Seared Ahi Tuna

October 13, 2014

Filed Under : seafood & fish

seared ahi tuna | ©karacooks.com

Z’s all time favorite thing to order when we go to “our” restaurant is seared Ahi over wasabi mashed potatoes. He’s mentioned a couple of times that it’s something we should try on the grill and up until now I’ve been a little … well … nervous. A chunk of sushi grade Ahi tuna is not cheap and while I’m pretty confident in my cooking and grilling skills, there’s something about this cook that for some reason intimidates me.

A month or so ago for date night, I decided it was time to take the plunge. If I screwed it up and overcooked it, we’d just have very expensive tuna salad!

I bought 2/3 lb of sushi grade ahi tuna at Whole Foods and kept it wrapped in the fridge overnight. Mid afternoon I mixed up some soy sauce, a little mayo, some brown sugar, and a heaping spoonful of wasabi powder and let the tuna sit in it in the fridge in a zipper sealed quart bag. I flipped it a couple of times over the course of the afternoon.

As part of the treat, I also roasted a few oysters as an appetizer (I’ll post that recipe later). When the oysters came off the grill, I removed the top grate, and put the cast iron griddle (with a very thin coat of olive oil) on the lowest grate to preheat at about 525°. I let the griddle get absolutely smoking hot and then put the tuna on. The white-ish color around the edges is the mayo/soy/wasabi mixture. And you can see the smoke coming off the griddle in the picture below!

seared ahi tuna | ©karacooks.com

I cooked it for a total of 30 seconds per “side”, meaning, I cooked not only the large flat sides, but the 3 “edges” as sides as well. The total time was 2 min and 30 seconds overall. When it came off the grill, I immediately put it in the freezer to stop it cooking and firm it up a little bit. I kept it there for maybe 3-4 mins while I mashed the potatoes and then took it out to slice.

It had a lovely browned color on the outside, but the real nervous-making part was what the inside would look like. I didn’t need to worry – it was perfect! 

seared ahi tuna | ©karacooks.com

I served it with whipped potatoes mixed with cream and more wasabi powder, and lightly grilled asparagus.

seared ahi tuna | ©karacooks.com

It was fun to do this on the grill, but it could be done inside quite easily. I’d use my cast iron skillet on the stovetop and heat it up until it’s nearly smoking hot. Then the same 30 second sear on each side/edge of the tuna to get the rare center.

Here’s the recipe for the marinade for the tuna. Adjust the amount of wasabi powder to your taste; the amount here gives a nice flavor, but isn’t overbearing.

Seared Tuna Marinade 

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp wasabi powder

Dissolve the brown sugar in the soy sauce and then mix with the rest of the ingredients. Baste the tuna with the mixture and let it sit for at least a couple of hours before grilling. (I put mine in a quart sized Zip-lock bag and just flipped it a couple of times to coat the fish.)

Boiled Peanuts

September 25, 2014

Filed Under : snacks, nibbles, & treats

boiled peanuts | ©karacooks.com

If you’re from the South, the title of this post likely made you think “yummmm”, and start daydreaming about weekends at the lake, road trips, and country highways. Because as every Southerner knows, boiled peanuts are best bought from a stand on the side of a country highway, where they’ve been boiling for days and days and days. They’re scooped into a styrofoam cup with plenty of the liquor from the pot, tied up in a plastic bag, and handed over. You nestle that cup into your cup holder, snatching steaming hot peanuts with slightly burnt fingertips. Ostensibly the plastic bag is for holding the shells after you’ve emptied them of the peanutty goodness, but usually I just tossed my shells out the window. They’re biodegradable, after all.

If you’re from the North (or for that matter any point west of the Mississippi) you likely either said “WTF?” or flat out “yuck!” at the title of this post. I get that. boiled peanuts take some getting used to when most of the rest of the country is used to eating peanuts that crunch. The idea of a soft, juicy peanut can be a little … well … off-putting!

But I promise you if you try them in good faith, and really open your mind to them, a boiled peanut can be one of the best snacks in the world. And really they’re super easy to make at home – they don’t need anything fancy and you hardly even need a recipe – just a large pot, a LOT of cooking time, and some patience.

