My Favorite Collard Greens

favorite collard greens | ©karacooks.com

There is a restaurant here in Atlanta that is well known for it’s chicken dishes. Last year they opened a location up near my house but I wasn’t exactly beating a track to the door. I mean … chicken? I roast a mean chicken myself and who wanted to pay Alpharetta restaurant prices for roasted chicken or chicken strips, right? But a few months ago we were looking for a place to eat dinner before a movie and it was the first place we walked by and it didn’t look like there was too much of a line, so we said “what the heck” and went in.

And boy have I been wrong. First of all, the chicken was fantastic. My date had roasted chicken, I had the chicken stew, and we ordered a variety of sides between us to share. Everything was delicious, but far and away the best thing on the table were the collard greens. I raved over those greens, praised them to our waiter, and ordered a large side to-go so I could have them for lunch the next day. When our waiter came back with our check and my packaged up cup of greens, he brought me a bonus: A roughly scrawled out recipe from the chef. Jackpot! It wasn’t a complete recipe with measurements; it was more a “here’s what’s in it and here’s the technique” which is enough for me to run with.

favorite collard greens | ©karacooks.com

Since the first visit to the restaurant, we’ve been back a half a dozen times and tried more items off the menu – including the chicken fingers. And I’ve made this greens recipe at least once a month.

Collards are about as Southern as you can get and a lot of people who didn’t grow up with them are often a little afraid to try them. There’s a perception that it’s just a slimy pile of wilted greenery, about as appetizing as the glop of canned green spinach your mom used to serve when you were a kid. I promise you, collards are not like that. When they’re raw, they’re tough and almost stringy. When you braise them slowly in a flavorful liquid over a long period of time, they become tender, but not mushy. They almost develop the texture of al dente pasta. Trust me, they’re worth trying when they’re made well.

favorite collard greens | ©karacooks.com

Also, this recipe is my favorite, but don’t be afraid to experiment with it. Some people like a little sweetness in their collards, so they’ll add a tablespoon or so of sugar – white or brown. Some people like their collards spicy so they throw in some pepper flakes or cook a couple of whole dried chiles in the pot to up the heat. If you can’t find piquillo peppers, roasted red peppers make a nice substitute or you can try pimento peppers for a little vinegary twist.

Collards make a great side dish for just about anything. We had them with baked pork chops on Friday. But I’ll be honest, I think greens are even better the second day, after the flavors have had a chance to meld overnight. I frequently use a bowl of greens as a base for an egg or two for breakfast or brunch – fried, poached, or soft boiled eggs all work well.

favorite collard greens | ©karacooks.com

And finally, don’t let the liquid left over from the cooking go to waste. If you do it right, once the greens are eaten, you’ll have a few cups of what is referred to as the “pot liquor” left over. The pot liquor is rich in vitamins C and K and full of flavor from the bacon, the peppers, and the greens themselves. If I’m not going to use it right away, I freeze it for later. Of course the most obvious use is as a soup base for your next vegetable soup or as the liquid when cooking rice or beans. I’ve also used this pot liquor as a marinade for roasts of both the beef and the pork variety. And then there’s the good old Southern tradition of simply crumbling up some day old cornbread in it to make a thick, soupy mixture to eat with a spoon. (Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it – it’s kind of addictive!)

favorite collard greens | ©karacooks.com

If you’ve never had greens, I hope you’ll try this recipe and come to love them. If you already know and love collards, share your recipe variations with me in the comments. I’m always looking for different ideas!!

My Favorite Collard Greens
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 8 servings
Ingredients
  • ¼ lb thick cut bacon, diced
  • 1 large bag collard greens
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1 15oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 8oz jar piquillo peppers, diced, juice reserved
  • 2-6 cups of water
Instructions
  1. Put your diced bacon in a 4-5 qt stockpot or dutch oven over low heat and cook until the bacon bits are crispy and you've rendered out as much of the fat as possible.
  2. Remove the bacon bits and set them aside.
  3. Add the onion to the pot and turn up the heat slightly. Cook the onion until it becomes translucent and then starts to brown and caramelize a little.
  4. Add in the garlic and give it a quick stir for 2-3 mins.
  5. Add in the diced piquillo peppers, then the collard greens. The greens will fill the pot entirely, but keep tossing them and stirring them until they're well coated with the onion/garlic/pepper and oil.
  6. Add the diced tomatoes including the juice, and the reserved juice from the peppers, and then add enough water to come to about halfway up to the level of the greens. It could be anywhere from 2-6 cups. Keep in mind that the greens will shrink as they cook and you don't want too much liquid.
  7. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 hours - or longer. I've cooked greens for as long as 8 hours and they hold up beautifully.
  8. Serve with bacon bits sprinkled over the top.

