Corned Beef Hash

corned beef hash | © karacooks.com

So I used to think that I didn’t like corned beef. I suspect that’s because my biggest exposure to it had been the canned version when we lived overseas – weirdly textured and overly spiced. Sort of like SPAM but the beef version. Or there were the cans of Hormel corned beef hash that my mother used to fix us for lunch sometimes when I was a kid – mushy and weird tasting. I always made her practically burn mine before I could eat it. (For some reason it didn’t taste as bad if it was crunchy all the way through!)

Then a few years ago I had a Reuben sandwich in New York. A revelation of a sandwich that included piles of thinly sliced, fresh corned beef. Whoa. So delicious. Since then I’ve been a big fan of corned beef and I order it whenever we go out to my favorite deli here in Atlanta.

All of that to say that when I ran across this at my local Publix:

corned beef hash | © karacooks.com

… I had to try it! It’s a pre-brined roast that just has to be cooked with the included spices. I was sort of semi-skeptical, but what the heck. For $10 it’s worth a try.

When I opened the pack, it smelled like corned beef, so that was a solid plus. I put it in my slow cooker, added liquid to cover (as much as I could), and set it to cook on low for 8 hours. (The directions on the pack call for bringing it to a boil and then simmering for 3-4 hours, but I wanted to see how it worked in the slow cooker.)

corned beef hash | © karacooks.com

After 8 hours it came out looking like this:

corned beef hash | © karacooks.com

 

It had the proper bright pink color that I expected from corned beef, and it was absolutely fork tender. It took no effort at all to go from the whole roast above to a plate full of shredded beef:

corned beef hash | © karacooks.com

Yum!! I could have sliced it (carefully) and made sandwiches, but I had an ulterior motive: I really really wanted to try to make corned beef hash. So the next step was to boil a few potatoes, saute some onion and garlic, and toss the whole mess into a cast iron skillet.

corned beef hash | © karacooks.com

And finally to serve it for dinner with a soft fried egg:

DSC_2661

YUM!

I gotta tell you, homemade corned beef hash? Soooo much better than the canned version of my childhood. Delicious for dinner, and even better the next day for lunch after the flavors had a chance to blend.

Well worth the time and effort. Next time I’m going to try to make the entire thing from scratch myself, though. Stay tuned for that!

Kara’s Corned Beef Hash

  • 1 lb corned beef, diced or shredded
  • 4-5 yellow potatoes (I used Yukon gold), boiled, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp oil or fat for frying (I used bacon grease, you can use butter or olive oil, too)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the fat/oil in a large skillet (I used a 12″ cast iron skillet, but any heavy bottomed, large skillet will do) over medium heat.

Mix together all of your ingredients and add them to the skillet, tossing them to get a light coating of the hot oil.

Spread the mixture out evenly over the bottom of the skillet, press it down, and leave it for 10-15 mins (depending on how crusty you want your hash). After 15 mins, using a large spatula, flip the hash in sections and press it back down, leaving it for another 10-15 mins to cook on the other side.

If you have a smaller skillet, or you want your hash crispier all the way through, you can cook this in two batches to get a thinner layer in the pan.

This is a very basic recipe. I used the 2nd half of my corned beef to make another batch with added cabbage and bell pepper, so feel free to add whatever vegetables you think might make this interesting. Hash is, after all, meant to be a way to use up leftovers, so take advantage of that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things 2014 – Week 14

Front Garden Project | © karacooks.com

Things: Life

It was a nice, overcast cool spring weekend, so I took a break from the living room / office project to take a stab at the left half of my front garden (I posted some about it last fall). I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out and I have a post with before / in-progress / afters in queue for this week.

Just as soon as I joined one book club, one of my favorite news/editorial sites, The Daily Dish announced they were going to restart their book club, so I joined up for that, too.  The first book selection is one that’s particularly interesting to me, so I’m looking forward to it.

I’m a full week into the LIft Like a Girl program I was seriously sore for the first few days, but Friday’s workout seems to have done the trick; I’ve moved past “pain” sore and now just have that well-worked muscle feel. Yay!

I don’t have any big plans for the coming week. Just the usual work, house stuff, and maybe get out for a couple of runs while the weather is still cool enough for it.

Things: Books & Movies & TV

A busy week at work slowed me down on the reading front, but I did get some done.

  • I went back to the Nora Roberts O’Dwyer Trilogy and read the first two books: Dark Witch, and Shadow Spell. The third book, Blood Magick isn’t due out for another couple of months. I’ll finish the trilogy because that’s the way I am, but I can’t really recommend these. Roberts’ trilogies have been incredibly formulaic and repetitive. I still enjoy her standalone work and her earlier trilogies, but definitely not this one.
  • I started Alaska Traveler: Dispatches from America’s Last Frontier by Dana Stabenow, who is the author of two fantastic series of mystery novels set in Alaska (the Kate Shugak series and the Liam Campbell series). Alaska Traveler isn’t fiction; it’s a compilation of her articles written for Alaska Magazine about Alaska. They are fun and personal and funny and remind me of the time I spent in that state. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to live in Alaska, I recommend it.