I make mine in my crock pot and cook them on high for a minimum of 18-24 hours. You can make them on the stove top, but most people aren’t willing to let the range run overnight while they’re asleep, which I understand. You can also make them in your oven (exactly the same way you would make an oven simmered stock). Just set the temperature on your oven to 300° and put your large covered pot full of peanuts in there. My oven has an automatic shut off after 12 hours, so I just time it so that my first 12 hours are overnight and I can restart the oven when I get up in the morning.

boiled peanuts | ©karacooks.com

For those who need a recipe as a starting point I offer this:

  • 1 pound raw in-shell peanuts (if you can’t find any where you live, I’ve had luck ordering them from Whitley’s Peanuts)
  • 1/4 pound bacon
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 10-12 cups of water

Fry up the bacon (I use the microwave – no need to be fancy here) and put the cooked bacon AND the grease in your pot or stockpot. Add in your peanuts (rinsed well, but not shelled), the salt, and the water. If you’re using a crock pot, cover it, set it to high, and walk away. If you’re using the oven method, set your oven to 325°, cover the pot, and put it in the oven and walk away.

Wait at least 18 hours before trying the first peanut. They will be tender after anywhere from 8-12 hours, but you really want to cook them long enough for the salt and the bacon flavor to penetrate the shells, which takes considerably longer.

Use the above recipe as a starting point only. Some places add Cajun spice, or Old Bay to their peanuts. Some places use salt pork instead of bacon (or don’t use any bacon at all). Some places put onion and garlic in theirs. You can add any flavoring or spices that strike your fancy. Boiled peanuts are amazingly flexible and adaptable to just about any flavor profile.

Whatever you add to them, once they’re cooked, they’re best eaten piping hot. And think of them like … well … crawfish. You’ll want to not only peel open the shell and eat the nuts inside, but you’ll want to suck the juice out of the shell as well.

These will keep in the fridge up to a week (although I’ll bet you they won’t last that long) and can be reheated on the stove top or in the microwave.

If you’ve never had boiled peanuts before, I hope you’ll try these. I suspect you’ll love them!

Meatballs on the Grill

September 7, 2014

Filed Under : blogging

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been pretty much grilling everything I can get my hands on lately. I’m pretty much inches away from trying to bake a cake or a pie (or both) on the Kamado. Truly .. I don’t kid.

But in the meanwhile, there are still foods that it’s “normal” to grill – or at least mostly normal. And after the way the grill enhanced my standard go-to meatball recipe, I have to say that it’s going to be hard to have them any other way again.

These are the meatballs I make all the time. They’re moist, tasty, and can be customized to any cuisine. Want something Tex-Mex? Add cumin and chili powder. Want Italian? Add basil and oregano. Want something really spicy? Berebere and paprika or ancho chilies? Want to go all New Mexico or Colorado style? Mix in a can of diced green chile. Seriously, the options are endless.

This time I kept them plain and basic, but instead of pan frying them or baking them and then cooking them in sauce, I grilled them  – and boy were they good.

Started with my favorite basic meatball recipe: ground beef, breadcrumbs, ricotta cheese, eggs, onion, toated onion flakes, worcestershire sauce. Rolled out 20 meatballs (2.5 oz each).

 

20140617_0280.jpg

 

Brought the grill up to 400 and put ‘em on.

 

20140617_0281.jpg

 

Kicked back with my book and a vodka tonic with lime.

 

20140617_0284.jpg

 

After about 6-7 mins, rolled them and added the pan with the asparagus.

 

20140617_0296.jpg

 

Had company to enjoy the evening on the patio:

 

20140617_0298.jpg

20140617_0301.jpg

 

6 more mins and off the grill, basted with a little A-1 sauce. (Sometimes I use BBQ sauce, sometimes i drop them in tomato sauce, today was A1)

 

20140617_0307.jpg

 

Served with leftover veggies from the chicken roast and the asparagus:

After they came off the grill, I basted them with a little A-1 and served them up with leftover roasted veggies and some asparagus. It’s a good thing I made lots, because leftover the next day, these were also awesome.

Here’s the basic recipe; have fun with it and adapt it to your liking:

  • 2 lbs ground beef (I use 85% lean)
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese (I make my own)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 medium onion diced fine
  • 1/4 cup of toasted onion bits (I get mine from Penzey’s)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce.

You can add up to 3 tbsp of various spices as you want. Sometimes I add some oregano, some chili pepper flakes, some parsley, some cilantro and cumin .. just depends on what cuisine you’re going for.

Mix it all together well and form into 20 meatballs. Each meatball will be about 2.5 oz. (I’m anal – I weigh mine on a food scale as I make them to make sure they’re all pretty even).

