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Cooking in Hawai’i & A Garlicky Shrimp Recipe

(simple dinner: picadillo, jasmine rice, ensalada, toasted bread)

It’s so cold here in Atlanta and I love it. What I don’t love is how the city has shut down. Closed. Cerrado. Literally. We had a 4″ “dusting” on Monday which sent state and city officials into a nationally-reported frenzy.  A distressed and clearly inexperienced driver led his car into full flames. See, he kept spinning and spinning his tires, in a poor attempt to slide out of an icy groove. That’s lesson numero 1 in driving in inclement weather. So, since then, we’ve been trapped in our homes, forced to eat chili by the quarts and spending lots of time on social networks. I’m so tired of the pokes!

The post office hasn’t delivered since then. The malls, courts, banks, schools and most public venues are shut down. I was able to make it to Costco for some essentials: milk, tortilla chips, apples and such. But I was one of 4 customers. And, then I took a long walk to the farmers’ market next door. But they were closed, too.

Why do I bore you with this wintry weather mess that’s got me all flustered and feeling anxious (not that I mind being in the house—after all I do work from home; it’s the idea of not being able to freely go out and about)? Because days like this, in all its lovely white and fluffy winterland, I think of tropical and unblemished scenic destinations.

I’m specifically speaking of Honolulu. I see it now, on my iPhone Weather Channel app: 74 degrees and sunny. But it’s always like that.

We were in Waikiki last October for one of my brothers’ wedding. I started a mini-series about the trip in this post here. Check it out–you’ll enjoy the pics from the market visit.

(lovely fallen flowers; view of lake and mountain from our condo)

In any case, as I’ve slowly started to emotionally detach myself (except for the daily email updates on cheap flights to another Hawaiin island), I haven’t fully removed myself from the wonderful eating we did. Eating at our rented condo that is, because eating out seemed to be a culinary disaster of sorts. I’ll speak on that in a follow up post next week.

We made a unanimous decision to eat at home as much as possible. There were benefits to that: We’d know with complete certainty what we’d be eating; it’d be more economic; we could be loud and have the best time we’d want, unrestricted to establishment etiquette. It worked out perfectly for us.

Our place was a 2 bedroom, 1 bath condo, situated on the southern end of the beach, about 8 blocks aways, created an accessible entrance and exit to main roads that would take us to our excursions. It had a great balcony view facing early morning rowers being tickled by the sunrise rays. It was quaint, but needed a serious upgrade.  It did offer free wi-fi (because who really takes a vacation and unplugs??).

The biggest downside was the cocina–a poor excuse for a place to make fresh food. One pot, one skillet, no toaster, no coffee maker, dishes for 4 though it’s advertised as having service for 6 and no can opener. And those were just the essentials. You can imagine the challenge this created for us, but mami and I can be uber creative in working with limited cookery utensils.

Clearly the Russian owner doesn’t think her renters will be remotely interested in saving a few bucks and actually stay in for feasting. I mean she knew we are Cuban.

(overlooking city from Diamond Head; rowers in lake across the street from our condo)

Breakfast consisted of yummy sunny-side eggs with Manchego cheese we brought from mainland, fresh squeezed orange juice, café con leche (because we do travel with a mini stove-top espresso maker) and some fresh papaya and pineapple purchased at the local market. That gave us enough fuel for the first 4 hours of beach bummin’.

Dinners were we had all the fun. Mom and I worked closely in creating home-cooked meals for 10 of us. In total there were 5 nights of eating in so we had to spread out our food inventory. I seared Mahi-Mahi one night and served it with garlickly green beans and a fresh tomato salad. My brother doesn’t like any kind of fish so mami satisfied his picky palate with some sirloin.

For our first family dinner, we defaulted to our staple picadillo. Simple, but total comfort food and extremely filling. You’ve seen me feature picadillo here. I also did a bilingual video demo of how to make it to a “T!” Check it out here and learn some Spanish Cubanisms along the way.

