Home Cooking: Gingerbread Snacking Cake

Gingerbread and lemon curd, a delicious combination.

I started craving gingerbread about a month ago. I don’t know why, but suddenly I really, really, really wanted some gingerbread.

I don’t think gingerbread is a thing here in Hawaii. I’ve never seen gingerbread mix here like I used to back on the mainland. As I began researching recipes to make some from scratch, I realized we had everything on hand except for molasses and a recipe, so I picked up a jar of molasses a couple of weeks ago and started looking for a new recipe. An ice cream sale at Safeway plus some British ginger nut biscuits delayed things for a few days but once Brett and I had finished those things it was finally time for me to bake some gingerbread.

The gingerbread recipe I had used and loved in the past had unfortunately been in the box that the movers lost, and there were almost too many other gingerbread recipes out there to choose from, or so it seemed. Most recipes appeared to be fairly similar, but I wanted one with a little something extra, and I eventually found what I wanted on the Smitten Kitchen blog. Her gingerbread recipe (via Martha Stewart) contained an additional ingredient that we also happened to have on hand: freshly grated ginger root. That, I knew, would add a lovely little kick to the recipe.

I was a bit worried when I first read through the instructions though, thinking it sounded overly complicated, but it came together very easily and quickly. The finished cake is perfectly delicious, very moist and flavorful, but the best part of making this recipe was that I was able to do the entire batter in a four-quart saucepan. A saucepan might seem like a strange piece of kitchen gear to mix up a cake, but the recipe starts with boiling water, and being able to do everything in one pan meant that cleanup was easier than it might have been otherwise.

Smitten Kitchen suggests dusting the finished gingerbread with powdered sugar or adding a dollop of whipped cream, but I absolutely love gingerbread with lemon sauce. We had a jar of Monkeypod Jam Meyer lemon curd just waiting for something special, and a spoonful of that has been perfect with our gingerbread cake. Yum, yum, yum!

GINGERBREAD SNACKING CAKE

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of unsalted butter, cut into chunks]
  • I cup water
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar (I only had light brown; it worked fine)
  • 1 cup unsulphured molasses
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger (optional but it really makes the flavor of the cake zing)
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground or freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • powdered sugar (optional)
  • whipped cream (optional)
  • lemon curd or lemon sauce (optional)
Butter cut into chunks, brown sugar, freshly grated ginger, baking soda, molasses, and eggs. Our kitchen is very small, so I’ve learned to always get my ingredients organized, measured, and ready to go before I start.
Flour, salt, baking powder, and spices, ready for sifting
The molasses mixture is done and ready to rest and cool for a few minutes
Whisking the the sifted flour mixture into the molasses mixture.
The finished gingerbread right out of the oven. The sides of the cake rose up first during the baking, but as the cake cooled they settled down for an even top.

Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare a 9 x 13 baking pan by either buttering and flouring, or coating well with cooking spray (I chose chooking spray as it’s a very moist cake and I didn’t want it to stick).

In a large saucepan, boil the water, and add the baking soda (it will foam up a bit). Let stand for 5 minutes, then add the butter and stir until the butter is melted. Stir in the brown sugar, molasses, and freshly grated ginger. The mixture should be barely warm by now but in case it’s still hot let it sit an additional 10 minutes. Whisk in the two eggs.

Sift together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, salt and baking powder over the molasses mixture in the saucepan and whisk to combine. If your saucepan isn’t big enough, transfer the molasses mixture to a large mixing bowl first, whisk in the eggs, and then sift the dry ingredients over it and then whisk to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If you’re not going to store the cake in the baking pan, turn out the hot cake to a wire cooling rack and let cool completely. Otherwise cool completely in the pan. Before serving, dust the gingerbread with powdered sugar if desired and/or serve with whipped cream, lemon curd, or lemon sauce.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (2/14 – 2/20)

