Home Cooking: Slow Cooker/InstantPot Pork Chops with Sauerkraut, Bacon, & Apples

Brett and I like sauerkraut, but it was forbidden territory with all four of our children. They would not go near it so it was rarely seen for years.

Charcroute with sausages at the Porcus restaurant in Strasbourg. The restaurant is upstairs; downstair is a full charcuterie with an amazing selection of pork cuts and house-made sausages.

Pork chops with sauerkraut was a dish that always sounded delicious to Brett and me, but something that was never made in our home. During our stay in Strasbourg in 2018, Brett and I made a point of going out for charcroute garnie “dressed sauerkraut,” one of the most classic dishes from the Alsace region of France. While there is no fixed recipe for charcroute, traditionally it’s a big mound of sauerkraut topped with a variety of pork sausages, roasted and salted pork cuts (ham hocks, bacon, salt pork, etc.), and potatoes. We ate our charcroute for lunch, and kept our orders to just a variety of house-made Alsatian sausage; anything more would have been too much. While the sausages we ordered were delicious, the sauerkraut was out of this world, flavorful and crisp without being sour. It was a revelation.

Last fall I bought a jar of sauerkraut from Monkeypod Jam at their going-out-of-business sale, and put it away thinking that Brett and I would enjoy it after YaYu went back to school. However, I found a recipe for slow cooker/InstantPot version of pork chops with sauerkraut with the addition of bacon and apples, and asked YaYu if she would be willing to give it a try. She said that part of being a grown-up eater is that you try everything at least once, and that she was finally ready to try sauerkraut. She ended up having two servings of this recipe because she loved it so much! The sauerkraut was not sour, but mild and flavorful, with boosts of flavor from the smoky bacon, and a bit of sweetness from the carrots and apple. Monkeypod’s sauerkraut also contained caraway seeds, and although the recipe I used doesn’t call for them, they add another great bit of flavor to the dish and are a must-have for us now.

The original recipe also suggests the pork chops and sauerkraut be served with mashed potatoes, which we skipped, but I can imagine that along with a good German sausage or two this could be as close to charcroute garnie as we might get.

Rinsing and draining the sauerkraut is the first step, and the most important. Sauerkraut from a jar versus a can is best in my opinion. Our favorite is Wildbrine Organic – it’s nice and very crisp.

While the sauerkraut is draining, saute the bacon pieces, then add the carrots and onions and continuing cooking until onions are soft. (I was using an InstantPot, and did this part using saute function.)

Cover the sauerkraut mixture with apple slices.

Brown pork chops, and then place on top of the apples (the pork chops can also be browned in the InstantPot).

SLOW COOKER PORK CHOPS WITH SAUERKRAUT, BACON, and APPLES

  • 3-4 boneless pork chops, 3/4″ – 1″ thick
  • 2 TBSP vegetable oil
  • 4 slices bacon, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into small pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 32 ounces of fresh sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
  • 1 TBSP caraway seeds (optional)
  • 1 – 1/2 cup chicken broth (if using an InstantPot; use larger amount for a standard, the smaller amount for a Mini)
  • 2 large apples, cored and quartered (can be peeled if desired as the peels will come off during the cooking)
  • Mashed potatoes (optional)

Pour the sauerkraut into a strainer and rinse well with cool water, then let sit to drain for approximately 15 minutes (this step can be omitted if a stronger sauerkraut flavor is preferred). While the sauerkraut is draining, in a large frying pan, saute the bacon until it releases some fat, then add the carrot pieces and diced onion, and saute until the onion is soft. Add the garlic toward the end so that it doesn’t burn.

Place the sauerkraut in the bottom of the slow cooker, then add the bacon and vegetable mixer, and caraway seeds if using, and combine. Place the apple pieces over the top of the sauerkraut mixture.

Add the oil to a large frying pan, and lightly brown the outside of the pork chops. Place the chops on top of the apples. Cover and slow cook for 6-8 hours on low.

Serve with mashed potatoes, if desired.

If using an InstantPot, add the oil to the pot, and using the Saute function, lightly brown the pork chops on each side. Set aside. Continuing with the Saute function, cook the bacon, carrot pieces, onion, and garlic. Turn off Saute, mix in the drained sauerkraut (and caraway seeds, if using), top with apples, and place pork chops on top. Pour the chicken broth over the top.

Lock the lid, close the vent, and pressure cook on High for 15 minutes – anything shorter will make for some tough pork. If fall-apart tender pork is desired, set for 20 minutes. Natural release for 10 minutes, then quick release the remaining steam.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (5/2 – 5/8)

This past week here could have been called “Leftover Overload.” Other than the mini pizzas, every dinner I fixed created leftovers, and we ended up with way more than usual. The tikka masala leftovers were frozen, but otherwise it took some creative effort on both Brett’s and my part to make sure everything got finished. An entire Costco bag of avocados ripening at the same time as well (7 of them!) didn’t help either. They usually ripen a day or two apart, but not this time! It would have made sense for us to eat leftovers one evening for our dinner, and we will be doing that in the future if we ever get in this same situation again, but in the end we did get through everything, and by the end of the week things had returned to a normal level, and the refrigerator once again had some wiggle room.