Things: Links

Lots of links this week. Enjoy!

  • I thought this take on Aronofsky’s Noah’s Ark was a good one. I am probably going to see the movie when it hits OnDemand or Netflix. I’m sure it’s a well made movie with good acting.
  • If you’re a Hugh Jackman fan or an X-Men fan, this video of Hugh singing “Who Am I?” from Les Mis is very funny.
  • I’ve been trying to pick a lamp for my foyer and while I’m fascinated by the Morovian Star lights, I don’t think it fits my decor. Instead I’m strongly leaning towards something like this one from World Market (including the Edison bulb).
  • I love this tip on peeling small quantities of garlic in a cocktail shaker. I’ve seen (and done) the large bowl trick but I never thought of using a shaker for just a few cloves.  (video)
  • I don’t need a new Le Creuset, but I’m absolutely in love with the new matte colors they are releasing.
  • I am in desperate need of a new mattress. I’ve been doing some research and both Tuft & Needle and Savvy Rest come highly rated and recommended, but are drastically different products with drastically different prices. I still haven’t decided.
  • I giggled at this dog totally taking advantage of his people leaving to roll all over the forbidden bed. (video)
  • This is an awesome list of things you can do on a daily basis to make the world just a little bit better place. I do a lot of these as a matter of course, but some of them I could do more often.
  • And last but not least, I’m jonesing over this fermenting crock. I’ve tried twice to make sauerkraut in a regular large canning jar, but always wind up with mold.

Southwestern Bean & Corn Salad

Southwestern salad | © karacooks.com

I hesitate to say that winter is actually, finally over here; historically we’ve had freezes and even snow and ice as late as April 25th in the ATL. But the last few days have been gorgeous and sunny and warm with temperatures in the 70s and even the 80s! When the weather gets like this, I start to crave fresh, bright flavors and cold lunches rather than the soups and toasted sandwiches that I survive on in the winter.

This week I decided to recreate a salad I’ve made before, with the added twist of something I picked up on some website or other – to oven roast frozen corn. I honestly don’t remember where I read it, but it stuck with me and I realized that this recipe would be perfect for trying it out.

The salad also gave me the opportunity to use some of my rapidly ripening avocados (see my Avocado “Fries” post for more information about my avocado issues).

I’ve been on a big corn tortilla kick this past month and so I decided to serve this salad on a corn tortilla that I crisped up in the oven. It turned out to be a perfect choice – adding just the little bit of crunch and texture. That and it made it look pretty, too!

The ingredients are things that I almost always have in my pantry, fridge, or freezer, so it comes together easily and quickly.

Southwestern salad | © karacooks.com

 Southwestern Bean & Corn Salad

  • 4 oz frozen corn
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed (~12 oz cooked, if you’re cooking dry beans)
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 a medium red or yellow bell pepper
  • 1 jalapeno, diced (remove the seeds and membrane for a milder salad)
  • 1/4 red onion, finely diced
  • 1/8 – 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • juice of one lime
  • 2-3 T olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced or pressed

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Spread the frozen corn out onto a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 mins (just long enough for some of the kernels to brown and crisp). You can season the corn with a little salt and pepper or any other seasoning. I used plain salt and pepper here, but some chili powder or cajun seasoning would probably be good.

While the corn is roasting, cut your avocado into 1/2″ cubes, and dice the bell pepper, jalapeno, and red onion. If you want the salad to be more spicy, leave the seeds in the jalapeno, otherwise, seed it before you dice it up finely.

The size of the pieces is up to you. I like everything to be about the size of the beans/corn kernels except the jalapeno which I really mince well so that it will be distributed throughout the salad.

Mix your salad dressing next; put the oil, lime juice . cumin, and garlic in a jar and shake it up until well blended. You can also mix this with a whisk, but I find a jar is faster and less messy! This recipe only makes a tiny bit of dressing. It’s meant to enhance, not drench the salad.

Once the corn is done, let it cool for a couple of mins and then mix all the ingredients together. Use as much cilantro as makes you happy. Some people love it and some people hate it and there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. So add to taste. 

Serve over a warm, crisped corn tortilla (or just, you know, eat it out of the bowl – it’s that good).

 

Oven Baked Avocado “Fries”

oven baked avocado fries | © karacooks.com

I have an avocado issue. Specifically I have an avocado ripening issue. For some reason avocados go from rock hard to overripe in my house faster than I can blink. I keep thinking it’s a fluke, but it keeps happening, and this week was no exception. When avocados were on sale at Publix this weekend, I bought 10 of them, making sure all but one were as hard as golf balls. As I write this, it’s Monday afternoon and most of them are nicely soft, with 2 verging on overripe and needing to be used now!