Mega Omega trail mix, our new afternoon snack

Besides eating more mindfully, Brett and I are making an effort to snack more mindfully as well. So, when we shopped at Costco this past week one of our goals was to find some new and better snacks than what we had been having. Costco has an amazing array of organic/natural and affordable snacks, but we had gotten hung up on their salted peanuts and had been having some of those almost every day for the past several months. The trouble with salted peanuts though is that a small amount is never enough and both of us found ourselves eating more and more of them as time went on. Lately I had to admit that I was walking not just to get more fit but in order to earn enough calories to eat more peanuts! The salt was getting to be a bit much as well. Anyway, after checking prices, calories, and so forth we chose the Mega Omega trail mix, which contains walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and dried mango. It’s a keeper – only 140 calories for 1/4 cup, and much more satisfying than peanuts and without all that salt. We also chose a bag of organic baked apple chips – wow! Much better than salty potato chips, and I say that as someone who loves potato chips. We’ve found with the new snacks that less is more – we’re getting everything we want from a snack, but in a smaller amount. The apple chips have been a great accompaniment to our sandwiches this week, and much healthier than potato chips. We’ll be stocking up on more when we shop this week!

Here’s what we had for dinners this past week”

These Valentine’s pancakes were more difficult to make than I imagined – the batter did not want to stay in a heart shape when it hit the pan! That’s lilikoi curd on the pancake in stead of butter.

Sunday: Heart-shaped pancakes; breakfast sausage; fresh papaya; ice cream & gingersnaps

Perfect risotto is so quick and easy with an InstantPot.

Monday: Chicken-rosemary risotto; cucumber; ice cream & gingersnaps

They didn’t have quiche at Costco this time so we picked up these wraps instead. They’re great because they contain cabbage instead of lettuce. 

Tuesday: Costco’s Asian chicken wraps; baked apple chips; ice cream & gingersnaps

Brett and I finally got our turkey dinner (YaYu doesn’t like turkey). The plate looks overflowing, but that’s just three ounces of turkey, a half cup of stuffing, three TBSP of gravy, one TBSP of cranberry relish, and a whole lot of green beans.

Wednesday: Roast turkey; stuffing; turkey gravy; Monkeypod Jam cranberry relish; sautéed green beans; ice cream & gingersnaps

Yes, I did have a couple of bites before I remembered to take a photo!

Thursday: Turkey club sandwiches; baked apple chips; ice cream & gingersnaps

I was going to make something fancy with pesto, but decided to go with a classic instead.

Friday: Pepperoni mini pizzas; cucumber; ice cream & gingersnaps one last time

My favorite way to eat leftover turkey.

Saturday: Hot turkey sandwiches; roasted zucchini & tomatoes; gingerbread with lemon curd

Next week’s menu, in no particular order:

  • Spaghetti with meat sauce
  • Egg roll in a bowl
  • Barbecued pulled pork sandwiches
  • Thai curry vegetable & chicken stir fry
  • Tom Colleccio’s one-pot pasta with bacon
  • Zucchini frittata; broiled tomatoes
  • Mini pizzas (not sure what kind)

I did not lose any weight this past month, but that’s okay. I’ve been steadily losing since last June, and I’m guessing I’ve hit a plateau. I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing and assume that things will pick up again in a while. 

I decided to go ahead and order my new walking shoes this past weekend versus waiting until next month. My old shoes have had it, and my feet are miserable right now. The amount of walking we’re doing has been very hard on my feet and nails, and the shoes in their current condition are not helping. I ordered my new shoes from Zappos – they have good prices, good availability, fast shipping, and their customer service is superb. The ones I originally wanted were not available in my size, so I’m trying out a different style. Zappos has a great return policy though if they’re not a good fit or I have other issues with them. I’m greatly looking forward to having a spring in my step once again! 

The rain stopped a couple of minutes after we arrived at the park on Saturday, and the sky started to clear so we were able to get in a good walk (4.2 miles). However, it poured the whole way home afterwards, and there was more rain off and on after we got home.

The weather hasn’t been all that great for walking this past week, but other than taking a day off on Monday and staying home on Friday because of a storm Brett and I walked every day. We actually walked in the rain (light mist) on Thursday and arrived just as the rain was stopping on Saturday. We’ve had to avoid the trails through the woods though because of issues with mud. We’re going to try walking in our own neighborhood now and again – three laps of the street and cul de sac at the end gives us a mile and a half. Usually though the weather up at the park is better than it is in our neighborhood, but with all the road construction going on it can be a pain to get out and up to park so we’re glad to have another option.

Home Cooking: My Favorite Meat Sauce for Pasta

The finished sauce, cooling and getting ready to be bagged for the freezer.

