Hawaii Eats


So. I was in Maui last week and it was the. best. trip. ever.

I love all vacations (duh), but this one was really pretty perfect. We got a lot of sleep, and lots of sun. We hiked and napped, and swam and read. And saw lots of Hawaii creatures (lizards, snails, slugs, oh my). And… we ate.

We plotted each meal as if it were our last – we asked locals for recommendations, read through Yelp reviews, and one time basically just let our waiter order for us. So – here is a quick rundown of where we ate, and what we ate. This is likely 0% interesting to you, so you don’t have to read. But I wanted to have a good list to refer to when we return to Maui next year ; )


Here’s a quick rundown…

Monkeypod: We had Lobster Deviled Eggs (had to try), Blackened Pineapple Salad, and amazing amazing Seared Ahi. Plus tropical cocktails to kick off vacation!
Paia Fish Market: We shared Ono and Mahi burgers, and Maui Brewing Co. Bikini Blonde Lagers. Best lunch of my life.

Mama’s Fish House: Apparently this is the best restaurant on the island! It was pretty good, but not our favorite meal. If we return, I think we’ll go during sunset instead of after…it’s right on the beach and I’m sure the view is great. We had Shashimi with Hawaiian Salts, Shrimp Wontons and Lobster and Crab Stuffed Mahi. The Mahi was great. Also, some elaborate shell-shaped dessert, which was surprisingly good.

Road to Hana: We packed lunches and snacks for our adventure, but bought two yummy treats along the way — Banana Bread from Halfway to Hana, and Bourbon and Vanilla Roasted Coconut Chips from one of the roadside vendors.

Cool Cat Cafe: We were exhausted after a day of driving, and arrived in Lahaina on the later side – around 8:30pm. Brett was craving a burger so we went to Cool Cat. Burgers were actually pretty good, but we have better burgers in NY, so this can be skipped next time (unless a craving calls for it!)
Shark Pit: According to Yelp, this food truck is the #6 best place to eat in the USA. We had fish and shrimp tacos, and they were pretty bomb.com. Plus a strawberry basil lemonade from the lemonade truck in the same lot. Really good lunch, but Paia Fish Market takes the prize.

Sansei: A+++ sushi. Omg. Their signature roll is Panko-Crusted Deep Fried Ahi Shashimi Sushi… it’s insane. We also had tempura shrimp (always a good choice), tuna carpaccio with peanuts and cilantro, and a special roll with Hawaiian Mackerel.

Lahaina Luna: So this place is #27 on Yelp’s list, butttt I don’t really think it deserves to be there! It was pretty good, but not that memorable. We had soba noodles with blackened mahi, tacos, and their “crazy” fries.
Hula Grill: For a restaurant that sits right in the middle of a few resorts, Hula Grill was really good. We shared some Mahi and a Hawaiian Pizza.
Leoda’s: We stopped here for sandwiches on the way to Whale Watching. Apparently their pies are really good, so we’ll have to try that next time. We got two tuna sandwiches – one Ahi with avocado and melted cheese (both of our favorite), and then a spicy tuna salad (also good.)
Star Noodle: Holy cow this place was good. We sat at the bar and basically let the bartender order for us – brussels sprouts, Filipino “bacon & eggs” (aka pork belly and a paoched egg), and Singapore noodles. Plus an insane ginger cocktail.
Flatbread Company: On our last day we returned back to Paia and got pizza at Flatbread Company, a bottle of wine, and returned to the beach. Being New Yorkers, we have very high standards for pizza, but this one passed the test.


Manda Cooks: Butternut Squash and Sage Skillet Lasagna


Back in October or November, I pinned a recipe for Butternut Squash and Sage Lasagna and then proceeded to think about it pretty much daily. With this recipe in mind, I added a cast-iron skillet to my Christmas wishlist and, thank s to my mom, my wish was granted!

I love to cook on Sunday nights; for me it’s my way of wrapping up the weekend before the start of another crazy week. This past Sunday dinner was particularly monumental because it wrapped up a full TWO WEEKS off of work for me (::sigh::), so I thought it was the perfect time to pull this recipe out and break in my new skillet. Plus it is (finally) full-on winter in New York, which means it’s freezing, which means you basically only ever want to eat warm, cheesy food. (Except for yesterday when I had Liquiteria for lunch but hush.)