The problem with needing to use them immediately is, of course, that once sliced open, avocados don’t keep well. I know you’re supposed to be able to mash and freeze them, but I find the texture of thawed avocado to be completely disgusting, so that’s not an option for me. I needed a way to use them up fresh in the next couple of days.

So I hit up my Pinterest boards to see what I could find. The first two pins that popped up on my “snack” board were for avocado “fries” – specifically {this one} and {this one}. I nixed the second recipe because it required actual frying (complete with a triple dip in crumbs, egg wash, and more crumbs). Not only was that more work than I wanted to do, I really didn’t want deep fried anything. I was trying to keep this healthy. The first recipe gave me the information I needed for the oven bake (time and temp) but I just wasn’t sure about oven baking a cornmeal coating. I might try it later, but I’m not convinced it would work well.

I was now stuck on the idea of making these, though, so I did what I do best in the kitchen – took a little info from each recipe and mostly made it up as I went along!

I started out with Panko crumbs because I knew I wanted super crispy outsides. I added in some Parmesan cheese for flavor and salt, and a good amount of fresh ground black pepper.

oven baked avocado fries | © karacooks.com

Then I dredged the avocado slices in the mixture. I thought about an egg wash or something similar, but the avocados themselves are moist enough that just a little pressure had them nicely coated with crumbs.

I sprayed my foil lined pan with olive oil (using my Misto Olive Oil Sprayer), laid out the coated slices with space between them, then sprayed the breaded slices before popping it into a 375°F oven (toaster oven in this case).

15 minutes later I had these:

oven baked avocado fries | © karacooks.com

I whipped up a little jalapeno ranch dip and had lunch. They are crispy on the outside and creamy and delicious on the inside. They are also VERY rich; I ate about half of them and set the rest aside for H to try when he got home. They kept well in the fridge (I think the crumb coating helped keep the avocado from browning) and just needed a little warm up/crisping up in the toaster oven before serving.

Next time I make these, I think I might try adding a little chili powder to the mix to bump up the spice.

Here’s the recipe (such as it is):

Oven Baked Avocado “Fries”

  • 1 ripe avocado, cut into wedges or strips
  • 1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ground black pepper (to taste)
  • spices/seasonings of your choice (chili powder/onion powder/garlic powder)
  • olive oil (to spray or drizzle)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray/drizzle it with olive oil.

Mix the bread crumbs, cheese, and spices and dredge the avocado slices in the mix. The avocado is moist enough that the crumb mixture should coat and stick with just a little bit of pressure.

Bake for 15-20 mins (I baked for 15 in my convection toaster-oven and they came out perfectly) and serve immediately. These will keep for a few hours in the fridge and crisp up nicely if put back in the oven for a few minutes. I haven’t tried keeping them overnight or longer.  If someone else does, let me know how they do!

Meal Planning Monday – 2014 Week 14

tortellini broccoli salad | © karacooks.com

I made the above tortellini & broccoli salad for dinner over the weekend and it was delicious. And yes I am going to blog it, along with about a dozen other posts that I have lined up. Leslie (@lesliebeslie) listened to my venting about not blogging a few days ago and encouraged me to “free all the recipes“! So I’m going to take her advice; fewer photos; more food.

I am sticking to the grocery budget but only by the skin of my teeth. I went way over the last two weeks, due to buying some things in bulk and needing to refresh some staples (olive oil, flour, coffee, spices). It’s averaging out because I was under budget in Jan & Feb, but I’m going to have to watch things carefully, especially once the farmer’s market opens in April. I tend to overspend there the most.

I bought a pre-marinaded corned-beef roast on a whim at the grocery store. I have no idea if it’ll even taste properly corned-beef-like, but it looked interesting. The instructions say to simmer it in a dutch oven for several hours in the juices/liquid included. I’m skeptical, but I’m going to try it. If it works, there’s going to be corned-beef hash later this week!

I’m changing things up a little now that spring is here. Breakfast is yogurt or cottage cheese & fruit. Lunches will be some kind of sandwich on whole grain bread & veggies. Dinners are as follows:

Weekday Dinners

  • Monday – salmon croquettes
  • Tuesday – shrimp/fish tacos w/ cabbage slaw
  • Wednesday – chicken & spinach quesadillas
  • Thursday – corned beef hash & eggs
  • Friday – dinner out

Saturday & Sunday Dinners / Cooking 

The weekend plans include cleaning out the fridge and the freezer and getting a handle on what’s in there – and then starting to use it up!

Things 2014 – Week 13

dining room office project with cat | © karacooks.com

Things: Life

I’ve been working slowly but steadily on the dining room / office project (inspired by Thrifty Decor Chick’s built-ins). The cats are, of course, insisting on supervising every step of the process. It’s a lot slower going than I wanted it to be, but I’d rather be slow and get it done right than deal with the alternative. As of today all the legs are on, the units are screwed together (I had to cut some 1/2″ spacers), and I’m starting to add trim to the bottom. Next up is the countertop (which will be a concrete skimcoat, stained to look like soapstone). 