I made a big pot of this healthy and delicious sauce this past week, and froze individual servings for Brett and I enjoy for the the next few months. Spaghetti with meat sauce is one of our favorite meals year-round, and while I love a good marinara sauce (especially Rao’s), our family’s favorite recipe for meat sauce is the one below, sent in to Cooking Light magazine several years ago by a reader, Erika Boyer, and then passed on to me by my sister. 

I love this recipe for a variety of reasons:

  • It makes enough for at least two regular size meals for a family, or for a crowd if you’re having a party. Freezing half for another meal saves on cooking time later. For just the two of us, I put 1 1/2 cups of the sauce in ziplock bags for the freezer, and got seven bags from the recipe (plus a container for the refrigerator to enjoy next week).
  • It has lots of vegetables in it! Back when we had a garden and it was bursting with peppers, tomatoes and zucchini, I made up extra batches of this sauce for the freezer, but these days all the ingredients can be affordably purchased locally. The sauce can easily become vegetarian/vegan with a ground beef substitute (I did this a few times and no one noticed). And, one-half cup grated carrot can be substituted for the sugar if you want to add even more vegetables.
  • It’s very low fat. Using ultra-lean ground beef, there are only 4.6 grams of fat per serving. Ground turkey or a meat substitute can also be used instead of beef to lower the fat content even more. My favorite is a 50-50 mix of lean ground beef and ground pork.
  • It tastes really, really good! I know it’s not authentically Italian, but it’s thick, filling, and great over spaghetti, and equally good served with polenta or gnocchi. Our girls loved this sauce (still do), and so did their friends who supposedly hated vegetables.
The various forms of canned tomatoes and jarred roasted red peppers needed. (I forgot to set out the additional 14-oz can of diced tomatoes.)
Diced and grated vegetables for the sauce. I didn’t have a red pepper this time, but all green is fine too.
In a large stockpot, brown the ground meat first, then set aside and wipe out the pot.
Next, saute the vegetables until the onion is translucent and carrots, peppers, and zucchini are soft. The vegetables will give off a lot of moisture, but it will be incorporated into the sauce. I also add 4-5 cloves of minced garlic at this point (we like garlic).
Drain the roasted peppers over the pan then chop the peppers into small pieces before adding to the sauce (a pair of kitchen shears works great for this task).
Finally, add back in the meat, add seasonings and wine, then simmer on low for at least an hour. The sauce will thicken and reduce a bit.
My pot of sauce made enough for eight meals: 7 bags for the freezer, and a container to put in the refrigerator!

MEAT SAUCE FOR PASTA

  • 1 pound ground beef or other lean ground meat
  • cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups diced onion
  • 1 1/2 cups diced green bell pepper
  • 1 cup diced red pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini (about 2 large)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 1/4 cup sugar (can substitute 1/2 cup grated carrot)
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with garlic and basil
  • 1 12-oz can tomato paste
  • 1 7-oz bottle of roasted red bell peppers, undrained
  • 1/2 cup good red wine
  • salt & pepper to taste

In a large Dutch oven or pot, cook the meat over med-high heat until browned and crumbled. Drain meat well and set aside. Wipe out pan and coat with cooking spray. Heat pan and add onions, diced peppers, and garlic, sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add zucchini and sauté an additional 5 minutes. Drain the vegetables and return to pot along with the meat; add oregano and crushed red pepper, if using. Cook the vegetable-meat mixture over med-high heat for another 5 minutes, then add crushed and diced tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar and the water from bottle of roasted pepper. Chop the roasted peppers and add to the pan, along with wine. Add salt & pepper to taste. Bring sauce to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for at least an hour, or until the sauce is thick.

Staying Healthy: Food & Exercise (2/7 – 2/13)

A new habit I’ve acquired over the past year is measuring/weighing everything I eat. It’s been shocking to discover how much I was eating before, and it’s no wonder I struggled with my weight for so long! For example, rather than spoon a heap of rice on my plate or in my bowl, I measure out 1/4 cup – it’s more than enough. A serving of stir fry, like the pork and peppers below, is 1/2 cup . . . and that’s more than enough too. I have a great digital kitchen scale, purchased years ago from Weight Watchers, and it gets pulled out several times a week these days because two to three ounces of meat is more than enough now. My set of Weight Watchers stainless steel measuring ladles (1/4 cup, 1/2 cup, and 1 cup) also get used frequently – those have turned out to be one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. Measuring my servings is a habit I don’t think is going to go away any time soon either – it doesn’t take long, and it makes a BIG difference.