The biggest challenge for me with so many leftovers was making sure I did not go overboard on calories, something that’s easy to do. Portion sizes sometimes had to be cut back to balance everything each day. I’ve been doing a daily calorie intake count for almost a year now, and while some of it is now second nature, it still can be easy to overdo it, even with something as simple as having one extra breakfast sausage or grabbing a few peanuts for a quick snack. After years of experience trying every other diet and food plan, I am a firm believer in the “calories in<energy out” school of weight loss and maintenance, at least for me. Although I don’t restrict any foods, the only way I lose weight and maintain it is to track my calories and get enough exercise. The minute I let up and get lazy, back comes the excess weight. Counting calories is often pain to do, but it’s become a habit now and I intend to stick with it.

The photos of our dinners always look like we’re eating large portions, to me anyway, but they’re really not and all under 400 calories. For example, that’s only a half-cup of tikka masala and a quarter cup of rice. There’s only half of an Italian sausage in the sandwich, a half cup of pasta with a quarter cup of sauce, a cup of fried rice, three-quarters cup risotto, and so forth. Brett’s servings are a little larger, but not much. We’re mostly satisfied with smaller portions these days, and hope getting the set will keep us from gaining once again when we start traveling.

Sunday: Italian sausage sandwiches with sautéed peppers and onions

Monday: Chicken tikka masala; steamed jasmine rice honeydew melon

Tuesday: Pasta with marinara sauce; Italian sausages; roasted zucchini

Wednesday: Ham fried rice

Thursday: Sausage & pepper mini pizza

Friday: Pork chops with sauerkraut, apples, & bacon; green beans

Saturday: Chicken-rosemary risotto; steamed artichoke

Below is what’s on the menu for dinner next week. Brett made the tortellini for my Mother’s Day dinner last night and served it along with our last artichoke.

  • Cheese tortellini with marinara
  • Grilled fish tacos
  • Stuffed peppers
  • Grilled Polish sausages with sauerkraut
  • Mini pizzas
  • Mystery meal (a frozen container of some leftover is sitting in our freezer, and we can’t remember what it is)
  • Slow cooker chicken adobo with bok choy

Our dessert all this week will be lemon cake with lemon buttercream.

We had an okay week for exercise. We took a planned day off on Sunday, and then it rained all day Wednesday to keep us at home. On Thursday we only got in two Pavilion laps (1.6 miles) before the rain came rolling in and sent us home. Otherwise, we walked over four miles each day, and got a turn out on the golf course perimeter on Saturday. Every time we start out to do this, a woman yells at us from the clubhouse, “there are still golfers on the course!” We check the course very carefully as we walk up to the clubhouse because we only walk the perimeter of the course around holes 1-4. On Saturday, the only golfers still playing that afternoon were on holes 7 and above. Plus, even though it was well past the last tee time, we checked with the guy who takes care of the golf carts and asked when the last person had tee’d off (an hour earlier!). He told us to go on. It’s frustrating though to have this woman always trying to stop us, and even more frustrating to then see other walkers strolling across the course with their kids and dogs while we’re so careful to stick to the edge. I told Brett I think she just doesn’t recognize or remember us and thinks each time that we’re tourists, rather than locals who have been walking up at the park for over a year.

However, a couple of unplanned events this week brought about some positive changes. First, I randomly changed the type of OTC pain relief I’ve been taking from ibuprofen to naproxen one day and that brought about a noticeable difference in pain relief. Second, a consistent part of our walks at the park has been climbing the hill up to the clubhouse and then back down to walk the Pavilion loop. The climb up and down is 1.6 miles, as measured by GPS. This past Tuesday, because of the weather, we skipped the hill climb and instead walked four Pavilion loops. The loops are flat, with two loops equaling the hill climb. I had absolutely no hip pain during or after that walk. Hmmm. We tried another couple of days of skipping the hill climb with the same result, so climbing up and down seems to be part of what’s been causing the pain in my hips to flare. Actually, we climbed up the hill on Saturday and that didn’t cause any pain either, so maybe it’s downhill that causes the problem? I don’t want to give up walking the hill completely as it’s a good workout, but we’ve decided not to make it an everyday part of our walks, and do more Pavilion loops and golf course walking for the time being.

Home Cooking: Perfect Pancakes

In his magnificent cookbook How To Cook Everything, Mark Bittman writes that “Americans must have been sadly alienated from the kitchen for pancake mixes to ever have gained a foothold in the market, for these are ridiculously easy to make.”

Ridiculously easy is an understatement when it comes to making his Basic Pancake recipe because the batter for these pancakes can be ready before the pan gets hot. It takes only a very few minutes to pull the batter together, and the pancakes that result are light and fluffy. Although I think the Tip Top Cafe’s pancakes are the best I’ve ever had, these easy ones are a close second, and I think with a few tweaks I may be able to get even closer.