Cottage Cheese & Oat Pancakes

cottage cheese pancakes | © karacooks

breakfast | February 11, 2016 | By

I’m not generally a fan of sweet things for breakfast. My tastes run more to the savoury – eggs, bacon, biscuits, gravy, those kinds of things. Every now and then, though, I do get a craving for a pancake or a waffle and sometimes I especially get a craving to have a sweet breakfast-for-dinner. A blast of carbs and sugar in the evening doesn’t really set anyone up for a restful evening, however, and I am trying to be a overall healthier in my eating. 

So I started looking around to see if I could “healthify” pancakes. I found a whole bunch of recipes that called for everything from almond flour to added protein powder to all kinds of Paleo options. But I also found dozens and dozens of recipes for a very simple cottage cheese and oat based pancake that looked interesting. There were variations of course; some of them called for whole eggs, some of them called for egg whites only, some of them called for a mix of cottage cheese and milk or almond milk, and a zillion other little tweaks. But the core of each recipe was the same; cottage cheese, oats, eggs. So to keep things simple that’s what I went with here: 1/2 cup each of cottage cheese and oats, plus 3 whole eggs.

cottage cheese pancakes | © karacooks

You do need a blender or a food processor for these pancakes. Even a stick blender will do as long as you’re able to break up the curds in the cottage cheese and the flakes of oats. I tried mixing them by hand but it just doesn’t create a proper batter and what I wound up with was a lumpy mess held together by egg. NOT appealing. So definitely blend these.

After that, they cook just like a regular pancake. I used my cast iron pan and a little coconut oil. A little over a minute on the first side, until the bubbles started to pop through, and then a 30 second flip to brown up the 2nd side and finish cooking them.

Now I can’t tell you that a pat of butter and breakfast syrup adds to the healthy part but that’s what I was craving when I made these, so there it is. You could top them with fruit for a healthier version. I suspect you could also add fruit as you’re cooking them just like with traditional pancakes – berries or bananas or whatever floats your boat.

cottage cheese pancakes | © karacooks

This recipe makes about 10 4″ pancakes and they’re extremely filling and more than enough for 2 or 3 people. Nutritionally the entire recipe breaks down as you see below – which means if you really want to eat the whole batch, it wouldn’t be terrible! However I could only eat 3 of them before I was completely full. 

470 calories | 33g protein | 23g fat | 34g carbs | 4g fiber

Quick update:  My friend Melissa reports back that she made these with 1% cottage cheese instead of the 4% I used, used 2 whole eggs and 1 egg white, and added thinly sliced banana and they came out great. So do experiment with these pancakes and find what works for you!

Cottage Cheese & Oat Pancakes
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 2-3 servings
Ingredients
  • ½ cup cottage cheese
  • ½ cup rolled oats (not instant)
  • 3 whole eggs
Instructions
  1. Mix all ingredients using a blender, stick blender, or food processor until you have a smooth batter.
  2. Use a pan over medium heat - if you're not using a non-stick pan, you can use a little oil. I used coconut for this recipe.
  3. Pour onto the pan in rounds and cook for 1 min or until you see bubbles popping through the top. As the bubbles begin to pop, the pancake is ready to be turned. Flip it and cook for a further 30 seconds, just long enough to brown the bottoms.
  4. Serve with fruit, syrup, or any toppings of your choice.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: entire recipe Calories: 470 Fat: 23g Carbohydrates: 34g Fiber: 4g Protein: 33g

 