We went Hawaiian for YaYu’s last meal at home – delicious!

Sunday: Loco moco; cucumber; German chocolate cake for dessert

Warm colors on a cold evening.

Monday: Roasted red pepper and tomato soup; toasted cheese sandwich; fresh pineapple; German chocolate cake

This salad has everything: protein, minimal carbs, and lots of fresh vegetables.

Tuesday: Panzanella with beans; German chocolate cake

Cuban bowls with yellow rice, roasted sweet potato, spicy chicken, Cuban black beans, sautéed banana, and salsa.

Wednesday: Cuban bowls; German chocolate cake

A full plate with three ounces of steak, half-cup of stuffing, and green beans.

Thursday: Grilled flank steak; sourdough stuffing; sautéed green beans; German chocolate cake

I typically make this stir fry with red, yellow, and green peppers, but only had green on hand this time.

Friday: Pork & pepper stir fry; steamed rice; peach ice cream & gingersnaps

We had cucumbers instead of coleslaw because I discovered we had more than I thought and they needed be eaten!

Saturday: Leftover steak sandwiches with sautéed onions and cheese; cucumber spears; peach ice cream & gingersnaps

The menu plan for next week, in no particular order:

  • Roast turkey w/cranberry relish; stuffing; vegetable
  • Turkey club sandwiches
  • Hot turkey sandwiches
  • Breakfast for dinner
  • Pepperoni mini pizzas
  • Chicken risotto
  • Broccoli quiche

The views along the beach never disappoint.

While last week’s weather started out chillier than usual, it made for some nice walking, even if I did have to do some of it on my own. By the end of the week temperatures were thankfully back up with lots of sunshine, but the humidity remained low. Last Sunday afternoon YaYu and I took a three-mile walk up on the eastside beach path. We had planned to walk longer but some very big storm clouds began rolling in from the west and we eventually made the call to head back to the car. Still, the temperature and breeze were perfect for walking, the views were gorgeous, and it was the perfect place to walk together one last time. I took Monday off because it rained most of the day, but I was back at the park for 3.5 miles walks on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Brett was out of quarantine on Friday, and we were back to 4.6 mile walks then and Saturday, and yesterday we hiked four miles on the Waiokapua Bay trail for Valentine’s Day. The trail is located on the Barking Sands base, and the loop goes from Major’s Bay beach to base housing and back (we did two loops). It was quite hot out on the trail, but we still got a breeze most of the way, and the views along the way were lovely. It’s beginning to look like Monday is going to be our day off going forward.

After nearly two years and many, many miles my trail shoes need to be replaced, but I am trying to hold out until next month. My first choice for a new shoe is the Hoka One-One walking shoe to see how they work out, and if goes well with them I will get the GoreTex version for our walking tour in Japan in 2022.

These are my first choice for new walking shoes

Home Cooking: Panzanella with Beans

One of Brett and my all-time favorite salads is panzanella, an Italian bread salad. In Italy, the traditional salad uses day-old bread, fresh chopped tomatoes, some herbs and garlic, and then is tossed with olive oil and vinegar. The version we love, from an old Cooking Light magazine recipe, is filled with lots of chopped fresh vegetables, and has added chickpeas and feta cheese to turn it into a stand-alone main dish salad. No cooking is required except for toasting the bread cubes. Meiling once asked me why I toasted the bread if it was just going to get wet from the oil and vinegar; I told her that without toasting the bread would just get soggy and fall apart; the toasting helps the pieces of bread hold their shape in the salad.

Bread cubes ready for toasting
Chopped vegetables ready to be marinated. I’m using garden-ripe grape tomatoes from the farmers’ market because that’s what’s available here.
One rinsed and well-drained can of organic chickpeas
Mix chopped vegetables and chickpeas with dressing and let marinate for one to two hours at room temperature.
Add toasted bread cubes and toss; allow to set for a few minutes so the bread can absorb the dressing and juices from the vegetables. Just before serving gently blend in the crumbled feta cheese, and parsley and basil, if using (we didn’t have basil this time).

This is a very economical salad if you have a garden, but we can buy the ingredients nearly year round at the farmers’ market here. Although the recipe calls for Italian bread, like ciabatta, I use whatever I have on hand (I used Costco artisan rolls for the salad in the pictures, for example). The feta cheese can be omitted to keep the salad vegan. I also like that the vegetables can be chopped and marinated for up to two hours before serving. All that’s left to do then is add the bread cubes and cheese and toss the salad until the bread slightly softens. The recipe can also easily be doubled for a large family or potluck, and soggy bread or not, it makes delicious leftovers.