Blueberry pancakes coming up!

In How To Cook Everything, Bittman gives several ideas for variations: Regular milk can be replaced with buttermilk, or partially with yogurt or sour cream. The pancakes are a great way to use up milk that’s soured or going sour. Fruits such blueberry, banana, or apple pieces can be added to the batter as well. I’ve been known to replace a little of the milk with orange juice and add some grated orange peel, or add pumpkin puree for some of the liquid. Buckwheat flour can be substituted for some of the all-purpose flour, and we’ve also made these using 100% whole wheat pastry flour with great success. Finally, the batter can also be made ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator for several days, until ready to use.

Whether sticking to the recipe or dressing them up a bit, these really are perfect pancakes, and perfectly easy too.

Blueberry pancakes with a little lilikoi curd: perfection!

BASIC PANCAKES

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 TBSP baking powder (I often add 2 TBSP to make very fluffy pancakes)

1/2 tsp salt

1 TBSP sugar

2 eggs (we use 2)

1 1/2  to 2 cups milk

2 TBSP melted and cooled butter (or vegetable oil)

Preheat a griddle or large skillet over medium-low heat while you make the batter. Mix together the dry ingredients. Beat the eggs into the milk, then stir in the melted butter or oil. Whisk this into the dry ingredients, mixing only enough to moisten the flour (don’t worry about a few lumps). If the batter seems too thick, thin with a little milk.

Dry edges and lots of bubbles mean this pancake is ready to flip
The pancakes rise up nice and fluffy after they’re flipped

If your skillet or griddle is non-stick, cook pancakes without any additional oil. Otherwise use a teaspoon or so every time you add batter. Pour the pancake batter onto the hot surface; when the edge of the pancake looks dry and bubbles appear all over the top, turn the pancake. The bottom should cook in 2 -4 minutes, or when lightly browned. Turn and cook until the bottom is browned as well and serve hot. If necessary, the pancakes can be held in a 200° oven for up to 15 minutes.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (4/25-5/2)

Brewing mugicha in a half-gallon jar.

The arrival of warmer weather means it’s time again to start brewing mugicha, or roasted barley tea (麦mugi = barley, 茶cha = tea). Last year I ran out of the tea bags we had brought with us from Japan, and when I asked our daughter-in-law if she would send me some more she sent packages enough to keep me in mugicha until we leave in 2023! I brew a half gallon every other day, and have been enjoying two big glassfuls every day.

So refreshing!

I first tasted mugicha when I was 18, and thought it was absolutely awful (I actually gagged). How could anyone drink, let alone enjoy, this bitter beverage? Although it’s definitely an acquired taste for Western palates, over the years I have come to enjoy and appreciate how refreshing mugicha is, and it’s now my favorite hot weather beverage, much more than iced tea which I also love. Besides refreshment, mugicha has many beneficial properties, including being rich in minerals and antioxidants, and it’s a natural source of melatonin, benefitting sleep (it’s also naturally caffeine free). It is also believed to improve blood circulation and help prevent cancer among other healthful properties.

A 22-oz bottle of the most popular commercial mugicha costs around 50 cents in Japan. It’s the one place I don’t mind buying a plastic bottle as I know it will be recycled.

We had some great meals last week, helped by our big shopping trip last week and picking up a couple of things at the farmers market. Artichokes take me to a happy place and they were a good deal at Costco with four giant globe artichokes for only $6.99. They’re each big enough that one is almost too much for both Brett and me to finish. Steamed is my favorite way to enjoy an artichoke along with some sort of dipping sauce, preferably with lemon in it.

Sunday: Grilled ham & cheese sandwiches; roasted red pepper & tomato soup

Monday: Pasta with Thai peanut sauce; spicy coleslaw

Tuesday: Breakfast for dinner (bacon and scrambled eggs with green onions); steamed artichoke

Wednesday: CookDo mabo nasu; steamed rice; cucumber spears

Thursday: Grilled chicken & apple sausages; sautéed green beans; artichoke

Friday: Thai chicken mini pizzas

Saturday: Pork & rice burritos; honeydew melon

We repeated last week’s Thai chicken pizzas as there was spicy peanut sauce to be used up (and they’re delicious!), and the planned chicken tikka masala was bumped to this week after we bought some beautiful eggplant at the farm stand and used it for mabo nasu. Here’s what’s planned for next week’s dinners:

  • Italian sausage sandwiches with peppers and onions
  • Chicken-rosemary risotto
  • Chicken tikka masala (bumped from last week)
  • InstantPot pork chops with sauerkraut and apples
  • Mini pizzas
  • Pasta with marinara and Italian sausages
  • Ham fried rice

Out and about in the park last Thursday. I always get a kick out of seeing what appears to be a schefflera tree growing out of the palm tree.

