for weight, heavier beans get sorted upwards on this shaking machine crappy beans end up at the bottom. What we learned is that the "bad" beans are then sorted out and then roasted and sent out for the "blended" coffees. The coveted "good beans" are then used for their "reserve" and "premium" labels they sell on site.

Once the light beans go out then the beans sorted for color. A computer decides which beans are too light and need to be discarded and dark enough. Again, all this is done so that the a premium kona coffee can conform to less than 1% "damaged" bean.

Then after the sorting you begin the roasting process. The green beans go into a roasting machine where you control the external drum's heat with fire and internal drum heat with hot air. When you hit the right temp you drop the beans and start cooling. When you dump  depends on the roast you want to achieve. Experts go with a light roast because it tells you how well the bean was grown, the soil, and how well the roasting procedure went. At light roast all the oils are still inside the bean. The beans are dumped after "first crack" basically the popcorn sound of water being expelled from the bean. Medium roast happens before all the oils go to the external of the bean which happens at the start of "second crack" where the oils begin to expel to the surface of the bean. At dark roast all of the oils are expelled out of the bean (about 20 degrees past second crack), you also get some of the "burning" roasted flavor that dark roast is known for. This roasted flavor is used by commercial roasters to cover up for bad/damaged beans. Kona producers tend to frown on dark roasts and all premium labels are roasted to medium.  So lesson learned go with medium if you want to taste the quality of coffee bean.

So what better way to end the tour than to go and roast our own beans. Thank you Tomoko for being our guide. Here's a picture of our scaled down machine.

First pour out the green beans into the hopper, we were given fancy and extra fancy beans (top grade)

Then we turn up the flame control on the outer drum.

And we have the hot air switch.

Drop the green beans into the rotating drum.

green beans in the roaster. No color change yet.

Heat goes to 250 so we hit the air lever to 50/50 air.

We start to hit first crack at 350-375. It sounds like popcorn. This is where the green beans release water  from the bean. The beans have a brown exterior but the inner "seam" is still white/green. This is also when we hit the air into 100% mode.

We start to hit second crack around 400-425 degree and the inner "seam" goes brown. This is medium roast. The oil just now "starts" to pop if we let it go then all the oil goes to the surface. We don't want that we want the oil to be in the bean. At dark roast the bean also tends to spoil faster since the oil is exposed.

Drop the beans and they start to cool off.

You measure and the beans and bag them.

Then you take the bag to the sealer which shoot nitrogen into the bag to preserve the life of the bean by removing the oxygen. Then you heat seal the whole thing. The bag contains a one way valve to allow for the bean to out gas (but not suck in any more air). Out gassing happens over the next three days.

There you have it the full lifecycle of coffee making.

Friday, December 28, 2012

TRIP: Hawaii 2012 Day 6

Day 6 of our adventure. Today's big thing was the coffee plantation tour at Mountain Thunder located in Kailua-Kona south of where we were staying. Before that we had a bit of time to burn. So we started with breakfast.

Here's our view from breakfast. We stopped by Island Lava Java Cafe. Nice breakfast joint that features 100% Kona coffee (as opposed to the places that serve "blended" Kona) The view was spectacular and they had a guy singing up front part time ukulele Hawaiian music and part time Christmas melodies.

Breakfast was pretty straight forward the only thing unique about my breakfast was that it was served with some Portuguese sausage, it's slightly sweet and red from the paprika (not spicy at all). My wife ordered the "Oatmeal Brulée" (pictured above). Plain oatmeal topped with vanilla yogurt and bananas dusted with brown sugar and sugar burned by a torch. It certainly a unique presentation and very tasty.

We went and shopped around and eventually made our way back to the Kona International Market to go by and check out Jim's recommendation on the Poké at Rolls with It. They have a list of "sauces" you can order with the poké and I asked for the two most popular which were: Sweet Soy Sauce and furikake (a dry japanese rice seasoning). It was topped with fried onions. Wow, delicious! Probably the best poke I've had here so far. Once again our friend Jim from Day 1 has not steered us wrong. If you make it over here definitely give it a shot. The place is pretty small and tucked into the food court of the Kona International Market (an open air arts/crafts/grocery market) next door was a place called Trina's Cafe which had some really good looking hawaiian mexican fusion stuff going on. (we were too full to try)

Finally! Our tour at Mountain Thunder! Turns out the tour was pretty lengthy and we learned a whole lot. Since I managed to tweak out my back and we're taking a rest day tomorrow. I'll write a more detailed post on the coffee trip. Above is our roast master instructor Tomoko, she took us thru roasting our five pounds of fancy/extra fancy Kona beans. We went thru the regular "free" tour which was extremely informative and actually gave us a good head start at understanding what each part of the roasting process was all about.