Cook on the grill at 400°-425°. 6 -7 mins or so per side.  Don’t be afraid to take one off after 10 mins and test it. (If you’re baking in the oven, 12-15 mins at 400 will do it, just give them a shake about halfway through.)

Sourdough Kalamata Olive Bread

June 19, 2014

Filed Under : blogging

Kalamata Sourdough Bread | © karacooks.com

As part of my push to eat more naturally fermented foods (and because whole grain breads have been giving me a lot of heartburn and reflux lately), I decided to dip my toes in to the world of sourdough. I ordered a starter from King Arthur Flour and followed their excellent instructions on working with it. This is my first big bake with my starter and it couldn’t have come out any better.

Kalamata Sourdough Bread | © karacooks.com

Word of warning – this bread takes a full 2 days to make due to the sourdough component. Your starter will need to be fed, and then the dough will require an overnight proofing in the fridge before baking. Don’t do what I did and plan to make it on Sunday afternoon only to realize that I couldn’t actually bake it until Tuesday.

Also this works best if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook.

Prep Your Sourdough Starter

If you keep your starter in the fridge as I do, then you’ll need a day of prep and feeding to get your starter in working shape. Take the starter out of the fridge and divide it as usual. Don’t discard what you remove. Set it aside in a bowl. Feed the remaining starter just as you normally would and put it back in the fridge.

Take the “discarded” starter and mix in 1/2 cup water and 1 cup flour. Let the starter work for at least 4 hours and better yet, overnight. (Don’t refrigerate it!) When it’s bubbly and frothy, it’s ready to work with.

 Mix the Bread Dough

Measure 5 oz by weight of your starter into the bowl of your mixer.

Add:
7 oz (just shy of 1 cup) of cold water

Start the mixer and get the water completely mixed with the starter.

Add:
10 oz of flour (I used all purpose White Lilly flour)

Mix this until it’s just sticky, then cover with a towel and let sit for 20 mins.

Add:
1 tbsp salt (I used kosher)
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped,
1 tsp chili flakes (
1 tbsp chopped rosemary (I used fresh from my garden, add a little extra if you’re using dried)

Turn the mixer back on and as those ingredients are incorporated, start adding more flour. You may need to add up to another 8 oz of flour (about 2 cups) to get a smooth but slightly sticky dough.

Once you get a smooth dough, continue to knead it for about 6 mins.

Rest Overnight

Put the dough in the fridge overnight to proof. I put mine in the loaf pan first and then put it in the fridge, but you can also just leave it in the bowl.

Kalamata Sourdough Bread | © karacooks.com

 Bake & Eat!

The next day, take the dough out and let it come to room temp (at least 2-3 hours). If you’re going to shape it in to a round, this is the time to do it. Otherwise you can leave it in the pan.

Bake at 450° for about an hour (if you’re using a thermometer, the internal temp should be around 200°F.

Kalamata Sourdough Bread | © karacooks.com

Let it cool, slice, and try not to eat the whole damn thing! :)

Kamado cooking – notes from a beginner, part 1

May 28, 2014

Filed Under : food

Last night on Facebook, my friend Lindsey told me that she had used my kamado cooking photos to help convince her husband that a kamado grill was the way to go. Then she asked me for suggestions and tips. I started to respond to her and realized that all the stuff I’ve learned is way too much to type into a Facebook response on my tablet. Besides, I owe the blog a post or two. So here it is.

The Grill I Chose

kamado grill | © karacooks.com

There are a ton of different brands of kamado grills out there. Probably the best known are the Big Green Egg (BGE) and Kamado Joe (KJ). There are also the Primo brand, the Akorn brand, the Bubba Kegs, and the one I got, the Bayou Classic. Why did I choose the one I did? A couple of reasons:

  • Price The Bayou Classic was in the midrange overall for pricing, and at the lower end for ceramic kamado style grills, but still got decent reviews.
  • Location: The BC is assembled in the USA – in fact in the next state over from me, Mind you some of the components are made overseas and shipped to the US, but assembly is local to me and I like that.
  • Style: I’m not gonna lie, I’m a girl and pretty counts. I loved the look of the BC when I saw it at Lowe’s a few years ago and have kept an eye on them ever since. I love the glazed finish as opposed to to primary green, red, or black colors that most grills are finished in.