Walking was somewhat hit or miss this week, because the weather was so unreliable. Last Sunday was beautiful, so we decided to take advantage of it instead of taking a day off like we usually do. Monday we stayed home because of rain, and the only walking we did was the over two miles we accomplished during our trips to Costco and Walmart. Wednesday brought more bad weather, but then Thursday and Friday were gorgeous, with blue skies and cool breezes, and we got in two days of walking over five miles. Saturday we went to the beach for the afternoon instead of walking, and then stayed home on Sunday to get our regular day off and a no-drive day. This coming week doesn’t look much better as far as weather is concerned, but I always make my daily eating plan and calorie allotment based on not getting to walk

My hips have been bothering me lately, more consistently than in the past. There’s nothing excruciatingly painful going on, but I have become aware of a dull ache that’s there more often than it’s not. I don’t think it’s arthritis (I hope it’s not arthritis!) as the ache is more on the outer side of my hips, and believe it’s more related to my bursitis. But who knows? The interesting thing for me is that I usually don’t feel any pain when I’m walking, or at least not until the end of the walk, but more when I’m not walking. For now, over-the-counter pain medication helps, but I guess it’s something I need to ask my doctor about next time I see him. I may also check with our upstairs neighbor, a semi-retired orthopedic surgeon, and see what he has to say. Maybe it’s time to mix things up a bit when it comes to exercise?

Home Cooking: Individual Mini Pizzas

Once a week our dinner is mini pizzas, one each. They’re easy to make, taste delicious, never top 300 calories, and best of all, often use up leftovers and other odds and ends out of the fridge. We love traditional pizza (it’s my all-time favorite food), but enjoying a mini-pizza once a week allows us to indulge without overeating or overspending.

What goes on our pizzas each week is only limited by our imaginations and what we have on hand. I often start at the beginning of the week thinking, “well, maybe we’ll just have cheese pizzas this week,” but by the end of the week I’ve almost always figured out other things that can be added to create something tasty.

Every pizza starts with a Stonefire mini naan bread (Indian flatbread) for the crust. They work well as because they can safely hold the toppings and the edges and bottoms crisp up nicely but still have= a nicely chewy middle. The size is perfect for one person. We buy the mini naan breads at Costco, but I’ve seen them in stores everywhere.

In my opinion, there are no limits when it comes to creating a pizza – all it take is imagination. We love a pepperoni pizza as much as the next person, but we also love to experiment and cheeseburger ingredients, pesto & feta, barbecue chicken, or seafood are equally as good as any of the traditional standards. I like that with mini pizzas they can be custom made for each diner.

Below are some of the sauces and toppings we’ve used over the years:

Sauces:

  • Traditional pizza sauce or tomato sauce
  • Pesto
  • Alfredo sauce
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Salsa
  • Enchilada sauce
  • Spicy peanut sauce
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Steak sauce

Toppings:

  • Leftover meat, including grilled or roasted chicken; steak; pork chops; ground beef, pork, or lamb; or grilled fish or shrimp.
  • Any kind of sausage, from chicken to breakfast to Italian
  • Pepperoni (of course!) or salami
  • Bacon or ham
  • Roasted vegetables of any kind
  • Fresh vegetables of any kind, diced or very thinly sliced
  • Dill pickles
  • Chopped herbs

Cheeses:

  • Mozzarella, either shredded or fresh
  • Marinated mozzarella balls
  • Shredded cheddar or smoked gouda
  • Feta crumbles
  • Brie
  • Blue cheese

To create a pizzas, we let our imagination soar! Each pizza starts with a thin layer of sauce on the naan bread, layer on the toppings, and finish with some cheese in combinations that works for us. I’m careful about not going overboard on the sauce which only results in soggy pizza, cutting the toppings into small pieces or slicing them thinly. Finally, the pizzas are topped with cheese, placed on a baking pan, and baked in a preheated 425 degree oven. I know they’re done when the cheese is melted nicely and the edge of the naan bread is browned and crisp. The pizzas are cooled for at least two minutes before we eat them so we don’t burn our mouths.

Putting together some Thai chicken pizzas: 1) spread about 1 TBSP spicy peanut sauce on each naan bread; 2) top with some shredded carrot, diced onion, and diced cooked chicken; 3) then add some chopped peanuts and coarsely chopped cilantro; 4) and finally sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of grated mozzarella cheese. Bake at 425 degrees until the cheese is melted and the outer rim of the naan bread is browned and crisp.

Below are a couple of other favorites – I love when I have everything on hand to make them:

  • Barbecue chicken: Barbecue sauce; shredded barbecue chicken; diced red onion; chopped cilantro; shredded smoked gouda cheese
  • Cheeseburger: Traditional pizza sauce; cooked, crumbled ground beef; diced tomatoes; diced dill pickle; diced red onion; shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (4/18-4/24)

Do you consider yourself a creative cook or someone who cooks “by the book;” that is, follows recipes to the letter? I think I’m probably more of the latter, although I do like to change things now and again to suit our tastes. I am always searching out new recipes, and love coming across ones that fit the way we like to eat, with lots of flavor, low or healthy fats, and not too difficult to prepare. I don’t mind spending time in the kitchen, but I don’t want to be in there for hours. I will try a new recipe once, and if we like the result we’ll stick with it. If not, it’s either set aside or I get creative and figure out a way to make a recipe fit our preferences.