Making this every-day dish in Hawai’ri was tricky to the extent the basic spices and herbs were absent (though promised to be there). We improvised and just made it work. Plus there was jasmine rice to make it all better and pair it with. Another fresh green and tomato salad completed our meal and we all agreed it beat eating out at any of of the options we had considered. We were in control of our portions, we could adjust what ingredients we used and we could eat without the unkown factor of ‘will we like it or not.’

This is what we call happy eating.

(picadillo; ensalada)

On the eve of bro’s wedding, we had an all out family fued on where dinner was going to be. I was planning the wedding in large part and had secured dinner reservations for all 10 of us at a swanky and highly-rated restaurant. This is when my oh-so-Cuban mother puts her  two feet in the mix and makes decisions without consulting with anyone–I got a call telling me to cancel the reservations. She was on her way to my bro’s condo with all of dinner in tow. Yes, in tow.  She had pounds of  fresh pineapple from the Chinatown market, hence a no brainer to include some juicy chunks in our dishes.

Here comes the mother-in-law to be, shutting it down and as if we’re all used to her ruling hand, we all succumb and simply smile and say “thank you, mami.”

After spending 20 minutes fussing about her single-handed decision to cook all of dinner,  and robbing us of experiencing a we had no choice but to bless our food and dig in.

We enjoyed our lovely pollo en fricassée with a Hawaiin twist: the grilled pineapples. I didn’t share the picture because it just didn’t come out so pretty. I mean it’s rustic as rustic gets, but I swear it looked like a bunch of ugly chicken parts that desperately tried to escape the searing pot! Really. Bro had a garlicky shrimp in tomato and red wine sauce. It was nothing over the top or too constructed… It was  a matter of assessing what we had and just throwing things in the pot. That’s how a lot of our home cooking happens when we have to improvise. I didn’t have any, but bro and his then fiancée tore it up!

Everyone had their protein with more white jasmine rice, sweet fried plantain, another fresh salad with more pineapples in it and  crusty bread.

We showed no mercy and cleared it all up.

(garlicky shrimp in tomato and wine sauce)

We finished off dinner with a loud celebratory poppin’ of the bubbly!

(bro’s best man poppin’ the bubbly!)

At the end of a 3-hour and totally hysterical dress rehearsal, we were ready to get our rest and prepare for a long day at the beach where bro would be exchanging vows.

It was wonderful. We wouldn’t have traded anything for the experience of being cooped up in our or my bro’s studio condo, overlooking the ocean in the crispest and luscious evenings.

Sometimes eating in is just the best thing to do.

* Okay, I got my warm weather fix. I’m now in love with the snow that’s not melting!


Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.

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Garlicky Shrimp in Tomato and Red Wine Sauce


  • 1 lb. fresh shrimp
  • 4 tomatoes, chunked
  • 2 cups a good red wine
  • 7 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 of each Spanish and red onion, julienne
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • s/p to taste


Remove shell, rinse and devein shrimp. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. In large sauce pan, add tomatoes, bay leaf, oregano and white wine vinegar. Cover and let cook until tomatoes have broken down and started to liquify, approximately 20 minutes. While tomatoes are stewing, cook shrimp. In large skillet, heat olive oil and add shrimp. Sear for 2-3 minutes until lightly browned on both sides. Stir in garlic and onions. Cook for another 5 -6 minutes or until fully cooked. Reduce heat on tomato sauce, uncover and add shrimp. Stir in red wine until flavors are combined. Cover and let cook on low-medium heat for 20 minutes. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve with white or brown rice. Alternatively, have over pasta and top with fresh avocado.

0 thoughts on “Cooking in Hawai’i & A Garlicky Shrimp Recipe

  1. I would love to visit Hawaii and your pictures are stunning. Both the pollo en fricassée and the shrip dish sound fantastic!