Needless to say we walked out of there with our five pounds of coffee and another $150 in products. What's a duck doing on the coffee plantation? Actually there's a really good reason for that and I'll explain it tomorrow.

As we closed our day we tried to make it to Roy's Hawaiian Fusion restaurant but it was booked solid until late (and again the next day). So again we followed Jim's advice and dined at Merriman's Market Cafe. It's a delightful place that sat us down quickly. We started with the Southern Italian Broccoli, which was a very tender broccoli that was sautéed in garlic and red chili. Such a simple dish and probably our favorite dish there.

We followed it with the truffle fries. I think all the truffle oil somehow sunk to the bottom as I only started to taste the truffle towards the end. The fries are very thin and a good balance between crispy and soft inner potato. It was served with a mustard seed aioli.

My wife got the Mahi Mahi burger sans bun, so it was more like a burger "deconstructed". The Mahi Mahi was quite good and well seasoned it needed no help from the accompanying spicy aioli. The currant slaw (currant is what I think it was) was a favorite for my wife. (I'm not big on sweet on my slaw). She opted for the fish to come with the Ali'i mushrooms. Apparently the Ali'i mushroom is a king oyster mushroom variety coming from Hamakua Mushrooms (yes the same place that produced the shitake's we ate from Day 1 and throughout our trip)

I got the beef short rib served with Tagliatelle and swiss chard. The short rib was very tender and sparingly seasoned and in this case less is definitely perfect/more. The beef juices were used to flavor the tagliatelle pasta and made them perfect. A lot of places would have drowned out the pasta with some marinara or something, but just tossed with the au jus was great.

Service was great despite being packed, you should go check this place out it's in the King's Marketplace off Waikaloa beach.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

TRIP: Hawaii 2012 Day 5

Day 5 of my trip. Did some more snorkeling and got up close and personal with my frowny faced turtle friend. I plan on doing a morning snorkel to see what I can see before all the other guests cloudy up the water.

Sorry, the dolphin swim didn't allow us to take our own photos. I got this photo with one of the dolphins and a trainer. It was a fun experience, the dolphins have such great personalities. The two dolphins that we played with were the two newest moms. They would whistle to their young during our session and the little ones would swim across the pools and do a drive by on us.

The first two meals today were rather unremarkable. For breakfast we went to the breakfast buffet. The only unique thing was a chicken Jook (congee) the rice was cooked with a seasoned chicken broth that had some ginger in it. I'm going to have to recreate this as it was a very flavorful congee.

For dinner we went out to Hawi 45 mins north of our the resort to a great local restaurant called "Bamboo". We met the owner she was very nice and the the service was great, everyone came by to check on us. The place had a neat eclectic decor and had a gift shop at the front of the house full of local made arts and crafts. Upstairs featured a gallery with art by the owner as well as other locals. I highly recommend dropping by it's a pretty cool place.

To start we ordered their calamari they came in huge steak strips panko crusted and served with a pineapple pickled tartar sauce and a cocktail sauce.

Next we ordered a Chicken Sate (Satay) pot sticker. The "pot stickers" were wrapped with a wonton wrapper and steamed. The filling was a ginger peanut chicken mixture (I believe the chicken was pre-cooked otherwise the dumpling would have been a lot more like a meatball) all served in a sweet mint chili sauce. We loved this appetizer, very delicious. I'm going to have to make this for a bento.

Both of us went with the Monchong which was told to us to be "moonfish". Apparently I have not been eating "moonfish" all this time instead I've been eating "Ono" or "Wahoo". Monchong is not moonfish either, it's apparently a pomfret (which I've had quite often growing up). This white fish is a lot more flaky than Ono. At bamboo you pick their special catch of the day (today Monchong) or Ono (very plentiful around here) and select the preparation. My wife picked the "special" with fried artichokes, fried polenta in a champagne beurre blanc sauce.

I chose the Hawaiian Thai Monchong. The coconut curry sauce was reminiscent of a thin panang curry sauce served with steamed vegetables and mashed potatoes. Delicious, I recommend this preparation.

As we were walking back to the car we caught sight of this over the top outdoor Xmas decoration, we could hear the hum of a generator to support this light show.