A big issue for me these days is whether a recipe requires special, and often expensive, ingredients. This past week I came across a yummy recipe from Padma Lakshmi for a carrot, chili, and cilantro salad that I knew we would love, but the dressing contains two ingredients that would have to be special ordered: orange oil and za’atar, a middle-eastern spice. According to Padma, the orange oil could be eliminated (as there’s only 1/4 teaspoon in the recipe), but it “really made the dish” and a small bottle of the oil “would last us for five years.” The za’atar, however, was non-negotiable. This is my dilemma: should I buy the semi-expensive ingredients and hope we like the salad enough to use them more than once, or do I let the recipe go. In the past I wouldn’t have hesitated to buy the oil and the za’atar, but when we left Kaua’i in 2108 I remember being troubled by all the spices and ingredients in our cupboards that I had bought and used only once or twice. I’m really torn though as this salad sounds amazing.

Our dinners this past week don’t look all that imaginative to me, but they did use what we had on hand and what we bought on our shopping trip this past week, and all of them fit our brief for a healthy meal. Coming up with the ideas for the coming week was difficult though as we’re not shopping until Friday. I had a lot of ideas for meals, but then realized nothing I needed was on hand. Anyway, below is what we ate for dinner last week:

Sunday: Ham; roasted butternut squash; green beans

Monday: Grilled teriyaki chicken; zoru soba; coleslaw with wasabi dressing

Tuesday: Pepperjack cheeseburgers; three bean salad

Wednesday: Meatloaf; mashed potatoes; green beans

Thursday: Stir-fried vegetables with coconut curry sauce; grilled chicken; steamed rice

Friday: Thai chicken mini pizzas

Saturday: Meatloaf & mashed potatoes redux; roasted zucchini

Here’s what’s planned for dinner next week:

  • Grilled ham & cheese sandwiches with roasted red pepper & tomato soup (bumped from last week)
  • Chicken & apple sausages with green beans
  • Pork & rice burritos
  • Noodles with Thai peanut sauce
  • Chicken tikka masala
  • Mini pizzas
  • Breakfast for dinner (sausage & eggs)

Last week we had two chances for taking our walks in other locations besides the park. Monday’s weather was glorious, so we packed a picnic and drove over to Barking Sands (PMRF) base to not only spend some time at the beach, but also walk the Waiokapua Trail. The trail is one mile each way out and back, and we planned to walk it twice (four miles total) before eating our lunch and then heading onto the beach.

The views were lovely out on the trail, but Brett and I were not as well prepared as we should have been for the intensity of the sun once we got out there (there’s very little shade on the trail). I became overheated on the way back, and even though I was drinking water the whole time I started to get dehydrated, and was dizzy and weak by the time we returned to the starting point. Both Brett and I were also sunburned although we had applied sunscreen before starting out, so we made a command decision to skip the second round, and instead sat in one of the shaded huts to eat our lunch and recover, and then headed down to the beach to sit under our umbrella and enjoy the cooler breezes there. We still got in a good two mile hike, and relearned some lessons about walking in direct sunshine on a hot day, and how much water that requires.

I had a hair appointment up in Kapaa on Wednesday afternoon, so following Brett’s birthday breakfast at the Tip Top Cafe in Lihue we drove up to Kapaa to get in a couple of miles on the beach path before heading to the salon. The weather as we headed out was lovely, with blue skies and a cool breeze. However, by the time we reached our turnaround point, clouds had rolled in bringing some oppressive humidity along with them (rain had been forecast). We were able to climb down to the water at the turnaround to check out the driftwood and look at some weird lava formations, one which looked like a giant animal’s footprint. The walk back to our car was miserable, hot and humid, and I arrived at my appointment a dripping, sweaty mess. Yuck.

Other than Tuesday, we spent the rest of the week walking up at the park, averaging over four miles each day. It rained all day Tuesday but we got in over two miles pushing carts through Costco and Walmart.

I may have shown up at the salon looking like a hot mess last Wednesday, but my stylist made my day when she told me, “I honestly did not recognize you when you walked in because you look so different now, even from when you were here seven weeks ago.” According to the scale I haven’t lost any weight for ages – I’ve stayed within the same half-pound range – but things are continuing to change as I build muscle and lose fat. I think the best side effect I’ve experienced from my weight lost and walking is that I sleep so soundly these days. Brett used to always wake up before me, but I’m now getting up before him a few days every week, feeling rested and ready to go. I can’t remember the last time I’ve woken up in the middle of the night, or had a round of insomnia. Sleeping well is so important, and this is a welcome side effect from our walks.

Home Cooking: Hot Milk Cake

I love, love, love recipes that don’t require me to buy special or extra ingredients, ones that allow me to use only pantry stapes in order to create something delicious.