I joined an online book group and I’m really looking forward to reading and discussing some new books. The reading list as of Friday has one book I’ve already read but three others that are new to me. I can’t wait to get started.

I’ve started a new fitness/workout program. I used to lift weights faithfully; a few years ago I worked my way through the New Rules of Lifting for Women program by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove. It’s an awesome program and I still swear by it, but I stopped lifting a little over a year ago due to a combination of injury, illness, schedule and now I don’t have access to a full gym to get back into it. So starting Friday, I jumped into the LIft Like a Girl program by Nia Shanks. Since it’s been so long since I’ve lifted seriously, I’m starting out with the Beginner Blast program and then will move to the main Train to Be Awesome plan.

I took the kayak out of the bag, inflated it, checked for leaks, and gave it a good cleaning and going over and I’m ready for the season. I can’t wait to get back out on the river or one of the lakes. Z and I are planning a trip to Savannah or the Golden Isles this summer, to go paddling in the salt marsh. I can’t wait!

Things: Books & Movies & TV

I have a lot of books I’ve read since my last posting, so let’s get started:

  • I finished the Divergent series with Insurgent and Allegiant. I have mixed feelings about the series. I think the way it ended was appropriate (if not the happy ending most people wanted/expected) but I think the execution was lacking. Overall the third book was disappointing.
  • Still working my way through The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (pere).
  • Joe McGinniss died a couple of weeks ago and I realized that although I knew who he was and knew the cases he wrote about, I’d never actually read any of his books. That led me on a journey of binge reading: Fatal Vision, Blind Faith, The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin.
  • Linked from John Scalzi’s “Big Thing” post last week, I decided to pick up Lightning Fall: A Novel of Disaster by Bill Quick. It is apparently the first in a series (a trilogy? maybe more.)
  • I branched out into Georgette Heyer’s non-Regency books with Penhallow, which was excellent.
  • Then I took a completely different jump into The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s only the 2nd of her books that I’ve read (the first was The Poisonwood Bible) and I think I’m going to have to add more of her books to my list. I love her characters and her writing.
  • Currently I’m deep into Salem’s Lot by Stephen King – the new release with his notes, two related short stories, and 50 additional pages. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed this book and his earlier writings.

Things: Links

I don’t have links for this week. I have a bunch of stuff saved, but not any time to link them through today. I’ll add them to next week’s post!

Southern Style Pinto Beans (& Ham)

pinto beans and ham | © karacooks.com

In the part of the South I come from, one of the most traditional, Southern dishes you can make is pinto beans – with or without ham. It’s a dish made out of leftovers – some ham, maybe a little onion, maybe some garlic – and beans which are cheap and filling. It’s served as a main dish, sometimes with sides of greens, always with cornbread.

When I was growing up, my dad would make these and cook them until they were a thick, almost stew-like mush – the way my east Texas Meemaw did. We’d serve them with a dollop of sour cream on top and a sprinkle of chives or chopped green onion as a nod to my mom’s non-Southern heritage. And of course with a wedge of skillet cornbread.

skillet cornbread | © karacooks.com

When I got married I found that my husband’s Colorado family made pinto beans with a nearly identical recipe – except they didn’t cook the beans to a mush. Instead the beans were cooked until tender and just beginning to split, then served as a soup, swimming with chunks of ham and bits of onion in a rich broth. They served theirs with slices of sharp cheddar cheese and crackers; totally weird in my Texas experience, but actually quite delicious.

Over the years I’ve come to prefer a blend of the two styles. I’ll never give up my skillet cornbread for crackers, but I do like my beans and ham a little more “soupy” than what I grew up with, so that’s what I make now.

What makes these beans so delicious is the homemade ham stock that they’re cooked in. You can make them with chicken stock, or even with vegetable stock if you want, but if you’re not a vegetarian, I strongly suggest that you make the ham stock yourself – it’s not hard and it makes such a huge difference in the flavor of the beans.

I get my ham bones from Honeybaked Ham; you can buy bone with quite a bit of leftover meat on it for about $7 from any of their sandwich stores, and if you go after the holidays (especially after New Years and Easter) you can often find them on sale 2-for-one. During those times I stock up and get as many as I can fit in my freezer.

I put the bone in my biggest pot and fill it with cold water and then let it simmer for hours. More specific than that? At least 4 hours, but really as long as you can. I like to start mine simmering the night before I am going to make beans and leave it going all night. If you are uncomfortable with leaving something on the stove or in the oven overnight, then make it the day before. The more of the flavor you can get out of the bone and tissues, the better.

pinto beans and ham | © karacooks.com

A couple of hours into the simmering process, remove the ham and pick all the good lean meat off the bone. Reserve that for your beans, put everything else back in the pot, and let it cook. Anything you don’t use for your beans can be frozen and kept for the next time around!