PANZANELLA WITH BEANS

  • 3 TBSP red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups seeded and chopped tomato (about 1 pound)
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber
  • 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups Italian or sourdough bread, cut into 1/2″ – 1″ cubes; toasted
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese

Combine the vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic in a large bowl. Add the tomatoes,  cucumber, green pepper, onion and garbanzos and toss to coat. Marinate at room temperature for up to 2 hours. Just before serving add the bread, parsley, basil and feta and toss gently to coat, and serve when the bread has softened slightly.

Staying Healthy: Food & Exercise (1/31 – 2/6)

There was lots of prep work and cooking this past week as I made several of YaYu’s favorite dishes before her departure. I am frankly looking forward to cutting back on my time in the kitchen, or at the least not having to make as much food as I have been. Leftovers always got eaten, but we have had to stay on it. 

I have been finding myself craving sweets more than usual this past week and am not sure what’s up with that. It’s been an effort to not go looking for something to snack on and I hope this is only a temporary thing. For so long that one small dessert at night has been enough, but I wanted more this week for some reason (but didn’t give in, thank goodness).

The onions are my favorite part of this adobo dish.

Sunday: InstantPot chicken adobo with bok choy; steamed rice; butter mochi with white chocolate-raspberry ice cream

The recipe made lots of extra sauce this time for some reason – yeah!

Monday: Chili pork burritos; Mexican slaw; butter mochi with white chocolate-raspberry ice cream

(I forgot to take a picture – photo credit: craftlog.com)

Tuesday: Japanese chicken curry with vegetables; German chocolate cake

This quesadilla was very satisfying and a great way to use up leftover chili pork sauce. I added fresh cilantro and chopped green onions inside as well.

Wednesday: Chili pork quesadillas; German chocolate cake

I used Rao’s marinara sauce – it really is the best.

Thursday: Spaghetti w/marinara and grilled Italian sausages; roasted zucchini; German chocolate cake

I substituted mung bean noodles since we’d just had spaghetti the day before.

Friday: Snake Alley noodles; cucumbers; German chocolate cake

Fresh pineapple, honeydew melon, caracara orange, and blueberries in the fruit bowl; peppers, onion, and sausage on the pizza. I had been busy chopping fruit and over-browned the sausage 😦 but it was still good.

Saturday: Sausage & vegetable mini pizzas; fruit salad; German chocolate cake

This coming week’s menu, in no particular order:

  • Loco moco (we had this last night, for YaYu’s final meal here)
  • Panzanella salad with chickpeas and feta cheese
  • Cuban bowls
  • Pork & pepper stir fry
  • Grilled flank steak; stuffing
  • Steak sandwiches with sautéed onions
  • Roasted red pepper and tomato soup with toasted cheese sandwiches

Vegetable sides will be what’s on hand (which is not much right now) and what I can find this week at the farmers’ market. We’ll run out of German chocolate cake mid-week but I’m planning to fix a pan of gingerbread next which we’ll have with Monkeypod Jam lemon curd. 

Heading up the hill to the clubhouse at Kukuiolono, the highest point in the park. The walk up to the clubhouse and back down is 1.6 miles.

With Brett still in quarantine until Thursday, and YaYu leaving today, I’ll be walking on my own for the next few days, and I’m frankly not looking forward to it – I like having company. Hopefully the weather will hold – we got lucky last week and there was no rain in the afternoons so YaYu and I walked every day (we took last Monday off though, and I’m taking today off as well). We didn’t walk as far as Brett and I typically do (3.5 miles versus 4.6) but we still got in a good workout. I’ll be continuing with the 3.5 mile route until Brett joins me again on Friday and then we’ll kick it up again. As much as we have struggled with the cooler weather at home it has made walking easier and more comfortable up at the park.

Master of all he surveys from the commanding heights.

I was finally ready yesterday to kick up my upper body strength training routine as well. This past week I started counting the YouTube instructor’s reps and discovered he was very inconsistent. He would do six reps with one arm, for example, and then 10 with the other arms. Or, 12 reps with one exercise, and 18 with another, and so forth. I have the routine memorized and started doing on my own yesterday with a more consistent 20 reps for each exercise. Progress!