I did my research and although there were a few negative reviews about fireboxes cracking, overall what I read was positive and I felt that I knew enough about working with clay cookers in everyday use that I was confident in the product. Also there’s a nice 5 year warranty, so I wasn’t worried if I had to return or replace the unit.

I bought mine from Amazon.com and used their Prime shipping. You gotta love a service that will get a 400 lb grill on a pallet to your house for free. Unfortunately because of the way my townhouse is set up, they couldn’t actually fit the crate through the back door to the patio, so we had to uncrate it in the dining room, take it out in pieces, and reassemble it on the patio. It wasn’t hard, but I highly recommend a minimum of 2 people for the setup. Z and I together could barely lift the base of the kamado into the stand/nest.

Accessories I Use the Most

I think a lot of people who buy a grill like this are definitely aficionados of the cooking style and, as with any hobby, it’s easy to go a little crazy on accessories and “toys”. It’s easy to get suckered into spending way too much money on the fun stuff that you never wind up using. I’ve had my grill for a solid 8 weeks now and done probably 20 cooks on it, and here’s what I find the most useful so far:

  • Ash Dragon Fire Box Divider - $60 plus shipping. This item definitely ranks up at the top of my list. Quite often I’m only cooking for 2 people and the Ash Dragon divider allows me to fill and heat only half the firebox at a time. It also makes it easy to cook over direct heat on one part of the grill, while putting something on indirect heat on the other half – think searing steaks on one side while putting a couple of skewers of veggies on the non-fire side. Plus, the owner of the company is a super nice guy and VERY willing to answer questions, take suggestions, and create products that will work with a variety of grills.
    ash dragon firebox divider | © karacooks.com
  • Big Green Egg Pizza Stone – $65. I bought mine at a local Ace Hardware that is an authorized BGE dealer, but Amazon has them for Prime shipping, as well. It seems like a lot of money to spend on a pizza stone, but this is the thickest, heftiest pizza stone I’ve found. I’ve used it to make pizza, to bake hand pies, and as a heat shield while making ribs on the grill. Worth every penny.
    pizza stone | © karacooks.com
  • Bayou Classic Cast Iron Reversible Griddle - $32. I like this because it has a flat surface and a raised/grill surface. I’ve made steaks on this twice now and they’re fantastic. Seared and crusty and meaty. (Unlike the Lodge pre-seasoned cast iron, this one needed to be seasoned first so I gave it a good coating of coconut oil and let it bake in the grill one night after cooking a chicken.)
    grill griddle | © karacooks.com
  • Bayou Classic Raised Grill Grate - $42. I got this particular one because it is made for my grill, but any of the brands is going to have an extender/riser. I recommend getting one. It not only allows you to cook on multiple levels, it gives you a way to raise food away from the coals and even put a head shield (like a foil wrapped pizza stone) between the food and the fire. This really helps for making pizzas at high heat, I’ve found – you still get the brick oven high heat effect w/out burning the crust.

There are a ton of other accessories out there, but these are the ones I’ve used the most. Oh, and some kind of timer, and some kind of instant probe thermometer to check the internal temperature of meats. But I think that goes without saying for any cooking or grilling.

Charcoal, Lighting,and Fire

When I first started cooking on my grill I figured lump charcoal is lump charcoal – it’s all just burned wood, right? Boy was I quickly disabused of that idea!! Locally I can buy Red Oak All Natural Lump Charcoal for about $12 for a 17 lb bag and it has so far done really well for me. I understand that there is also a blue bag that isn’t as high a quality, but I haven’t seen it here locally.

Based on the advice of a grilling group, I ordered a 40lb bag of Quebracho lump (for $42 with Prime delivery from Amazon) and have been using it for the last 4-5 weeks or so (and still have a good bit of the bag left). $42 sounds like a lot to spend on charcoal, but I’m finding that at prices of about $1 a pound you get the best charcoal bang for your buck, so to speak. There are far more large, dense pieces in the Quebracho bag. And bigger lumps make for longer lasting cooking.

grill starters | © karacooks.com

To light the grill I use the BGE firestarters, which are really nothing more than chunks of cardboard soaked in paraffin wax – like canning wax. I might at some point try making my own, but for now these do fine. I cut each square in quarters using my kitchen shears and it takes 2 quarters to light a half sized fire (using the Ash Dragon divider) or 3-4 quarters to light a full fire box.

grill starters | © karacooks.com

I know some people swear by the chimney starters, but I found the one I ordered messier and more trouble than it was worth, and so I gifted it to my former brother in law. :)

Ok, I think this post is quite long enough for now. Next up, I’ll do a post on learning to control temperatures and getting started cooking. And I’ll discuss some of the cooks I’ve done over the past few weeks.