If, of course, you don’t want to make your own ham stock, you can use bullion or store-bought stock – ham is preferred, but chicken or even vegetable stock is fine. Just don’t use plain water. Beans by themselves are fairly bland and will absorb the flavors of what’s around them. You need the additional boost from the stock to make them rich and flavorful.

To make the soup, you need onion, garlic, oil, beans, and stock. I never use a recipe per se; just the knowledge that you need about 8-10 cups of liquid for every pound of beans (depending on how soupy you want it). If you’re starting with an 8oz bag of beans, then reduce the liquid to 4-5 cups. Or you could even make half of that and start with 4 oz of beans and 2-3 cups of liquid. Personally,I never make less than a pound at a time because it goes fast in my house and makes great leftovers for lunch the rest of the week.

pinto beans and ham | © karacooks.com

Kara’s Southern Style Pinto Beans & Ham

  • 1 lb beans, rinsed and picked over
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 T oil (olive oil is fine, or vegetable oil of some kind)
  • 8-10 cups ham stock
  • a bay leaf (optional)
  • worcestershire sauce (optional)

In the bottom of a large pot, cook the onion until it’s translucent and limp. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Then add your rinsed and picked beans. Stir them around to get them well coated with the garlicky, oniony oil and let them cook for about 5 mins.

Turn the heat up to high, add your stock (and your bay leaf and a couple of splashes of worcestershire sauce if you want), and bring the pot to a rolling boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, put a lid on it, and let it cook for 2-3 hours or until the beans are tender and starting to split. The longer you simmer, the more tender your beans will become until they finally disintegrate and become mushy and stew-like. How long you cook them is entirely a matter of taste.

At this point you can add in your reserved ham and stir it into the soup. Or you can serve the soup and add the ham as garnish/toppings. I prefer to add the ham after, while Z likes his completely incorporated in the soup. Again, it’s all a matter of taste.

Serve with a variety of garnishes: sour cream, cheese, chopped onions, jalapeno peppers, chives. And don’t forget the crackers or cornbread.

makes 12 cups / 8 servings

1 serving = 1.5 cups

Cals 238 | Protein: 15g | Fat: 3.5g | Carbs: 38g | Sugars: 1.7g | Fiber: 9.0g

 

Things 2014 – Week 10

 

Things: Life

 

Things: Books & Movies & TV

  • I finished the whole Divergent series this week. I enjoyed it, although the last book in the series seemed somewhat formulaic. Unlike a lot of people who reviewed it on Amazon, I was not disappointed with the ending. I won’t spoil it; I’ll just say I admire an author who makes what will obviously be an unpopular choice!
  • I started a few books, but can’t seem to find myself getting into any one of them. I started with Dark Witch: Book One of The Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy. I love Nora Roberts normally, but I can’t quite get there with this one. Maybe if I could power through the initial magical/Irish/history bit and get to the modern day characters I’d be ok. I’ll give it a try again in the coming week, since the next book in the series is coming out soon. I’m finding that while I love her modern-day books for light easy reading, I find her historical-magic stuff to be overwrought and twee.
  • I took a break and went back to one of my all time favorite authors – Georgette Heyer – and read Charity Girl for a sort of light, palate cleansing break. I am a huge Heyer fan and love all of her Regency books. They appeal to the historian in me. (As an aside, I bought all of the Heyer books for Kindle when they were $1.99 a few years ago and I’ve never regretted it. They are great fun reading that I go back to time and time again when I need a break from serious stuff.)

Things: Links

  • 10 Don’t Miss Movies – I could think of others that I’d add to this, but there are none that I’d remove. 

Meal Planning Monday – 2014 Week 10

green goddess dressing | © karacooks.com

The meal plan for last week stayed pretty consistent and on track, although Friday night I didn’t feel well and wound up skipping dinner entirely, so no meatloaf this week.

I am still 100% on track with my grocery budget for the year. My weekly average for Feb was $94.55 and my overall average since the beginning of the year is $85.34. Whoo!

One of my challenges to myself for March is to start incorporating more salads into my eating. I am pushing myself to eat a salad a day – either with lunch or dinner – and to make my own dressings for them rather than relying on storebought ones. I’m going to try to incorporate different types of salads and not just green salads or lettuce blends, but slaws, a broccoli salad recipe I’ve been wanting to try, and fruit salads as well.

I’m going back to yogurt and fruit for breakfast, and I have a few ideas for salads I’d like to make to eat for lunches, including this one: Corn & Chickpea Fiesta Salad and this Herby Cucumber Salad (with added Feta cheese)

Weekday Dinners

  • Monday – spinach salad with mandarin oranges and spicy grilled shrimp
  • Tuesday – mixed green salad with green goddess dressing and smoked salmon
  • Wednesday – broccoli salad with grilled chicken breast
  • Thursday – bean and chicken quesadillas w/ a tomato, cucumber & avocado salad
  • Friday – date night

Saturday & Sunday Dinners / Cooking 

Time for another pot of tomato sauce and some red enchilada sauce for the freezer. And more work on the dining room cabinet project.