Something about the lasagna tasted so much like Thanksgiving – it was comfort food at its finest! But somehow it wasn’t too heavy. A miracle, I know. The butternut squash is super creamy, and the sausage adds some oomph to the dish, so you don’t actually end up needing too much cheese, or too many noodles…. relatively speaking : )


I combined two recipes when I made it (this one, and this one) – my best memory of what I did is below! As far as I can tell, the only thing that could go wrong here is it being a little too dry. I was afraid of this, since I’m used to saucey baked pastas, so I drizzled a bit of chicken broth on the finished product before putting it in the oven. I think you could probably do this mid-way through cooking if needed, if you check on it and it seems like it’s a little thirsty. Otherwise, the recipe is pretty fool-proof, despite being a bit time consuming. Even though it’s technically a one-pot mean, it’s a 25-dish meal. So, if you lack a dishwasher like I do, add about 20 minutes of dish washing into your timeline!


Here’s what you need:
3 cups cubed butternut squash (small cubes!)
6-8 no-boil lasagna noodles
1 cup chicken stock
1 onion, diced
8 sages leaves, chopped, plus more for garnish
small handful parsley, chopped
1 pound ground sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
2 tablespoons salted butter
2 cups 2% milk
2 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup ricotta
1/2 cup parmesan
10-12 little mozzarella balls, cut in half
salt, pepper, nutmeg, olive oil

Here’s what you do:
Prep the squash: Heat oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and squash, plus salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Stir to coat, then add 1/3 cup chicken broth. Cover and cook until squash has softened, about 15 minutes. Spoon squash into separate bowl and mash with fork or potato masher. Add another 1/3 cup of chicken broth to the mixture and stir to combine – it shouldn’t be too runny, or too thick.
Prep the sausage: Using the same skillet, cook onion until just translucent, about 3 minutes. Add sausage and use spatula to break into small pieces. Cook over medium heat until sausage has cooked through – this will cook again in the oven so you don’t have to be too diligent, just watch what you taste test as you go! Spoon sausage into separate bowl.
Prep the sauce: Using the same skillet, melt butter. Once butter is melted and bubbly, whisk in flour and cook for 1-2 minutes until nutty. Slowly add milk, stirring almost constantly, allowing mixture to bubble and thicken. Once all milk is added and sauce has thickened, add ricotta, parmesan, sage and parsley. Stir to combine then spoon sauce into separate bowl, leaving some in the pan to coat the bottom.
Assemble the lasagna: Alternate layering lasagna noodles (break apart to create a full layer as best as you can), smashed butternut squash, sausage, sauce, and mozzarella halves. Make sure you save enough sauce for the top! Once everything is assembled, pour a bit of chicken broth in the sides, sort of like you are watering a plant. Top with extra shredded parm, and whole sage leaves. Bake at 375F for 30-40 minutes, until slightly brown on top and bubbling on the sides. Let stand for about 15 minutes before serving.

Manda Cooks: Pumpkin Ricotta Gnudi


I’m a big fan of homemade pasta, but generally too afraid to make it myself. I’ve made butternut squash ravioli before, but I used pre-made wonton wrappers so that’s definitely cheating, (and please don’t tell my grandma that I used wonton wrappers to make something Italian…) I usually depend on Eataly for a homemade pasta fix, except for when it comes to gnocchi – the one thing I’m semi-confident about making at home. Again, this is sort of a cop-out, since gnocchi are technically dumplings, not pasta. And, (spoiler alert: another cop-out), I actually make gnudi more than I make gnocchi (where you use ricotta instead of potatoes), because I find gnudi to be less work, more forgiving, and more delicious. Gnudi is sort of a gnocchi/ravioli hybrid, aka the best of both worlds.


I saw a recipe for pumpkin ricotta gnudi on Pinterest a while back, and added it to my “Make When I’m Feeling Ambitious” list. I had Monday through Thursday off of work this week, so decided it was the perfect time to tackle these babies. The original recipe was gluten free, so I substituted in regular flour since I don’t have any fancy flours on hand. I also used pumpkin instead of squash, red cabbage instead of radicchio, and bacon instead of pancetta. So… my adaptation of the recipe is below : )


I pulled these from my “Ambitious” list, but they really weren’t that much work. It’s a little bit time consuming, and you will have to scrub doughy-flour-crust off of your counter after (or you boyfriend will have to), but it’s totally worth it. The colors in the finished product are fantastic, as was the textures. It also turned out to be surprisingly light, unlike most gnocchi/gnudi.