  2. Bren, nice pictures of Hawaii…and the shrimp not only sound but look awesome…I sure love it with lots and lots of garlic 🙂


  4. Cubanos only need a pot and a skillet to cook a giant meal. And you are one heck of a Cuban Cook. (or any other kind). Picadillo is excellent comfort food on a freezing winter day.
    Buen Trabajo, como siempre.

  5. Eliana: You and me both. I mean i loove me some snow, but there’s so much beauty in that place!

    Rosa: It wasn’t so much, actually. I (we) were quite disappointed. Shrimp dish looked and smelled amazing and my bro went to town on it!

    Peter: Thanks, P… don’t quit me b/c I won’t eat it though! You can have all of mine! :0

    Faith: Thanks, Faith! I hope you checked out the other posts where I shared a few more stunning images! Truly a delightful place.

    Juliana: THanks hun. I <3 that place. Very special indeed. the more garlic the better. Just make sure to have a lot of breath mints on you!

    Yaime: tienes que visitar definitivamente... la niña no se canso de decir que era el paraiso!

    Sue: you are exactly right about that!! Really! Doesn't take much. Much like Italian and French cooking... throwing a lot in the pot! 😉

  6. Yep ATL has gone nutso & shut DOWN! I bravely WALKED to the store today, slippery & all. Won’t do that again. YIKES! Girl i know you had a blast in the tropical weather. Oh alas how i wish i was in like warm climates myself currently. Anyhoooo…the grub looks fantastic per usual so nada new. I’m fan of most sea food (skip the catfish please)!

  7. That is TOTALLY unfair!! I was trying sooo hard to get out of our Hawaiian mood, and you hit me with this vivid flashback to life in paradise. That being said, I enjoyed it greatly. Ahh, I do remember that picadillo and the crazy wedding-eve dinner. We had fun, didnt we!! Thanks for the memories. We definitely have to do it again … soon.

  8. Bren – What a great story and its funny how that all happens when too many cooks can spoil the pot as they say. It does sound like the end results were tasty and that shrimp dish looks amazing, plus I suspect the air in Hawaii just makes everything taste better.

  9. que bello esta todo .que envidia me da todo .la comida el climax todo en hawaii es perfecto .gracias por compartir con nosotros tus experiencias y tanta belleza con razon le dicen el paraiso en la tierra

  10. verdaderamente que es el paraiso .lacomida las personas y el climax ni se diga todo como dicen el paraiso gracias por esa comida y toda la belleza gracias chef

  11. This sounds so delish (the trip and the recipe!) I am in the mood for Hawaiian cuisine, but it is hard to pin down…so many influences…

  12. Miesha: that week was insane in Hawai’i. So fly. Everything about it. Can’t wait to go back!

    David: Its only b/c I can’t wait to go back and enjoy it all. It’s been one of the best vacations we’ve taken! All of it was so wonderful. And of course, being able to cook the food we know, in a place we don’t, is so priceless.

    5 Star Foodie: Sooo fabulous. Would do it everywhere I travel if I could.

    OysterCulture: Slight drama… but so typical in a Latin home! I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

    Amaury: I’m sorry you couldn’t make it, primo… todo estaba super bonito.

    Tenina: I wasn’t too crazy about the local cuisine but we figured it out. Def. not a reason not to go!

  13. I remember the wedding titi! so much fun. Look at tio Mike with a bottle. the flower is pretty. I can’t wait to go back to Paradise!!

  14. Love eating in and cooking at home. I’ve never been a huge fans of restaurants or take outs. But first, let’s talk about this shut down in Atlanta! Imagine how terrified folks would be if they lived up north!

  15. Niña que rico! El picadillo se ve buenisimo y los camarones me hicieron agua la boca…y eso de ponerse aguacate arriba – Yum Yum YUM

  16. I want to be in Hawaii right now!!!!! great pics, and I too think of warm weather (puerto rico) when it’s cold.

    As for the recipe, Che will love it. If only I liked shrimp… sigh.

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