Although the recipe was created earlier, the modest hot milk cake became a popular recipe during the depression, where people stretched what they had to create meals and treats for special occasions. The recipe contains just eight basic ingredients, all of them things most people kept (and still keep) regularly in their pantries; used up the last of milk that might go bad or milk that was beginning to sour so that nothing was wasted.

There are also loads of ways to vary the cake as well. The recipe is great for baking over pineapple slices or canned apricot halves for an upside down cake. A quarter cup of cocoa power can be added to the scalded milk for a chocolate cake. Almond, orange, or lemon extracts can be substituted for the vanilla to change the flavor, with toasted almonds sprinkled on top with almond extract, and orange or lemon zest added to the batter for additional flavor.

The traditional (and frugal) topping for a hot milk cake is powdered sugar, but it can also be frosted or glazed. The amount of sugar added to the cake can be reduced as much as half if you plan to add frosting so the cake isn’t overly sweet. The batter can be baked in a Bundt, loaf, 9″ x 13″ pan depending on your mood or what you have.

No matter how you choose to make a hot milk cake, it’s practically foolproof. When I baked my cake I had less than the full amount of flour called for (I was missing about three tablespoons), and my milk boiled over as well because I wasn’t paying close enough attention so that was a little short as well. In spite of these errors, the cake still came out perfectly light and fluffy. Also, I’ve seen recipes calling for just one teaspoon of vanilla, but I highly recommend adding two – you won’t regret it!

HOT MILK CAKE

  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup milk (whole milk is best)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs on medium speed for at least two minutes, until they are pale yellow and frothy. Gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla.

Mix the flour mixture into the eggs and beat until smooth.

Place the milk in a small saucepan. Cut the butter into large pieces and add to the milk, then warm over medium heat until the milk just boils (watch the milk carefully so it doesn’t boil over).

Blend the hot milk and melted butter into the egg and flour mixture, then pour the batter into a well-buttered pan (it will be thin). Bake for 25-30 minutes in a 9×13 pan, 40 minutes in a Bundt pan.

Let a 9″ x 13″ cake cool in the pan; with a Bundt pan cool for 15 minutes then invert on to a plate. When the cake is completely cooled, dust with powdered sugar (or frost or glaze).

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (4/11-4/17)

While I think we eat a good variety of dishes at lunch at dinner, I feel like I’m in a real rut these days when it comes to breakfast. I pretty much stick to four breakfast meals: yogurt with either blueberries or fresh papaya and a sprinkle of locally-made granola; avocado toast, often with a poached egg; pancakes with jam or lilikoi curd; or a poached egg on toast, maybe with a slice of bacon or a breakfast sausage. Occasionally I’ll eat leftovers (I ate chicken soup for breakfast one day this past week), but those are usually saved for lunch. I like all of my standard breakfasts, they’re all filling, but lately I’ve been craving something different and new.

I’d love to hear what you eat for breakfast and need some new ideas! Carbohydrates are OK, including fruit, but I do require some protein. If not, I seem to get hungry in a couple of hours and then have a long wait until lunch (pancakes are filling though). I have time to cook in the mornings, but don’t want to make a lot because Brett typically wants oatmeal for his breakfast. Calories do count, but nothing is off the table as for what can be eaten for breakfast as far as I’m concerned.

Here’s what we ate for dinner this past week:

Sunday: Chicken & vegetable soup with rice

Monday: Egg roll in a bowl

Tuesday: Barbecue pulled pork mini pizzas with red pepper and onions

Wednesday: Zucchini frittata and chicken & apple sausages

Thursday: Mississippi pot roast, mashed potatoes, and broccoli

Friday: Spaghetti with meat sauce; green beans

Saturday: French dip sandwiches; 3-bean salad

Our dessert all last week was devil’s food cake with orange buttercream frosting, but I’ve made a hot milk cake that we’ll start tonight.

Here’s next week’s menu plan:

  • Ham with roasted butternut squash
  • Meatloaf and mashed potatoes (2 nights)
  • Mini pizzas
  • Grilled teriyaki chicken with zaru soba
  • Cheeseburgers
  • Grilled ham & cheese sandwiches with roasted red pepper & tomato soup
When we walk the golf course perimeter we have to climb down in and then back out of this hole that we call “The Crater.” The walls are quite steep but it fortunately doesn’t take too long.

Brett is back up to full speed and it was great to be walking together once again this past week. The good weather at the beginning of the week made for some great walking, and for two days in a row we were able to walk the golf course perimeter. We tried for a third day, but were stopped because the manager had let an older, slower couple tee off after closing time. We got rained out after a couple of laps on Thursday, and skipped Friday because of sketchy weather, but Saturday was lovely. We’re looking forward to walking on the eastside beach path this week and maybe on the path at Barking Sands as well.

Built in 1924, the Pavilion sits at end of elevated point in the park. We walk out and around the Pavilion at least twice every day (one trip around and back is .8 miles). There’s almost always something going on there on the weekends: weddings, birthday parties, showers, or other celebrations.
The view from the Pavilion.