Pickled Cabbage Salad

veg, salad, & side dishes | December 3, 2015 | By

Pickled Cabbage Salad | © karacooks.com

Back in early November, Deb from Smitten Kitchen posted this  pickled cabbage salad. I like cabbage, I was looking for a slaw recipe that didn’t rely on mayonnaise so much anyway, and I decided I’d try it. I had all the ingredients I needed on hand except for the cucumber, and so I forged ahead.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Pickled Cabbage Salad | © karacooks.com

It was delicious the first day after it had rested for about 4 hours in the fridge. The second day it was superlative. The cabbage was still crunchy, the flavors had begin to blend and meld, the pepper I added became a little more prominent, and I may or may not have eaten three bowls of it for lunch. And then immediately made another batch. I also messaged all my friends and said “You have to make this now”. That’s how much I love this salad.

I’ve since made it (ahem) a few more times. As odd as it seems to make a chilled salad my wintertime staple, this is it this year. I’ve had it for lunch with a sandwich or some leftovers almost every day for the last 2 weeks, and even served it as a side with Thanksgiving leftovers on Friday and Saturday. (It really is a perfect companion to a leftover turkey sandwich!)

Pickled Cabbage Salad | © karacooks.com

I’ve tweaked the recipe a little to adapt it to my own taste, upping the amount of celery seed and adding some cracked whole peppercorns for spice. I’ve also tweaked the vegetables in a couple of batches, even adding red onion in one. This last time I made it with half green cabbage and half red cabbage, which has dyed the whole batch a beautiful, vibrant pink. I’ve also made it with both real sugar and with Truvia, and while I prefer the version with real sugar (and it doesn’t impact the nutritional value that much) the version with Truvia is still very good and worth making.

So as I’ve told everyone I know, I’m now telling you – make this salad. Now. Today. You won’t regret it. It’s that good.

Pickled Cabbage Salad
 
Prep time
Total time
 
Loosely adapted from SmittenKitchen.com's recipe.
Author:
Serves: 10
Ingredients
  • 1½ cups white vinegar
  • 1½ cups water
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar (or 3-4 tsp of Truvia)
  • 1 tsp celery seed
  • 1 tbsp cracked whole peppercorns (or 1-2 tsp fresh ground black pepper)
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt (I used Mortons)
  • 1 small head of cabbage (you can use all green or mixed green and red)
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
  • 1 carrot, cut julienne (or shredded)
  • 1 cucumber, diced or cut julienne
Instructions
  1. Mix the first 5 ingredients (through the black pepper) and let it sit for the salt and sugar to dissolve. (If you use Truvia instead of sugar, it will not entirely dissolve in the brine. Go ahead and leave it in; it will sink to the bottom and won't be noticeable when you serve the salad.)
  2. Dice, shred, and chop all the other ingredients while the brine is sitting then toss them all together in a LARGE bowl and pour the brine over. Toss it well so that every bit of the vegetable mixture comes in contact with the liquid (I used my hands - it was just easier), then cover it and let it sit in the fridge for at least 4 hours. It's even better if you let it sit overnight.
  3. After the salad has rested and "pickled" some, it will shrink down considerably and you'll be able to move it to a smaller container and pack it down. I was able to fit the whole recipe into a half-gallon sized mason jar after letting it rest overnight. If you do move it to another container, just pour the brine in as well - at this point it should mostly cover the vegetables.
  4. If you've used Truvia in the recipe, you'll still have little bits of undissolved sediment/grit in the bottom of the bowl. I filtered this out when I moved the salad to a smaller container, but again, it will settle to the bottom if you leave it in.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1 cup Calories: 56 Fat: 1 Carbohydrates: 13.5 Fiber: 2.5 Protein: 1.3

 

Brown Butter Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Glaze

Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Brown Butter Glaze | © karacooks.com

A few weeks ago I got into a brown butter craze. I made and froze several herbed browned butters for use over the holidays and was trying to figure out what to do with some of the leftover I had. In my searching I found this post from Honest Cooking: Brown Butter Pumpkin Loaf with Streusel

I pulled together the ingredients for the cake, threw them into the mixer, and then somehow, for some reason, decided to bake this in a bundt pan as one large cake. Who knows why. As I started to make the streusel topping, I realized that streusel on a bundt cake was pretty useless (the top of the cake in the oven becomes the bottom of the cake when it’s presented) and so I skipped it in favor of the browned butter glaze.

Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Brown Butter Glaze | © karacooks.com

Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Brown Butter Glaze | © karacooks.com

Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Brown Butter Glaze | © karacooks.com

Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Brown Butter Glaze | © karacooks.com

 

Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Brown Butter Glaze
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Serves: 1
Ingredients
For the cake
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 15 oz can of pumpkin puree
  • 3 cups flour (I used white whole wheat)
  • 1½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • ½ tsp ginger
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
For the glaze
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons whole milk
Instructions
For the cake
  1. Cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
  2. Add eggs and pumpkin and mix well.
  3. Mix all dry ingredients and blend into the wet until just combined.
  4. Bake at 375 for 60-70 mins or until a toothpick comes clean.
For the glaze
  1. Whip all ingredients together, adding just enough milk to make a loosely flowing consistency.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 16 Calories: 448 Fat: 19g Saturated fat: 11g Unsaturated fat: 6g Trans fat: 1g Carbohydrates: 68g Sugar: 48g Sodium: 176mg Fiber: 2g Protein: 4g Cholesterol: 81mg

Grilled Pizza -Redux

main courses | March 23, 2015 | By

cold cast iron pizza #2 | ©karacooks.com

Last year I bought a kamado style grill and posted about it here: Grilling Fever.  Most people know of the kamado grills via the Big Green Egg brand, but there are several other brands out there. You can read some of my beginners thoughts about kamado grills and grilling here: Kamado Cooking – Notes from a Beginner.  Since I bought the kamado, I’ve probably completed over 100 cooks on it and learned a ton. Now that the weather is nice, I plan to get right back to it and I started off this weekend with grilled pizza.

An eon ago, when I had a gas grill, I wrote about grilled pizza. While that recipe and technique are still good, I want to update it with a new and fantastic pizza method that I’ve learned on the kamado; the “cold cast iron” method.

It’s super simple and turns out a fantastic pizza in a matter of minutes. Start by lighting your grill and letting it heat up to 600° F.

While the grill is warming up, build your pizzas on a cast iron griddle or skillet. Once I discovered this method, I bought 3 of these Lodge Cast-Iron Round Griddles specifically for pizza making. They’re 10″ (which makes a perfect personal pizza size) and $15 with free shipping via Amazon Prime. Well worth the price. Amazon also sells a larger 14″ pan specifically for pizza if you wanted to make larger pizzas: Lodge Cast Iron Pizza Pan.

You want to make sure that each pizza starts off on a cold (or at least cool) griddle or pan. Sprinkle a little cornmeal on the pan and then shape your dough into a circle to nearly fill the pan. You can make your own pizza dough or use store-bought (the dough in these pictures was from the Publix deli).

Add the toppings of your choice – for this pizza I used garlic, tomato sauce, sliced tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, red onions, ricotta cheese, and a light sprinkling of shredded mozzarella cheese. (H made his more traditional with sauce, pepperoni, ricotta, and mozzarella.)

cold cast iron pizza #1 | ©karacooks.com

Once your grill has come up to temperature (at least 600°F), place the griddle or pan in the grill. You want the grate at least level with the edge of the grill, and better yet, 2″-3″ above if at all possible.

Close the lid, set your timer for 8 minutes, and keep your hands off! After 8 mins, check the pizza. If the cheese is completely melted and starting to brown on top and the crust is puffy and browned, it’s done. You can leave it in another minute if you want a slightly darker crust, but more than 11 minutes and it’ll start to burn on the bottom. The picture below was after 9.5 min and the crust was just perfectly crunchy on the bottom.

cold cast iron pizza #3 | ©karacooks.com

 

If you’ve got a kamado style grill, or a grill that you can heat up to 500°+, I strongly recommend you try the cold cast-iron method of pizza making. It makes wonderful pizza. Now I just need to plan a pizza party and invite some friends!

Seared Ahi Tuna

seafood & fish | October 13, 2014 | By

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 Ahi Tuna
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Grilling
Serves: 2 servings
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp wasabi powder
Instructions
  1. 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.)
  2. Heat your grill up super hot - 525-550 deg the dome is good. Put your cast iron pan or griddle at the lowest level and sear the tuna on each side for about 30 - 45 seconds per side (depending on how thick the tuna is and how much rare you want in the middle.
  3. Remove the tuna from the heat and pop it in the freezer for 2-3 mins. That will help firm it up so you can slice it super thin.