Home Cooking: Guadalajara Swiss chard Quesadillas

Guadalajara quesadillas

These tasty, easy, and tasty quesadillas have become new favorite at Chez Aloha and make a complete vegetarian meal all on their own. I first made them when the girls were young, and although they all like greens their reaction back then was ho-hum. I came across the recipe again a few months ago and decided to give them another try because Swiss chard is almost always plentiful at the farmers’ markets here year round and I’m always looking for ways to use it. This time the reaction from both Brett and YaYu was two thumbs up! 

A quesadilla is basically cheese melted inside either a corn or flour tortilla, with flour the most common choice. The great thing about a quesadilla is that almost anything can be included in one, from vegetables to meat to simply cheese and salsa. The first quesadilla I ever had contained cheese and diced tomatoes between corn tortillas that had been fried. They were very tasty, but very, very oily. Eventually I was introduced to quesadillas using flour tortillas, which had instead been toasted in a hot skillet or on a griddle, and were a popular breakfast entree for our girls, and always on our camping menus. Quesadillas can also be melted in a microwave, but they’re frankly not as good as ones that have been toasted. The original recipe for the Guadalajara quesadillas called for corn tortillas, but I use 12-inch flour tortillas folded over and they work and taste great.

The last time I made these I substituted spinach for the Swiss chard as we found baby spinach for an affordable price at Costco. While we like Swiss chard, spinach provided a milder, but still delicious, taste for the filling. The greens are seasoned with spices and tequila and are definitely not bland!

These quesadillas should be enjoyed hot from the pan, and hot sauce or salsa can either be added to the inside, or on top if desired.

GUADALAJARA QUESADILLAS

  • 2 TBSP vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeño, minced (if you like it less hot, discard the seeds and veins before cutting)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 cup tequila
  • 12 ounces Swiss chard or spinach
  • 8 corn tortillas or 8-inch flour tortillas or 4 12-inch flour tortillas
  • 8 ounces grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • hot sauce or salsa (optional)

If using Swiss chard, cut off of stems; wash and cut into 2-inch ribbons.

Heat oil in a large skillet; add onions and sauté until golden, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, jalapeño, cumin, and oregano and sauté an additional 2 minutes. Pour in tequila and cook until liquid has evaporated.

Add chard or spinach, reduce heat, and cover and steam until wilted, about 5 minutes or so. Remove cover and continue to cook with onion mixture until all liquid has evaporated. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet (non-stick works best) over medium heat. Spread 2-ounces of grated cheese on a tortilla (or half of a 12-inch tortilla), top with 1/4 of spinach mixture, add hot sauce or salsa if desired, top with a second tortilla (or fold over 12-inch one) and place in the hot skillet. Watch carefully and flip the quesadilla as the cheese melts, toasting the tortilla to a nice brown color on each side. Place on a plate and cut into four slices (I use kitchen shears for this task). Serve immediately.

Staying Healthy: Food & Exercise (1/24 – 1/30)

Back before we left on our Big Adventure, before YaYu headed off to school, I told Brett that once she had left the nest I no longer wanted to cook, or at least not cook very much. It wasn’t that I didn’t like cooking or enjoy it, but I was tired and wanted a break. I told him we would be having more sandwich meals, or prepared casseroles, things that wouldn’t require me to spend a lot of time in the kitchen while still allowing us to have healthy meals.

And how has that plan turned out? Well, as you can see from the meals we’ve had below, not very well, at least not while YaYu is home. The girl likes to eat, and, as it has turned out, wants a home-cooked meal at night. I had hoped she would help out more in the kitchen, and she does occasionally, occasionally being the operative word though. For the most part she wants Mom’s home cooking. I’ve indulged her this visit, especially as she doesn’t intend to come for the summer (nothing for her to do here) and we won’t see her again until next winter. It’s meant a higher food bill, and more work for me, but she’ll be heading back to school in another week, and then it will be back to simpler meals, and less time in the kitchen for me.

Breakfast for dinner

Sunday: Breakfast for dinner (scrambled eggs, breakfast sausages, tangerines, and toasted artisan roll); tapioca pudding with gingersnaps for dessert

Guadalajara quesadillas

Monday: Guadalajara quesadillas; tapioca pudding with gingersnaps

Ham, egg, and cucumber provide the salad’s three colors.