Things 2014 – Week 9

garlic confit | © karacooks.com

Things: Life

The last 2 weeks have been crazy. I’ve been ill. Work has been super busy. Z has been dealing with work crisis. I feel like I’m spinning in circles and getting nothing done.

The cabinets for the dining room “wall unit” were delivered 2 Sundays ago and I still haven’t done anything with them. I picked up 2×4 boards and cut them up for bases/feet today, but ran into a problem with the length of the nails, so I need to go back out tomorrow and get screws and glue for this part of the project. It’s going slower than I wanted it to.

I did make garlic confit (above) this week and have been eating it on everything! Hey … garlic is supposed to be good for fending off colds and flu, right? And vampires. And probably boyfriends, too. Good thing Z likes garlic.

The weather has been crazy up and down – temps in the high 60s during the day and dropping into the high 20s and low 30s at night. I’m either freezing or too warm. I hope it all stabilizes soon. I want to start spending more time outside.

I have a pile of stuff to take to Goodwill and get rid of on Freecycle. I’m so close to getting the whole downstairs decluttered and cleaned out.

Things: Books & Movies & TV

  • I zipped through the rest of the Jane Whitefield series by Thomas Perry week before last. I had read some of them before, but never straight through. The last two books were not as strong as the first ones in the series. There was a 9 year gap in the middle there and I feel like the author lost his feel for the character and the situations.
  • I moved right into the Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal, and starting with Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories) quickly read all three of them. They’re light reading – a Jane Austen-esque fantasy series wherein the main characters earn a living performing “glamour” (magic) and get involved in mysteries and historical events.
  • After that I took a break from series and read The Fault in Our Stars which is beautifully written, although sad, and I highly recommend it. I could tell you that it’s about two teenagers with cancer who travel to Amsterdam to meet a reclusive author but that doesn’t even skim the surface of all of the various text, subtext, and plot in the book.
  • Based on my rating of Fault, Amazon recommended The Husband’s Secret, so I downloaded that and read it, too. I thought it was ok, but not great. It takes place in Australia and focuses on 3 women who are interlinked through family and past history. I found the characters hard to differentiate between and kept getting them mixed up until at least halfway in. I also thought the ending was a little too pat.
  • Then for some reason I downloaded Divergent which appears to be the first book in a Young Adult trilogy. It reminds me of The Hunger Games in a lot of ways. The main character is a 16 year old girl living a post-industrial world. She has reached the age where she has to choose a “faction” which will impact the entire rest of her life. Revolt and class warfare ensue. It’s well written and I’m enjoying it enough that I’ll probably read the next 2 books in the series.

Things: Links

  • I don’t generally wear watches (I hate things on my wrists – I don’t wear bracelets or long sleeves that end at the wrists either), but I really want one of these Timex Weekender watches. I hope I win!
  • How to avoid spreading myths and misinformation online. People need to read this. For real.
  • I really want to make this English Muffin bread.
  • Z has said that for our next cooking weekend together he wants us to try a savoury pie. Maybe one of these?
  • Thekitchn.com is running a series on various foods from the decades which I’m finding very amusing. Check out the series.
  • I love federal style mirrors … I want to get one for the front foyer area.
  • This meerkat trying to not fall asleep is utterly adorable. (video)
  • I used to dry brush a few times a week and I’m thinking I need to get started on this habit again. I need a new brush, though, to get started.

Meal Planning Monday – 2014 Week 9

hungarian mushroom soup | © karacooks.com

I am dreadfully behind on posting now. I had gotten into a good rhythm and I actually do have many draft going and photos almost ready to post … and then the plague struck. Two weeks ago Z was sick and although I spent the better part of two days with him, I seemed to have avoided catching whatever he had. Or so I thought. I think it was the fact that I gloated about not getting sick that sealed the deal, because Monday night it hit me hard. 

So I’ve spent the last 6 days drinking hot tea and toddies, sipping on soup, venturing into the occasional spicy take-out meal, and generally lying around moaning and whining about how miserable I am.

Needless to say, other than the casserole on Monday, I didn’t stick with any of my meal plan for last week.

I’m feeling better this week, but still congested some and I have that awful lingering cough. I’m avoiding my usual yogurt/smoothie combinations this week because I know that they’ll just make me feel more congested. I also don’t have much of an appetite right now so I’m keeping things light.

Weekday Dinners

  • Monday – eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce over toast
  • Tuesday – veggie soup & sandwiches
  • Wednesday – pan fried tilapia w/ cabbage slaw
  • Thursday – date night (rescheduled event from our Ice-pocalypse)
  • Friday – meatloaf, roasted potatoes, broccoli

Saturday & Sunday Dinners / Cooking 

I have no big cooking plans for the coming weekend. I have a huge project in my dining room/office going and I neglected it sadly this past week. I want to put in some concentrated hours on that, so there might be some ordering out and more snacking than actual meals going on over the weekend.