 

 

Corned Beef Hash

breakfast, main courses | April 9, 2014 | By

corned beef hash | © karacooks.com

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!

Corned Beef Hash
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 4 servings
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  1. 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.
  2. Mix together all of your ingredients and add them to the skillet, tossing them to get a light coating of the hot oil.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
Notes
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basic Red (Tomato) Sauce

homemade staples | January 17, 2014 | By

tomato sauce | © karacooks.com

Many years ago I knew someone who married into the quintessential close-knit New York Italian family. She told me that she knew she’d truly been accepted into the family when her husband’s grandmother taught her how to make the family recipe for tomato gravy. One long winter weekend at her place, she taught me the recipe and the technique. She and I drifted apart over the years and eventually went our separate ways, but the recipe and technique for this incredible sauce have stuck with me ever since.

The thing about this red sauce is that it’s dead simple. It really is. It’s made with a minimum of seasonings and ingredients – tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, and basil. Because it’s so simple, it acts as a stepping off point for any variation you want to make or application you want to use it in. Eat it just as it is, tasting of fresh tomatoes and garlic or:

  • cook it down to thicken, add oregano and make pizza sauce
  • add a ladle or two of this sauce to browned meat/sausage and make a bolognese
  • use it as a base to braise short ribs
  • poach or bake eggs in it
  • add horseradish sauce to it for an Italian twist on cocktail sauce
  • braise stuffed cabbage rolls in it
  • simmer some diced veggies in it (mushrooms, zucchini … ) and spoon it over spaghetti squash
  • use it in your lasagna and parmagiana recipes
  • add it to minestrone soup
  • use it as a starter base for Manhattan style clam chowder
  • use it in ratatouille
  • braise meatballs in it or use it to make meatball subs
  • add a little more liquid and some milk or cream and make tomato soup

Nowadays I make this sauce at least once a month, and two or three times a year I make an enormous triple batch to divide up and freeze. It really is one of my go-to freezer items when I’m feeling tired or lazy and don’t want to put a lot of effort into cooking.

tomato sauce | © karacooks.com

Making this sauce is as much about technique as it is about ingredients, but don’t skimp on cheap ingredients either. Because there are so few, it’s important that what you use be good quality so the flavor shines through.

Finally, before I get to the nitty gritty of the recipe, if you don’t pay attention to any other part of this post, take this part to heart: A good tomato gravy / red sauce is about taste and feel. Don’t get hung up on measurements or freaking out about exactly 2 cups or exactly 1 tbsp. Some people like more garlic. Some people don’t feel it’s authentic tomato sauce without oregano. Maybe you only have 4 carrots. Maybe you have tomato puree, but not tomato paste. Maybe you want to add a few red pepper flakes and make it spicy.

All of that is OK. Don’t become a slave to the recipe. Make it once as written and then play with it. Stick with the basic techniques and make it your own. This is what cooking is about.

tomato sauce | © karacooks.com

Onward!