Tuesday: Chinese 3-Color salad; tapioca pudding with gingersnaps

We had grilled opah (sunfish) in our tacos.

Wednesday: Grilled fish tacos with cabbage and mango-peach salsa; tapioca pudding with gingersnaps

This is one meal YaYu always cooks for us; she makes it differently every time but it’s always delicious.
Butter mochi and ice cream: a perfect combination

Thursday: Ham fried rice; butter mochi & white chocolate-raspberry ice cream

YaYu’s favorite casserole, but it hasn’t been available at Costco for ages, so she was thrilled to have one before she goes back to school.

Friday: Costco pasta and Italian sausage casserole; sautéed green beans; butter mochi & white chocolate-raspberry ice cream

Classic pepperoni always satisfies.

Saturday: Pepperoni & vegetable mini pizza; butter mochi with white chocolate-raspberry ice cream

Menu plan for next week will include many of YaYu’s favorites:

  • Chili pork burritos
  • Spicy chicken quesadillas
  • Spaghetti with marinara and grilled Italian sausages
  • Chicken adobo with bok choy
  • Noodles with pork sauce
  • Japanese curry with chicken and vegetables
  • Sausage mini pizzas

We eat meat almost every day, but with a few exceptions meat is never the “star” of the meal, and I try to treat it more like a condiment. If a recipe calls for a pound of meat, for example, I will only use a half pound. We eat a lot of vegetables and fruit or incorporate them into our meals, and although we’re eating less carbs overall, our desserts, small but indulgent, provide a daily treat that helps keep Brett and I from turning to other high-carb sweets or snacks. They also give us something to look forward to toward the end of the day. 

Last Wednesday I was cleaning out my photo file and discovered a picture I had taken of myself exactly two months earlier (November 27). As I was coincidentally wearing the same outfit, I took another picture to see if I could see any difference as I weighed seven pounds less than I did in the November photo (on the left). I don’t see any change, but Brett and YaYu both say they definitely do so I’ll go with the majority. Hopefully in another two months or so I will finally be able to see a difference. I definitely look different from how I did when we arrived here last year though – even I can see that (and my baggy, loose pants confirm it). At the end of the day though, my focus is not on how I look – I am never going to be model thin with shapely legs. These days I am walking for endurance, to increase my bone strength, and for the other health benefits, and to get my weight back to where my body feels comfortable. I am average height (65″) but have a small frame, and it’s difficult and painful to carry around too much weight. I have no one but myself to blame for that happening though, but I am able to change things.

All the above being said, this past week was not a great one for walking . . . the weather was very sketchy for most of the week. We took a regular day off on Sunday, and then got rained out on Monday. We walked in fierce winds on Tuesday and Wednesday – there were times we thought we might get blown off the path! Thursday the weather was better, but we had never seen the park so crowded so we didn’t walk as long as usual. Friday would have been perfect except for the strong winds (“it was trying to be hot but the wind wouldn’t let it”), but the sun was out on the Saturday, and the wind had died down to a breeze – it was lovely. We walked through rain showers on a few days, but those thankfully didn’t last long and we barely got wet. Never a dull moment! I will have the totals mileage up for January next week, but I know we walked over 100 miles last month. 

Home Cooking: Tom Collecchio’s One-Pan Pasta

I am a HUGE Tom Colleccio fan. I’ve read his books, I follow him on Twitter, I watch Top Chef whenever I get the chance, and when we were going to visit New York City last year we had plans to have dinner at one of his restaurants, Craft, and also stop at ‘wichcraft, his sandwich shop, for lunch. Chef Colleccio doesn’t just make great food; he is also a strong advocate for the restaurant industry and restaurant workers (he has fought tirelessly for them throughout the pandemic) and is deeply involved with hunger issues, both in New York and nationally.

Chef Colleccio mentioned this recipe on Twitter the other day, so I went to check it out and was excited to see we had everything on hand to make it. Aside from some chopping (the ham and the broccoli), everything was done and ready for the table in less than 20 minutes. We all raved about the results (YaYu had two helpings), and it immediately reached “favorite recipe” status and will be in frequent rotation here.

While the type of pasta was not indicated in the recipe, I used spaghetti because that’s what I had on hand, but I think almost any shape would work. The recipe does note that other vegetables can be substituted for the broccoli, such as frozen peas, asparagus or cauliflower. The half-cup of olive oil called for was too much for me; I used 1/4 cup and it was enough.