Homemade Barbecue Sauce

May 21, 2014

Filed Under : condements

homemade bbq sauce | © karacooks.com

 

I’m a Texas girl by birth and mostly by upbringing, and like any good Texas girl, I do love barbecue. Real barbecue.

And what, you ask, do I mean by *real* barbecue? Well, a lot of people use “barbecue” (or BBQ as the case may be) as a catch-all phrase for anything cooked on a grill. Real barbecue, however, is not just about throwing meat on a grill over high heat and cooking it until it’s done and then slathering it with sauce. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good grilled hamburger or hot dog. A well grilled steak is a thing of joy. But none of those are barbecue. Where I come from, we’d call those things part of a cookout, as in “Y’all come over Saturday afternoon and we’ll have a cookout in the back yard. Bring beer!”

Real barbecue is a technique; one that involves good quality meat and a long and slow cook over coals (and possibly some smoking wood). Texas style barbecue involves a dry rub, as opposed to those states further east (like Georgia and the Carolinas) where barbecue is more of a “wet” method and where mop sauces, marinades, and bastes are more common.

All of that to say that, as a Texas girl, I’m not overly fond of barbecue sauce. I often find it too sticky sweet to be paired with a good slab of ribs or a brisket, and on mild flavored chicken breasts, it overwhelms to the point that all I can taste is the sauce. Although I will admit that I’ve become pretty enamored of Carolina style pulled pork with it’s spicy, vinegary, mustardy sauce. But that’s another post.

I also recognize that there are a lot of people out there who love their barbecue sauce – whether as part of a real low-n-slow barbecue or to enhance grilled food like chicken or burgers. H is one of those people and would gladly baste everything on his plate with barbecue sauce if he could get away with it.

homemade bbq sauce | © karacooks.com

So this weekend I grilled a mess of ribs (that’s Southern for a whole lot) on the kamado and just for H, I put my hand to making some real barbecue sauce for the basting. It took me a while and a few failures. Let’s just say that we have a couple of large jars of almost-sauce that he is more than willing to use, but don’t meet my standards. In the end, though, I came up with something that even I can enjoy in small quantities. It’s a nice balance of sweet, tart, and spicy. And best of all there’s no HFCS, fake color, fake smoke, or preservatives in my version.

So for those of you who enjoy grilling out with barbecue sauce or who enjoy a good old fashioned slow cooked barbecue with a baste, I hope you try this and enjoy it!

Kara’s Basic BBQ Sauce

  • 1/2 of a small onion, very finely minced
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 6oz can of tomato paste (I used Contadina brand)
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2-3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard powder
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Cook the onions in the olive oil until they’re very very soft – almost mashable. Do not let them brown.

Once the onions are cooked, add all the other ingredients and stir well (or whisk) to make sure the tomato paste and brown sugar are broken up.

Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer until reduced by 1/3 to 1/2 (depending on how thick you want your sauce). Taste periodically and adjust spices and seasonings to taste. More cayenne will increase the heat substantially, but feel free to play around with other dried & ground chiles as well.

I think it’s a well balanced sauce; not too sweet, not to vinegary, with just a bit of heat.

Grilling Fever

May 13, 2014

Filed Under : miscellaneous food

As I mentioned in my most recent Things post, I recently bought a kamado style grill. It’s been quite the adventure and learning experience. For one, up until recently H was in charge of all things related to outdoor cooking (it’s the man’s job to cook over fire, don’t you know?). And for another, grilling over real charcoal (not briquettes but real hardwood charcoal) is a completely different ball game from what I’ve been used to with a gas grill.

Here are a few of the things I’ve done over the last few weeks – with details and recipes to follow. And yes, everything in this post was cooked on the grill.

It’s going to be a grill heavy summer, y’all!