Although walking this past year has provided mostly benefits, there have been some negatives, although those have diminished since I got my new shoes. Over the past year I’ve built up new calluses, bruised one of my big toes, and developed more than a few blisters. Leukotape has become my very good friend! My feet are in much better shape than they were before the bunion surgeries I had done in 2013 (and I doubt I would be able to walk as much if I hadn’t had the surgeries done), but I’m long overdue for a good pedicure. I haven’t had one in over a year, although I have done the best I could on my own to keep my feet in good shape. One additional benefit I never saw coming from all the walking has been the improved circulation in my legs, and residual swelling left over from a fall in Auckland in February of 2019 has almost completely disappeared.

I can’t remember the last time I lost any weight, but I’m not gaining either so I am just going to hang in there. One of these days I’ll get those last six pounds off!

Home Cooking: California Roll Salad

This is possibly my favorite main dish salad because it’s so easy to make and contains some of my favorite flavors. The salad can be made in a couple of different ways as well, from composed on a plate to mixed together just before serving, and crisp lettuce can be added as well if desired. The salad is perfect for any time of the year, but on a hot summer’s day it requires no cooking other than making the rice early in the day.

Besides the dressing, there are only four main ingredients: rice, avocado, cucumber, and surumi, or imitation crab, made from pollock. I was first introduced to surumi in 1980, on our first navy tour in Japan. A friend served it in stick form and I was surprised to learn it wasn’t actual crab because it certainly tasted authentic. These days surumi can be found in either stick form or flaked, which is preferred for this salad.

The original dressing recipe calls for two teaspoons of wasabi powder . . . or to taste. I can assure you that two teaspoons of wasabi will painfully clear your sinuses and make you cry for a while! Wasabi powder is easier to mix into the dressing, but its pungency does not last as long in my opinion. I typically use around a half teaspoon of wasabi paste and it provides enough spice without overwhelming the salad. Interestingly, neither the powder nor the paste is made from actual wasabi, but instead contain horseradish and other ingredients (including green food coloring) to mimic the taste and look of grated wasabi root. A true story: the first time I ever ate wasabi I thought it was avocado, and put nearly teaspoonful in my mouth at once. I choked, cried, thought about dying for a moment, and there may have been actual steam coming out of my ears for a while.

The slivers of nori (seaweed) on top of the salad can be made using a package of roasted seaweed snack. In Japan, shredded nori (kizami nori) is easy to find, but here I use a few sheets from the seaweed snack, cut them in half lengthwise, and then snip them into shreds over the salad right before serving. Any remaining nori can go into an airtight container and be kept for future use (or eaten as a snack!).

The rice should be made a few hours before serving so that it can cool to room temperature before making the salad. It’s okay for it to be sticky because the addition of the dressing later will separate the grains.

To put the salad together, first make the dressing. Whisk the wasabi into the mayonnaise first, then incorporate the soy sauce and other ingredients, continuing to use a whisk so that everything is blended smoothly.

Seed and cut the cucumber into small 1-inch pieces.

Peel and cut two ripe avocados (or one large one) into similar sized pieces.

Remove the flaked surumi from the package and break into pieces.

For a composed salad, place anywhere from 1/2 to one cup of rice into the middle of individual plate or salad bowls. Arrange the surumi, avocado, and cucumber around and over the rice. Add two tablespoons of dressing over the salad, then top with some shredded nori. The rice and other ingredients can also be placed on top of shredded lettuce if desired.

The salad can also be served by gently mixing together the rice, surumi, cucumber, and avocado (and chopped lettuce, if desired) in a large bowl, and then adding and mixing in the dressing. The dressing will break apart any lumps of sticky rice. Top the salad with shredded nori and serve immediately.

CALFORNIA ROLL SALAD

Dressing:

  • 1/2 tsp wasabi paste (or to taste)
  • 1 TBSP mayonnaise
  • 1 TBSP soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 TBSP sugar
  • 1 tsp dark sesame oil

2 cups cooked rice, at room temperature

2 ripe avocados, cut into 1″ pieces.

2 cups flaked-style imitation crab meat (surumi), separated into pieces

1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1″ pieces

4 pieces of snack-size nori (can use more if desired)

Lettuce (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk the wasabi paste into the mayonnaise, then whisk in the soy sauce and rice vinegar until well blended, then stir in the sugar and sesame oil. Set aside.

Place 1/2 -1 cup of the cooked rice in salad bowls or on individual salad plates, on top of lettuce if using. Arrange cucumber pieces, avocado pieces, and imitation crab meat over the rice. Pour at least 2 tablespoons of the dressing over the top of the salad. Cut 2 sheet of the nori in half lengthwise, put one half on top of the other and then snip into small shreds on top of each salad. Serve immediately.

The salad can be premixed before serving. Place cooked rice into a large bowl, add dressing, then gently mix in the cucumber, avocado, and imitation crab (crisp lettuce can be mixed in as well). Top the salad with nori pieces right before serving.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (4/4 – 4/10)

If you eat a croissant or pastry for breakfast every morning it doesn’t matter how much you walk: you will gain weight.