Meal Planning Monday – 2014 Week 8

artichokes | © karacooks.com

Week 2 of adhering to the previous weeksl meal plan 100%. Whoo! Even with the weather last week, we stuck with it. It really helps that I plan on Sunday and then shop either Sunday or Monday. Even so, when I got to the grocery store on Monday there was NO bread left (seriously!) and only 2 (somewhat withered) apples left. So I got a little creative for lunches.

I also completed my first Daring Cooks challenge in over a year and that was fun. I’m looking forward to doing more of them. I’m thinking I might also join the Daring Bakers one – although I don’t really need more sweets in the house.

I’m definitely thinking of selling my juicer and putting that money towards a Vitamix. I think I’ll get far more use out of the blender than I will out of the juicer (which has sat unused for almost a year now).

On with the planning. As always, yogurt and fruit for breakfast, my regular smoothie for lunch, and then healthy dinners as planned. 

Weekday Dinners

  • Monday – chicken and black bean enchilada casserole
  • Tuesday – spinach stuffed shells with meat sauce
  • Wednesday – tilapia fish tacos w/ cabbage slaw
  • Thursday – breakfast for dinner (something with eggs)
  • Friday – date night

Saturday & Sunday Dinners / Cooking 

I never did get the big pot of beans made over the weekend (the dining room / office project consumed all my time) so I’d like to try that again this coming weekend. If the weather holds out, we’ll plan to grill steaks either Sat or Sun.

Things 2014 – Week 7

cardinal at the feeder | © karacooks.com

Things: Life

Well we survived a second week of weather insanity here in the ATL. This time everyone was more prepared and most people stayed home Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Where I love we got very little snow, but a ton of sleet and ice and freezing rain. By Wednesday night we had a good 2″ of ice on the back patio. Thankfully, we never lost power, although Z was without electricity for a good 7 hours on Wednesday.

Lately on some of the running/fitness blogs I follow, I”m seeing people who screen cap the “proof” images that the professional photographer has put online, and then post them to their blogs. Folks, this is copyright violation. Please stop doing it. It’s especially egregious if the photographer sells a digital file meant for blog/web use. If you are posting images of you during a race that have a watermark on them? You’re guilty. Knock it off.

Ever since I started working from home full time I’ve been trying to figure out a way to make my home office space (read: My dining room) more comfortable and functional while not sacrificing the utility of having a dining room once in a while. I had originally planned a big trip to Ikea yesterday, but then I stumbled across Thrifty Decor Chick’s blog and all her posts about turning her dining room in to a library and my entire plan has changed. Stay tuned. It’s turned into more of a project than I anticipated but I’m really excited about it.

Valentine’s Day was quiet around here. Z took his daughter out for a “grown up” date and he and I will do our thing next week. Whoo!

Things: Books & Movies & TV

  • I finished Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens . It was fun reading it in serial form and made the segues between the chapters make more sense. I found out recently that the story was originally published as a weekly serial over the course of more than 2 years – from February 1837 to April 1839! I think I might re-read a few others of his in the same way, a chapter or section per night (or every other night) the way they were written. 
  • I finished Vanishing Act by Thomas Perry and moved on to the next book in the series ….. Somewhere in the back of my mind I think I’ve read these before. Or at least one in the series before. The characters are starting to sound familiar. There are 4 more in the series, so I’ll probably get to the rest of them over the next month or so.
  • True Detective has become one of my “must watch” shows for the season. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are brilliant and the story just keeps sucking me in.

Things: Links

Spanakopita Pie

spanakopita pie | © karacooks.com

The February Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Audax of Audax Artifex. The challenge brought us to Greece with a delicious, flaky spanakopita – a spinach pie in a phyllo pastry shell.

I haven’t participated in a a Daring Kitchen challenge in … um … longer than I can remember. When I went back to the website, I was afraid that I might have been removed from the list, since the rules used to say that if you missed more than 2 months in a row, you were out. It seems the rules have been relaxed (at least for now) so, I’m in the clear! *whew*

I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of challenge cooking, though. I find that I’m much better about making new things when I have outside encouragement, so be looking for more of these monthly challenge posts from me!

Ok, onward with the challenge dish.

I love spanakopita, so I already knew I was going to like this pie. I’ve never made it from scratch but the recipe wasn’t at all difficult. The biggest surprise for me was to find out that none of the filling is cooked before it’s all put in the phyllo crust and baked. I thought for sure that the onion and spinach filling was sauteed first. The next biggest surprise was that the recipe included breadcrumbs and/or couscous for thickening. (For the record I used couscous.)

spanakopita pie | © karacooks.com

I made a few substitutions, but only because of my own lack of attention to the detail (and because, well, the day I baked this we were iced in and I couldn’t run to the grocery store and get my missing ingredients!). I also learned a few things!