Basic Red (Tomato) Sauce
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 12
Ingredients
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped carrots
  • 3 15oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 6oz can of tomato paste
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 tsp dried basil or 5ish leaves of fresh basil minced
  • 1 tbsp sugar (optional)
  • 1-2 tsp salt (optional)
Instructions
  1. Put the chopped onion and olive oil into the pot and cook slowly over low heat. The onions should become translucent and limp with absolutely NO browning. This is really important; if you find little browned bits, pick them out. If you're getting a lot of browned bits, turn down the heat. Browned bits will add bitterness to the sauce, and will also mess with the texture of the final product (no one wants crunchy tomato sauce!). This step can take up to 40 mins. Don't rush it.
  2. When the onions are completely cooked through and tender, add the garlic, chopped carrots, diced tomatoes (juice and all), tomato paste, and water.
  3. Bring the sauce to a simmer over low heat and cook (uncovered) until it's reduced by about ⅓. This could take anywhere from 90 mins to 3 hours. Don't rush it and don't raise the heat too much. You don't want to scorch the bottom.
  4. When the sauce has reduced down and it nicely thick, use an immersion blender or a regular blender or food processor in batches, puree the sauce. Blend it as thick or as chunky as you like, but make sure there aren't any big chunks of carrot or onion in the sauce.
  5. To the puree, add your basil, sugar, and salt (optional). More sugar or salt can be added to taste, but start with the minimum. The quality and sweetness of the tomatoes often guides the amount of sweet and salt you need to add.
  6. If you're just going to use it plain or freeze it, let it simmer for 30-45 minutes, giving it an occasional stir with a wooden spoon. This lets the flavors completely blend. Serve it as is or cool it and freeze it for later.
  7. If you're going to make a meat sauce, or a vegetable sauce, add mushrooms, zucchini, peppers, or whatever veggies you want. Or add browned beef or sausage. Then simmer for 30-45 mins.
  8. This recipe makes 6 cups of sauce. A serving (depending on your appetite) is about ½ cup of sauce, so the recipe as written makes 12 servings.
Notes
Make sure you have a good quality 3-4 quart, heavy bottomed pot. Anything cheap and lightweight will have hotspots and will scorch the sauce.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: ½ cup Calories: 65 Fat: 1.3 Carbohydrates: 11.9 Sugar: 6.6 Sodium: 533 Fiber: 2.4 Protein: 4

 

Posole

soups & stews | January 8, 2014 | By

posole | © karacooks.com

I was working on my menu plans for the first of the year, pulling out my list of cold weather recipes – soups, stews, chili, casseroles, and roasts – and I came across my former mother-in-law’s recipe for posole. Anyone who has lived in the Four Corners region of the United States is familiar with posole – a spicy, warm, filling soup/stew made with pork, green chile, spices, and hominy.  It has as many family recipes and variations as Italian tomato sauce does, and of course every family swears theirs is the only right, original recipe!

Me? I can’t swear that my FMIL’s recipe is authentic (although she did grow up in Arizona and New Mexico and raised her family in Colorado), but I can swear that it’s absolutely delicious and worth making.

Here are the basic ingredients (aside from a pork roast of your choice):
posole | © karacooks.com

RoTel is a mix of stewed tomatoes, spices, and either green chile, jalapeno, or habanero, depending on the variety you get. It’s a staple pantry item where I grew up in Texas and I cook with it all the time. For posole, I like to use one can of regular and one can of hot, but feel free to adjust that according to your taste.

Hominy is simply kernels of corn that have been dried, and alkalized (usually by soaking in a mild lye mixture). Dried hominy is ground down to make masa, a traditional Mexican corn flour that is used in all kinds of delicious items.

posole | © karacooks.com

Finally, you can use up to 6 cups of chicken stock if you want a more soup-like posole. I like mine to be chunkier and more stew-like, so I tend to use only 4 cups of stock or broth.

The recipe below is for a single batch of posole, but I like to make at least a double batch to have some for leftovers. It can also be frozen and kept for 6 months if you want to make some dinners in advance.

My friend Shannon also adapted this recipe to her slow cooker, and I’ve added the instructions for that to the recipe!

Posole (Mexican Pork Stew)

posole | © karacooks.com

Posole
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
This recipe was originally given to me by my mother-in-law.
Author:
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 2 lb pork loin or lean pork roast
  • cooking oil
  • 1 small onion. chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 4 cups chicken broth (up to 6 cups if you want a soupier posole)
  • 1 10oz can Rotel original
  • 1 15oz cans hominy, drained
  • 1 6oz can diced green chile
  • 1 Tbls chili powder
  • ½ tsp crushed oregano
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp salt
Instructions
  1. Cut the pork loin/roast into 1" cubes and brown them in the cooking oil. You may need to brown the meat in 2 or 3 batches. Don't throw them in the pan all at once or they'll steam and not get brown and crusty. Make sure there is room between each cube of meat, while browning. (If you're using a slow cooker, you can skip this step, but it really does make a difference in the flavor and texture of the meat if you brown it first.)
  2. After the pork is browned, return it to a large pot (or your slow cooker). Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the hominy. Simmer over medium heat for 45 mins - 1 hour or until the meat is cooked through and tender. (In the slow cooker, cook on low for 6-8 hours.)
  3. About 30 mins before serving, drain the hominy and add it to the pot or slow cooker, and let it heat through.
  4. Serve garnished with sliced avocado and/or a little chopped cilantro.