TOM COLLECCIO’S ONE POT PASTA

  • 1 pound dry pasta
  • 1 large head broccoli, cut crosswise to make small, irregular pieces
  • 3/4 pound smoked pork loin, smoked ham, or smoked turkey, cut into 1/3″ cubes
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup virgin olive oil (more or less to taste)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Fill a large pot 2/3 full of water; generously add salt to the water and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. About 3 – 4 minutes before the pasta is ready, add the broccoli to the pot and continue to simmer.

Set aside some of the hot pasta water and drain the pasta and broccoli; set it aside for a minute. Return the pot to the stove, add half of the olive oil, and saute the garlic until it begins to brown, then add the meat and heat through.

Add the pasta and broccoli back to the pot and combine with the ham and garlic. Then add the Parmesan cheese and remaining olive oil and toss, then the pasta water, a little at a time, stirring until there is a creamy sauce coating everything.

Season generously with fresh cracked pepper and with more cheese on the side, if desired.

Home Cooking: Paella with Tomatoes

This is my all-time favorite recipe from Mark Bittman, who used to write about food and recipes as The Minimalist for the New York Times. His cookbook, How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Good Food, is still my go-to for classic, basic, easy recipes for everything from appetizers to desserts. This paella recipe was one he posted in The Times though, and works as either a main dish or a side. I often serve it with a salad and some bread, but it’s also great with sausages or anything from the grill.

Until I made this I always thought of paella as a complicated dish filled with a variety of seafoods and/or meats, but as Bittman points out, paella can be as simple as rice and vegetables. This recipe is incredibly easy, incredibly frugal, and mouthwateringly delicious, especially if you love the taste of ripe tomatoes. Although any short grain rice can be used (rice from Spain is recommended though), Bittman rightly says that there can be no compromise with the tomatoes: They must be ripe, fresh-from-the-garden ripe. This is hard to do on Kaua’i as tomatoes are one vegetable that doesn’t grow well here in my opinion. Thankfully we can buy decent vine-ripened tomatoes at Costco, but they still don’t have the flavor of good, late-summer, garden-picked tomatoes.

Besides flavorful tomatoes, two other ingredients are key: Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton) – I cannot imagine this dish without that wonderful, smoky flavor (although the recipe says you can use other paprika if you choose) – and saffron. I’ve made it without saffron, but it’s better with it, in my opinion. Saffron is a taste that some don’t care for though, so that’s why it’s listed as optional, and it’s also expensive, but a little goes a long way, and a small jar lasts a long time.

Finally, I have had trouble at times with the rice not cooking fully, and there is nothing more awful than taking a bite and finding crunchy rice. The solution that works for me is to not put the paella into the oven right away. I don’t start the oven preheating until after I’ve added the broth to the rice, which give the rice some additional soaking time, about 10-15 minutes. Also, make sure the pan used is large enough – I make this in a 3-quart sauté pan and it is full!

PAELLA WITH TOMATOES

  • 3 cups stock or water (I usually use chicken stock)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into thick wedges
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 TBSP minced garlic
  • 1 TBSP tomato paste
  • Large pinch saffron threads (optional)
  • 2 tsp Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton), or other paprika
  • 2 cups Spanish or other short-grain rice (I use arborio)
  • Minced parsley for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 450°. Warm the stock or water in a saucepan over low heat. Put the tomato wedges in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss gently with 1 TBSP of olive oil.

Put the remaining oil in a 10- or 12-inch ovenproof skillet or saute pan. Over medium-high heat, add the onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until they are soft, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, saffron if you’re using it, and paprika and cook for one more minute. Add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is shiny, about another minute or so. (Be careful; it is easy at this point to burn the rice and seasonings). Add the warm stock or water and stir until just combined.

Arrange tomato wedges on top of the rice and drizzle with the juices that accumulated in the bottom of the bowl. Put the pan in the oven and roast, undisturbed, for 15 minutes, then check to see that the rice is dry and fully cooked. If not, cook for an additional 5 minutes. When the rice is ready, turn off the oven and let the pan sit for 5 to 15 minutes (all the extra liquid will be absorbed at this point).

Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with parsley. If you like, you can put the pan over high heat for a few minutes to develop a bit of a crust on the bottom before serving.