Pumpkin Ricotta Gnudi (adapted from this recipe)

Here’s what you need:
1/2 cup pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta
1 jumbo egg (or 2 small eggs)
1/4 cup grated parmesan + more for garnish
1 teaspoon salt
a pinch of nutmeg
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 slices bacon
1/4 small head of red cabbage, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped + more for garnish
1/4 toasted walnuts, chopped
juice from 1/2 lemon
black pepper

Here’s what you do:
To make the gnudi: Whisk together pumpkin, ricotta, egg(s), parmesan, salt and nutmeg. Stir in flour a bit at a time. The dough will be sticky, but shouldn’t be sticking to the sides of the bowl. Scrape dough out onto a floured surface, and invert the bowl over the dough. Let rest 15-30 minutes. Knead the dough a few times, then divide into six portions. Roll each portion out into a rope about 3/4″ thick. Use a knife to slice into 1″ pieces. Use a fork dusted with flour to make indentations in the gnudi, and place on a flour-dusted surface.
To cook the gnudi: Once you have everyone assembled, bring a pot of salted water to boil. Carefully drop about half of the gnudi in. You don’t want to over-fill the pot, but it’s okay if they touch! Once everyone has floated to the top, cook for an additional minute, the scoop out with a slated spoon and set aside. Cook the next batch.
To assemble the dish: Cook the bacon until crispy in a cast-iron skillet. Remove from heat, but don’t clean the skillet. Add gnudi to skillet and cook about 5 minutes on each side, until brown and a bit crispy. (You can do this in batches too, FYI.) Remove gnudi from pan. Add red cabbage and cook until just wilted, about 3 minutes. Add bacon, gnudi, walnuts and parsley, stirring to combine. Squeeze lemon juice on top, and drizzle with olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Divide between two dishes, and top with extra parmesan and parsley.

Happy New Year! & Manda Cookies: Sugar Cookies

Happy 2015 friends!


Brett and I kicked off the night with a bottle of champagne and three cheese pairings from Murray’s. For dinner we headed to Bugs and each had their omakase tasting menu – it was insanely delicious. We rang in the New Year at our friend Annie’s apartment with pink champagne and whiskey punch. A pretty calm New Year, but exactly what we wanted – apparently we’re boring grown ups now!

I’m excited to see what 2015 has in store for me — I already have lots of travel to look forward to (including Maui, Mexico, Nashville, Vail and Abu Dhabi!), plus 90th birthday celebrations for my grandma, Brett’s grandma, and my gram (!!!). I know lots of people dislike New Year’s Resolutions, but I actually love them! My three resolutions this year are to (1) shop at the farmer’s market more, (2) drink less Diet coke, and (3) blog more! I think I can handle those.

I made sugar cookies yesterday to bring to Annie’s last night, and to a brunch we are headed to shortly. I think I have finally found a go-to sugar cookie recipe! It requires no cooling time in the refrigerator, and has a touch of almond extract so the flavor is nutty and not too sweet. I also found a good recipe for royal frosting that doesn’t require eggs or meringue powder — it’s corn syrup instead, which I know isn’t great, but royal-frosting-beggars can’t be choosers.

Sugar Cookies (original recipe here)

Here’s what you need:
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups flour

Here’s what you do:
Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Stir in extracts and egg until combined. Add baking powder then gradually add flour. Dust flour on your counter and roll out about 1/4 of the dough at a time. Place cookie cut outs on parchment paper, and bake at 350F for 5-7 minutes.

Royal Frosting (adapted from  this recipe)

Here’s what you need:
1 cup powdered sugar
3 teaspoons milk
3 teaspoons corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
food coloring

Here’s what you do:
Whisk powdered sugar to get rid of any large clumps. Add in milk, corn syrup and almond extract – whisk until combined and smooth. Scoop frosting into a ziplock bag and add a few drops of food coloring – smoosh bag together until color is uniform. Cut a small hole in the corner of the bag to pipe frosting onto cookies.