Cajun Style Barbecued Shrimp

seafood & fish | October 21, 2013 | By

cajun barbecued shrimp #7 | © karacooks.com

Z has been on a spicy shrimp kick lately and so our weekend cooking adventures have been filled with variations on this theme. I’ve tried a bunch of different recipes, including a chipotle based one that just didn’t work for me, so this past weekend I tried to recreate a favorite of mine from New Orleans. And I think I hit a winner!

First things first: This shrimp is not barbecued in the sense that most people know barbecue. It’s not grilled, or smoked. It’s not skewered or dipped in a sweet/spicy tomato-based sauce. It’s not really barbecue at all and I honestly have no idea why it got the name, except that’s what it’s called at Pascal’s Manalein New Orleans, where it was invented.

The restaurant’s version of barbecued shrimp involves whole shrimp, heads and legs and all. I prefer to make it with the white shrimp I can get from my local Publix; head off and de-veined, but still in the shell. Part of the fun of this meal is peeling off the shells and licking spicy, buttery sauce off of your fingers as you go along. But, as you can see, you can also make these with already peeled, tail on shrimp if you want a little less mess. I buy the big 2 lb bags from Costco and they work just fine!

cajun barbecued shrimp #4 | © karacooks.com

In my searching for the recipe, I found dozens of different versions: Some use olive oil and butter, some add in chili sauce, some use wine, etc. I, personally, like the one that is the simplest, most straightforward recipe. It’s also the one that’s closest to the version I remember the chef at Pascal’s Manale’s giving a long time ago.

Serve the shrimp with a loaf of crusty, warm French bread (for dipping into the sauce), and a side salad with a cooling dressing (for when the spiciness gets to be a little too intense). A big frosty glass of Abita beer goes nicely, too, if you want to keep things Louisana-centric.

cajun barbecued shrimp #3 | © karacooks.com

The other nice thing about this dish is that the sauce is prepared ahead of time and the marinading shrimp can sit in the fridge for anywhere from an hour to overnight. Then they require only 20-30 mins in the oven. It’s an easy and fast way to serve a crowd.

The recipe below can be doubled, tripled, or more. The limiting factor is the size of your oven and the size of your pans. You want no more than a double layer of shrimp in your pan, so that they all cook uniformly and are in contact with the sauce.

One last note: Don’t overcook these.  Overcooked shrimp turn rubbery and chewy. If you take them out of the oven when they just start to curl up and turn pink, the heat from the sauce will continue to cook and finish them so that by the time you get them into bowls, they’ll be just perfect.

 

Cajun Style Barbecued Shrimp
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
This is a version of the BBQ Shrimp served at New Orleans Pascal's Manale restaurant. It's a favorite in our house!
Author:
Serves: 4 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 pound of shrimp in the shell, deveined
  • 1 stick of good quality butter (melted)
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 1 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp Tabasco sauce
  • juice of one lemon
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (heaping, if you want it spicier)
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
Instructions
  1. Mix all the ingredients together (I like to put everything in mason jar and give it a good shake or two), then pour it over the shrimp. Let the shrimp sit for at least an hour, but if you want you can let them marinade in the fridge as long as overnight.
  2. When you're ready to cook, preheat your oven to 400F. Make sure that the shrimp is no more than 2 layers deep in the pan (I usually use an 8x8 square glass baking dish for 1lb of shrimp, or a 9x13 glass dish for 2-3 lbs). The sauce will not cover the shrimp completely, but all of the shrimp should be touching some of the sauce.
  3. Bake for 15 mins for 1 lb of shrimp, add 5-7 mins per pound for more shrimp. With larger batches, stir them around with a wooden spoon or spatula about ⅔ of the way through the cooking time.
  4. When the shrimp are beginning to curl up and turn pink, they're done. Remove them from the oven and the residual heat will finish them cooking. By the time you serve, them, they'll be perfect.
  5. Serve with a lot of crusty french bread for sopping up the sauce, and a cool green salad on the side.

