Editors of the "Best of the Best from Hawaii Cookbook" combed local community publications for recipes.

Serving up a potpourri of cookbooks

Top community cookbooks
compiled into a "best-of"
Hawaii collection

For more than 20 years, Gwen McKee and Barbara Moseley have been on a quest to preserve America's food heritage. By the end of the year, they will have published "Best of the Best" cookbooks that represent all 50 states in affordable, spiral-bound editions.

'Best of the Best from Hawaii Cookbook'

Compiled by: Gwen McKee and Barbara Moseley
Publisher: Quail Ridge Press, 2004
Price: $16.95, available at local bookstores, Costco, and online at

Their latest is a compilation of 300 recipes from some of Hawaii's most popular community cookbooks, "The Best of the Best from Hawaii Cookbook."

According to the Brandon, Miss.,-based editors, their cookbook series is one-of-a-kind.

One of the biggest challenges was "becoming aware of some of the little sleeper cookbooks full of treasured recipes," shared Moseley. "That's where our research comes in. One person leads you to another to another."

Among the 63 local cookbooks featured in "Best of the Best of Hawaii" are "Hilo Woman's Club Cookbook," "West Kauai's Plantation Heritage," "Hawaii's Best Mochi Recipes," "Hawaii's Favorite Firehouse Recipes," "Friends and Celebrities Cookbook II" and all six volumes of "Favorite Island Cookery" from Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin.

Local authors were asked to recommend about a dozen of their favorite recipes for each cookbook they submitted. McKee and Moseley then narrowed the list, while balancing the entries in categories ranging from appetizers to desserts.

"The cookbook has a very nice selection and variety. These are very local recipes," said Grace Hu, a Windward resident who helped publish the Castle Performing Arts Center's "Friends and Celebrities Cookbook."

"Not only did they collect the cookbooks, they did some really good research about Hawaiian culture," Hu added. From the hibiscus-bordered page layout, to the photographs, glossary, drawings and historical and cultural facts, the cookbook offers readers a generous slice of Hawaiiana.

Last year, McKee made her first trip to Hawaii, spending two weeks visiting Kauai, Oahu, Maui and the Big Island. She talked with authors, publishers and local folk, took photographs, and experienced the food first hand.

While dining at Brennecke's at Poipu Beach, McKee tasted a lilikoi cheesecake that she described as incredibly "light and refreshing." She later discovered a similar cheesecake recipe in "Cook 'em Up Kauai," a Kauai Historical Society cookbook.

Gwen McKee, one of the editors of the "Best of the Best from Hawaii Cookbook," shopped in a local farmers' market while doing research in Hawaii.

For a recipe to be selected for the "Best of the Best" it needs to pass several criteria, according to the editors. The first, and most important, is taste. The second criterion is that the recipe's ingredients and directions be written well. The third is that it offers variety. Finally, the recipe must be one that people would be able to prepare themselves in their own kitchens.

"Some cookbooks have very long explanations and a long list of ingredients, but this one is very accessible. I think it is such a friendly type of cookbook," said Mary Tanouye, a member of Honpa Hongwanji. "It is charming. It has a retro flavor with photos and designs reflective of times past."

Perhaps one of the nicest features of "Best of the Best" is the catalog of contributing cookbooks. The catalog provides a cover photo, description, cost, and ordering information for each title, giving it national exposure. The "Best of the Best" series has sold more than 1.7 million copies.

"Hawaii is so different from all of the other states. It is a wonderful blend, a mix of so many cultures," said McKee, who admits that the Hawaii edition is her favorite of all the cookbooks. "This book represents its state more than all of the other cookbooks."

"The wonderful thing about food is that is doesn't have a party, a religion or a color. It brings people together. I'm a grandmother. The older I get the more I realize that family and the things we do around food and occasions are so important."

Retirement for McKee and Moseley is nowhere in sight. They are currently working on a "Hall of Fame" cookbook series that McKee describes as "the best of the best of the best."

Here are some examples of the recipes chosen for "Best of the Best":

Minute Chicken

"Favorite Island Cookery Book I" (Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin, call 536-7044)

3 to 4 pounds chicken
1/4 cup oil
>> Marinade:
3 tablespoons flour
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped Chinese parsley
2 tablespoons wine
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, crushed
2 tablespoons oyster sauce

Chop chicken into bite-sized pieces.

Combine marinade ingredients and combine with chicken.

Heat oil in large skillet until sizzling hot. Add chicken and quickly stir at highest heat until brown. Lower heat and cook 10 minutes.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (based on 3 pounds chicken with skin): 400 calories, 23 g total fat, 5 g saturated fat, 110 mg cholesterol, 550 mg sodium, 9 g carbohydrate, 37 g protein.

Peppered Ahi with Dijon-Wasabi Sauce

"Dd's Table Talk" by Deidre Kieko Todd ( or call 676-0116)

2 tablespoons freshly cracked black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 (2-by-6-inch) ahi block
>> Dijon-Wasabi Sauce:
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon mirin sake
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon wasabi paste
Sesame oil

Heat skillet until very hot.

Combine pepper, paprika and chili powder. Coat ahi in mixture and sear in hot pan on all sides, about 1 minute. Set aside.

To make sauce: In same skillet over medium heat, add ginger, garlic, soy sauce, mustard, mirin sake and sugar; heat until sugar dissolves. Add wasabi paste and sesame oil to taste.

Spoon sauce onto plate; top with sliced ahi. Serves 2.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (based on 12 ounces ahi and 1 teaspoon sesame oil): 340 calories, 7 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, greater than 1,800 mg sodium, 22 g carbohydrate, 45 g protein.

Lilikoi Cheesecake

"Cook 'em Up Kauai" (Kauai Historical Society, call [808] 245-3373 )

1 envelope or 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup lilikoi juice
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
>> Crust:
1-2/3 cups graham cracker crumbs (22 squares)
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened

To make crust: Mix together crumbs, honey and margarine. Press firmly into a 9-inch pan.

Combine gelatin and sugar. Add boiling water and lilikoi juice; stir to dissolve gelatin.

With electric mixer, beat in cream cheese until smooth. Pour into crust; chill until firm (about 2 hours). Serves 8.

Nutritional information unavailable

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