  • I totally misread the recipe and got yellow onion and not spring onion, so instead I used 2 leeks.
  • I forgot to get fresh dill and I wasn’t sure that using the dried stuff would work out, so I left it out. I did have whole nutmeg, though!
  • I only had a pound of spinach, and by the time I realized I needed 2 lbs, I’d already prepped and chopped all the rest of the ingredients. So for a “spinach pie” it was probably lighter on spinach than it should have been!
  • Next time I make this (and I will make it again) I will add more layers of phyllo to the bottom of the pie.
  • I tried to make it less messy by using a strainer and a spatula, but you really need to get in there with your hands and squeeze and mush things together for it to work, and to get the most liquid extracted (pic below).
  • I used couscous for my liquid absorbing agent and it took about 3/4 cup for the volume of liquid I had. I added another 1/8th of a cup (roughly) to the mix just to absorb any juices in the baking. It worked well and there was no crunchy couscous in my final product.
  • I need a lot more practice working with phyllo. Mine tore and folded and finally I just sort of gave up and plastered it all together with butter!
  • I forgot to score the top before cooking, but mine sliced up pretty cleanly fresh out of the oven. The filling held together a little better if I let it sit for a few mins before serving, however.

spanakopita pie | © karacooks.com

We loved this as a warm and filling while-we’re-iced-in meal; I ate it as my main course and H had a serving as a side with some smoked sausage. And I keep going back for nibbles and bits. I wonder how it would work for breakfast with a poached egg? Hmmmm!

Here’s the recipe as posted.

spanakopita pie | © karacooks.com

Spanakopita Pie

  • 2 lbs spinach (either frozen chopped or fresh, chopped and stemmed)
  • 2 cups feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 oz chopped fresh dill
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2-3 shallots, chopped
  • 1 bunch spring onions, chopped
  • 1 large leek, well washed, white & light green part chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of couscous (or bread crumbs)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 stick of butter, melted
  • 1 packet phyllo sheets

Preheat the oven to 375°F

In a large bowl, mix together the first 8 ingredients (through the garlic) and mix well. I found that actually getting in there with my hands and mixing was the best way, especially if you’re using fresh spinach. You really need to smush up the ingredients and get them to meld. It was the suggestion in the original recipe, and it was spot on.

Let the mix sit for 10 mins or so and then squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can. Add the couscous or breadcrumbs to the liquid and let it sit for another 10 mins to absorb. (I used couscous and it took about 3/4 of a cup to get a paste like texture. I then added about another 1/8 of a cup of dry couscous directly to the filling mix to absorb any additional cooking liquid.)

Return the thickened liquid to the spinach filling, and add your eggs.

Butter the bottom and sides of your baking dish Begin layering phyllo sheets in your baking dish, brushing on melted butter between every 2nd sheet. I went with the 8 sheets suggested in the recipe, but I really recommend maybe 12 sheets. I found that after cooking, I really wanted a slightly thicker crust to the bottom and sides.

Spoon in the filling and smooth it out, then fold over the phyllo. Add 6-8 more sheets to the top, again brushing on the melted butter between every 2nd sheet. Tuck in the edges as you go.Score the phyllo before baking to make it easier to cut after.

Bake for 45 mins to an hour.

If you forget to score the phyllo before baking, found that it sliced pretty well without crumbling while it was still hot. The filling held together better after it had been allowed to cool for about 20 mins, though. So I’d recommend slicing it once right out of the oven so the phyllo doesn’t crumble, and then waiting 15-20 mins to cut out your pieces to serve.

Meal Planning Monday – 2014 Week 7

seafood stew | © karacooks.com

I stuck to last weeks meal plan 100%. We had plenty of leftovers for the days designated, plus to carry us over during the weekend. It’s the first week that we’ve made it 100% and I’m pretty happy about that.

I’m still working on cooking smaller portions. Some things can be frozen if there are too many leftovers, but I had to toss a more than I wanted to of the seafood stew (pictured above) because cooked fish and shrimp just don’t freeze well at all. I need to learn to make less of those things.

This coming week will be interesting. The news is predicting another ice/snow storm that will likely shut down the city for at least a day or two, so I need to plan accordingly.

I’m also planning on getting back into the Daring Cooks challenges, something I haven’t done in a long time. So Wednesday’s meal will be playing catch-up with the February challenge dish – Spanakopita!

I picked up almond milk and yogurt on Saturday, so as always, yogurt and fruit for breakfast, my regular smoothie for lunch, and then healthy dinners as planned. 

Weekday Dinners

  • Monday – cabbage, sausage, and potatoes
  • Tuesday – salmon croquettes, salad
  • Wednesday – spanakopita pie (daring cooks challenge)
  • Thursday – chicken and black bean enchilada casserole
  • Friday – Leftovers / TBD / Possible date night

Saturday & Sunday Dinners / Cooking 

I plan to make a big pot of beans on Saturday (using up the last of the ham stock) and then to clean out the upright freezer on Sunday so there might be an eclectic selection for dinner that night to get rid of bits and pieces.

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