 

This recipe shown on Tastespotting

crockpot: pork loin & green chile

green chile pork over rice

main courses | January 12, 2011 | By

I love cooking in a crockpot – especially in the winter. It’s wonderful to put something together in the morning before leaving the house and come home to a cooked meal, ready to eat. This recipe is strongly South Western based and is super flexible. Serve it as is as a fantastic one-bowl meal … or use the ingredients (maybe with some black beans added) to make a burrito or to fill tacos.

slow cooked pork loin with green chile | © karacooks & kara hudson

Start with a 2lb pork loin. Our grocery store puts them on sale every so often for $1.99/lb and I’ll stock up on the 1-2lb sizes and freeze them. Brown the pork loin in a little canola oil in a hot skillet. It’s easier for me to cut the loin in half so that it fits in my 12″ cast iron skillet.

slow cooked pork loin with green chile | © karacooks & kara hudson

Once the loin is browned on all sides, move it to your crockpot and add 1 medium yellow onion to the skillet. Be sure and scrape up all the yummy browned bits on the bottom of the pan as the onions cook.  Add the onions to the crock pot.

slow cooked pork loin with green chile | © karacooks & kara hudson

Then add the following: 1 can Hatch’s Green Chile Enchilada Sauce, 1 can Ro-tel Tomatoes, and 1 can diced green chiles.

slow cooked pork loin with green chile | © karacooks & kara hudson

Let this cook for 5 hours on low. You want the pork to be so tender that you can pull it apart with a fork. When it’s done, you’ll have a good bit of liquid in the pot as well … stay tuned because we’ll be using this!

slow cooked pork loin with green chile | © karacooks & kara hudson

Remove the pork from the pot and set it aside for a minute. Then measure out ~1.5 cups of the liquid and tomato/chile bits. Add them to a cup of rice and another 1/2 cup of water in a saucepot.

slow cooked pork loin with green chile | © karacooks & kara hudson

Bring the rice to a boil and then lower the heat as low as you can get it, cover, and cook for 20 mins, until the rice is done. Fluff with a fork.

slow cooked pork loin with green chile | © karacooks & kara hudson

In the meanwhile while the rice is cooking, you can pour off the remaining liquid into a smaller sauce pan and simmer it until reduced by about half. (You don’t have to do this, but I love the rich creaminess of the thickened sauce.)

slow cooked pork loin with green chile | © karacooks & kara hudson

Finally, while you’re waiting for the rice to cook and the sauce to thicken, shred the pork loin with a fork (or your fingers).

slow cooked pork loin with green chile | © karacooks & kara hudson

Finally, serve the shredded pork, over a scoop of rice, topped with a little of the thickened sauce and a few slices of avocado.

slow cooked pork loin with green chile | © karacooks & kara hudson

 

Southwestern Pork Loin w/ Green Chile
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Ingredients
  • 2 lb pork loin
  • 1 15-oz can Hatch’s Green Chile Enchilada Sauce
  • 1 15-oz can Ro-Tel tomatoes (original or hot, if you prefer)
  • 1 6-oz can diced green chiles
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 cup rice
Instructions
  1. Brown the pork loin in the canola oil in a hot skillet until brown and crusty. Remove the loin and put it in your crock pot and brown the onions in the skillet, being sure to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the skillet.
  2. Add the onions to the crock pot, then add the cans of enchilada sauce, Ro-Tel, and diced green chile. Cook on low for 5 hours or until the pork loin is fork tender.
  3. Remove the loin from the pot and let it rest for a few minutes before shredding it with a fork.
  4. Use 1.5 cups of the liquid from the crock pot and an additional ½ cup of water to cook the rice in a separate sauce pot. (Bring the rice to a boil in the liquid, then reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 20 mins.)
  5. Simmer the remaining liquid in a small pot until reduced by half.
  6. Serve the shredded pork over the rice, topped with a little of the reduced sauce. Garnish with some slices of avocado and cilantro, if desired.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 8 Calories: 390 Fat: 15g Saturated fat: 4g Unsaturated fat: 9g Carbohydrates: 27g Sugar: 5g Sodium: 629mg Fiber: 2g Protein: 35g Cholesterol: 92mg

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