The grill in it’s natural setting:
kamado grill | © karacooks.com

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup (using residual grill heat):
spicy grilled sweet potato soup | © karacooks.com

Pork loin chops, corn, and cucumber salad:pork loin and corn | © karacooks.com

Fajitas:fajitas | © karacooks.com

Garlic knots (using leftover pizza dough):garlic knots | © karacooks.com

Salmon & asparagus:salmon & asparagus | © karacooks.comDSC_2840

Pizza:pizza | © karacooks.com

Baked apples:baked apples | © karacooks.com

Pulled pork: pulled pork | © karacooks.com

pulled pork | © karacooks.com

Pork loin roast w/ a coffee rub: pork loin | © karacooks.compork loin | © karacooks.com

Brats and dogs (in beer and onions): brats & beer | © karacooks.combrats & beer | © karacooks.com

Grilled pound cake (topped with fresh strawberries):grilled pound cake | © karacooks.com

Things 2014 – for many missed weeks

May 11, 2014

Filed Under : life

dining room buffet | © karacooks.com

Wow have the last few weeks been a wild ride. To talk about everything that has happened would take up way too much time and way too many posts, so we’re just going to skip to the present. Work has been crazymaking, life has been wonderfully insane, and I’ve (mostly) loved every minute of it. But boy am I glad to have a weekend to just breathe again.

During the craziness, I splurged on a new kamado style grill for myself and have been grilling up a storm over the last 3 weeks. I have tons of photos and recipes that I really want to share with everyone.

I also finished the bottom half of the dining room/office/buffet conversion and I couldn’t be happier with it. There was a period there where I was near to tears and thought it wouldn’t happen, but magically about 2/3 of the way through it just suddenly all fell into place. That’s it above, before the skirting was put on and before the top had been properly waxed. (PS – that countertop? It’s chalkboard paint, y’all!)

I redid the left half of the back patio around the grill the next weekend – both for aesthetic reasons and because now that I have a charcoal grill and have to deal with hot ash, I felt like the pine straw was a fire hazard. I’m pleased with how it came out, but now the right half of the patio looks a little sad in comparison!

This weekend I took off from crazy house stuff. Saturday we went to the Georgia Renaissance Festival, watched silly shows, drank beer and mead, ate turkey legs and various meat-on-a-stick meals, and were milord & milady’d a couple hundred times – and it was a blast!

I hope everyone has had good weeks leading into summer. I’ll try not to disappear for so long next time!

Things: Books & Movies & TV

I’ve read a ton over the last few weeks and don’t have room to write about everything in detail, but here are a few that stick in my mind:

  • Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome – this short novella by John Scalzi is a lead in to his upcoming book Lock In. It’s only just been released in an e-format and I snapped it up. It may be one of the best Scalzi things I’ve read and now I can’t wait for the book to be out.
  • Columbine by Dave Cullen was impossible for me to put down. Everything you thought you know about the shootings in Columbine from the news media may very well be wrong. The book is fascinating and eye-opening – not just about Columbine but about school shootings in general.
  • Destroyer Angel – This book is the latest in the Anna Pigeon series by Nevada Barr. It may be the best book in the entire series, but it was also the most dark and grim of all of the books. The things Anna has to do for her own survival and that of her friends is terrible and soul shattering, and you wonder how she’s going to live with it in future books.
  • Alaska Traveler: Dispatches from America’s Last Frontier – A series of articles originally written for Alaska magazine by Dana Stabenow (author of the fabulous Kate Shugak series). Although the articles are slightly dated now (originally written in the late 90s and early 2000s), they still give a feel for the grandeur and craziness that is Alaska from the point of view of someone born and raised there.
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors. I read her book The Bean Trees a few weeks ago and so was thrilled when my online book club chose one of her books for our summer reading list. This is different from her fiction; it’s the true life story of why and how she and her family moved from Arizona to a family farm in the Appalachians and decided to live off of the land.
  • TV shows have also sucked me in this spring. I’ve been regularly watching: Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and TURN (the historian in me is in heaven over that last one), as well as Big Bang Theory and almost everything on HGTV or DIY network.

Things: Links

I have no links this week mostly because I have TOO MANY links saved and I need some time to pick through them and find the best ones for you guys. And maybe spread them over a few more weeks.

Corned Beef Hash

April 9, 2014

Filed Under : breakfast - main courses

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

April 6, 2014

Filed Under : life

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

April 4, 2014

Filed Under : veg, salad, & side dishes

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”

April 2, 2014

Filed Under : snacks, nibbles, & treats

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

March 31, 2014

Filed Under : miscellaneous food

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

March 30, 2014

Filed Under : life

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)

March 27, 2014

Filed Under : main courses

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

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...