I read this somewhere before we visited France in September of 2018. It was written with tongue in cheek, but turned out to be more than prescient, and in retrospect the author should have also mentioned that it would apply equally to eating two scoops of yummy gelato every day in Italy, pastel de nata (egg tarts) in Portugal; TimTams of every flavor in Australia and New Zealand, KitKats and other treats in Japan, scones with clotted cream and jam (or ginger nuts and shortbread) in the UK, and so on. Brett and I walked miles every day during our travels but really didn’t give a thought to what we were eating or how much, and we both ended up gaining A LOT of weight. Getting rid of that extra weight has been our main effort this past year and we still have more to go.

Portion control is king here these days. Everything we eat these days gets measured, from rice to pasta to sauces, dressings, pot roast, sausages, or a piece of cake for dessert. The food scale, Weight Watchers ladles, and measuring cups and spoons are used every day. The only things that aren’t measured are vegetables. I’ve been recording and tracking my meals and snacks for nearly a year usingMyFitnessPal, which has the most extensive food lists I can find, and it was initially shocking to see how much I had been overeating before. Brett doesn’t track his food, but has me monitor his portion sizes most of the time. He is also eating far, far less these days.

There is no food off the table for us, but if we want to have something it has to fit into our daily calorie allotment. Although the photos below might make it look like our portions are large, they’ve all been carefully measured and weighed and are probably smaller than imagined. We love having dessert each evening, but these days that means a tiny two-inch square piece of cake versus the bigger pieces we used to serve ourselves, or just 1/2 cup of ice cream instead of a big bowl. For a while we were enjoying a gin & tonic four nights a week until we decided we’d rather apply the calories to something more nutritious, so these days we’re back to drinks on Friday and Saturday evenings only. There are no more assumptions or guessing, and there’s no more mindless eating either – we know each day what we’ll be having on the next so that we’re not tempted to overdo it.

I’ve lost over thirty pounds over the last year and Brett’s lost over eighteen. We were both miserable carrying around the extra pounds, and have accepted that to remain healthy going forward, even as we travel, we need to stay vigilant, not just about what we eat but especially of how much. We don’t want to go back down the path we were on before, so while we’ll continue to allow ourselves to eat everything and anything, moderation will remain our guiding force.

Here’s what we ate for dinner this past week:

Sunday: Turkey club sandwiches with avocado

Monday: Spinach quiche with chèvre and gruyere; roasted zucchini

Tuesday: Guadalajara quesadillas made with spinach

Wednesday: Zaru soba with dipping sauce; hayayako (chilled tofu); cucumber spears

Thursday: Barbecue turkey & bacon mini pizzas

Friday: California roll salad

Saturday: Barbecue pulled pork sandwiches; coleslaw

Desserts this past week were tapioca pudding for three days followed by devil’s food cake with orange buttercream. The cake will be our dessert all next week as well which makes me happy because the combination of chocolate and orange is so good.

Here’s the plan for dinners next week (in no particular order):

  • Chicken and vegetable soup
  • Mississippi pot roast
  • French dip sandwiches
  • Spaghetti with meat sauce
  • Zucchini frittata
  • Mini pizzas
  • Egg roll in a bowl

xxx

Perched on top of a hill, Kukuiolono Park provides lots of beautiful views, but this one looking east to Hau’upa and down at Poipu and Koloa is always my favorite.

Somewhat surprisingly, it turned out to be a good week for walking even if the weather has sketchy at times. We both walked last Sunday, and then took Monday off (surgery day). I walked on my own on Tuesday and Wednesday (3.5 miles each day), and Brett felt good enough to walk again beginning Thursday, albeit at a slower pace, so we walked separately that day and on Friday, with him getting in a little over two miles, while I continued to do 3.5 miles. On Saturday we walked together for most of the time, but I ended up doing an extra lap while he rested in the car. We enjoyed absolutely gorgeous weather on Thursday and Friday, with lovely breezes to keep things cool. However, we were able to imagine those days how it’s going to feel again in the coming months when the breezes die down and the heat and humidity crank back up again. We’re already thinking we’ll start later in the afternoon than we are now when that happens, hopefully because temperatures will be coming down as the evening sets in, but also because we can walk out on the golf course more often. The last time to tee off is 4:30 p.m. and by 5:30 most are done or on their last holes, and where we like to walk is near the first four holes.

Brett rested in the park’s Japanese garden while I walked this past week.

We’re coming on a year of walking at Kukuiolono Golf Course and Park. I distinctly remember the first day we went there, and climbing the hill up to the clubhouse as I thought I was going to pass out, but these days I can climb that hill easily and even do it twice in a row without breathing hard. We are still discovering new walking routes there, and love that all it takes is changing up the order of the sections we walk to make our walks fresh again. We have become friends with other walkers there and often stop to chat and catch up with each other. We feel very blessed to have found the park for a walking venue – it has yet to get boring.