Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Getting Ready for St. Patrick's Day with Corned Beef and Soda Bread

St. Patrick's Day means Corned Beef and Cabbage around our house.  This year we made one early to get our green underway.  We got a big 6 pound corned beef from the local butcher.  He prepares it himself.  I have always made the kind that comes packaged at the grocery store.  You know, the one with that little spice packet included.  Boil with spices add veg at the end, pretty simple really.

So this time it was a whole new ball game with a great cut from the local butcher.  I found a recipe online that I want to share.  It was definitely the best Corned Beef that I have ever made.  It seems no matter what, I am always tinkering with the recipe.  So here is what I changed:  I used a 6 pound cut of meat, one bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, and 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns.  I used the Sierra because that is what happened to be on hand.  And I really missed those little seeds in the spice packet, so I added some with the other spices.  And seriously, rinse that cut of beef well.

Corned Beef and Cabbage in Guinness


4 lbs flat cut corned beef brisket
1 (12 ounce) bottle Guinness draught (make sure you use Guinness draught, not stout as it will turn it bitter!)
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into wedges
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 head cabbage, cut into wedges, rinsed and drained
6 medium white potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 -2 lb carrot, peeled and cut into 3-inch pieces

1.  Rinse corned beef under cold water, and pat dry.
2.  In a Dutch oven, or other large pot with a cover, brown corned beef well on all sides over high heat.
3.  Pour Guinness over the meat, and add enough water to just cover the brisket.
4.  Add the onion, garlic, bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and pepper to the pot.
5.  Bring pot to a boil and skim off any foam.
6.  Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover pot and simmer for 3 hours.
7.  Add carrots, then potatoes and then the cabbage wedges to the pot.
8.  Cover pot, and continue cooking until meat and vegetables are tender (about 20-30 minutes).
9.  Remove meat and vegetables to warm serving platter/dishes, leaving the cooking liquid/sauce in the pot.
10.  Over high heat, bring the cooking liquid to a boil, and cook until the amount of liquid is reduced by half (about 10 minutes).
11.  Slice the corned beef; serve with the vegetables and the sauce on the side.  Note: Corned beef should always be sliced across the grain.

Read more at:

Don't forget the condiments!    The mustard in the little beer stein is imported from Germany, and it is so creamy and perfect that you almost don't need the horseradish.  Here's a closer look at the label lid--

To go with that amazingly fork tender beef-- a slice of Irish Soda Bread.  So good.  The perfect accompaniment, like cornbread with chili.  And here is another great recipe from online.  I've made it many times, and it always rocks!


Irresistible Irish Soda Bread


3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1 egg, lightly beaten 
2 cups buttermilk  
1/4 cup butter, melted

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and baking soda. Blend egg and buttermilk together, and add all at once to the flour mixture. Mix just until moistened. Stir in butter. Pour into prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 65 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the bread comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Wrap in foil for several hours, or overnight, for best flavor. 
 Now all you need is a green shirt and a beer!  Or an Irish Coffee!  See you at the parade in San Francisco. . .   

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!! 


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Southern mood, Southern food. . . or what to eat while reading Beautiful Creatures

I'm in the middle of reading the Castor Chronicles right now.  I just finished Beautiful Darkness and just ordered Beautiful Chaos.  I think that I will read Dream Dark next though, since I think that it was written as a bridge between the two novels.  So I guess that makes me about dead set in the middle of the series: two down, two to go.

Food is such a big part of the atmosphere and mood of these books.  You can almost smell the pies and fried chicken cooking, at least I can.  It really makes me yearn for the tastes of my current state of alternate reality.  It's a good thing that I am doing most of my reading on the elliptical at the gym to work off some of these calories.

Here are a few recipes we made this week---

Shrimp and Grits and Stewed Okra

Peach Cobbler

Coconut Refrigerator Cake
We made a few other recipes this week that didn't make it into photos: Red Beans and Rice with Andouille, and Fried Catfish.  The beans were good but not really photo fabulous.  The fish was very good, but I'm not used to eating much fried food, so it was pretty rich for me.

The Shrimp and Grits were so incredibly good!  It is a Bobby Deen lighter version recipe.  You can check it out here.  The only thing that I changed was that I used 2 lbs. of shrimp and real half and half, since I didn't have the fat-free on hand.

Bobby's Lighter Shrimp and Grits

1/4 cup Canadian bacon, diced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 dozen large shrimp, peeled and de-veined, with tails on
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can petite-cut diced tomatoes
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon hot sauce
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fat-free half-and-half
3 cups water
3/4 cup uncooked quick-cooking grits
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

Add bacon to a nonstick skillet and saute over medium heat until crisp. Transfer the bacon to a plate; set aside. Add the oil to the skillet and set over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes.

Add the shrimp and garlic to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the shrimp being to turn pink, about 1 – 2 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl; set aside. Add the tomatoes, wine, hot sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil, stirring constantly to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the flavors are blended and the sauce begins to thicken, about 6 – 8 minutes. Return the bacon and shrimp to the skillet. Stir in the half-and-half; heat through.

Meanwhile, bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Slowly whisk in the grits, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Serve the shrimp mixture over the grits. Sprinkle with the chives.

The Stewed Okra is another Deen recipe.  Here it is.  This recipe is so good that even my 8 year old ate her whole serving.  Not at all slimy.  But actually, I don't mind when okra is slimy.  So here's what I changed:  I added half a diced green pepper with the onions, and I used a bag of frozen sliced okra.  Using the frozen okra makes this recipe so easy.

The Lady and Sons Okra and Tomatoes

4 slices bacon, diced into small pieces
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (15-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon chicken base
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups fresh okra, cut into 1-inch pieces (may use frozen, if fresh not available)
                                                      Fresh ground black pepper

Cook bacon slightly. Saute onion and garlic with bacon until tender. Add tomatoes, chicken base, sugar and pepper. Stir well and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning if needed. Meanwhile wash okra and remove fuzz if using fresh and cut into pieces. Add the okra and simmer until okra is done, about 20 more minutes (less if using frozen okra.)

Read more at:

There was just so much talk of peaches in the book that I had to make a peach cobbler.  I made one from a mix from Louisiana Fish Fry.  This is a family owned Louisiana company.  My husband and daughter loved it, and it is so easy that it can be a week night desert.  I followed the recipe and used one can of peaches, but I will try two or even three next time, because I like it more juicy and fruity than cakey. We used one of the packages of fish fry from this company for the catfish, and it was very good, too.  It was the classic cornmeal type of fish fry perfect for catfish.  I think I will try it on chicken in the oven this week.  Find out more about their products at the site here.

When Southern desserts come to mind, right after Key Lime Pie is Coconut Cake.  I found an easy refrigerator recipe online.

For the coconut cream, I used a can of coconut milk from the Asian foods section at the local grocer-- the kind that says it separates and to shake well, no water added.

Coconut Cream Cake 



 1 (18.25 ounce) package white cake mix
3 eggs
 1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1 (14 ounce) can coconut cream
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 cup flaked coconut


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together cake mix, eggs, oil, water and coconut flavoring. Beat for 2 minutes and pour into 9x13 inch pan. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine coconut cream with sweetened condensed milk and stir until smooth. When cake comes out of the oven, poke holes into it in even rows using a large fork or chopsticks. Pour milk mixture over, allowing it to soak into the cake. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk cream until soft peaks form. Add sugar and continue whipping until stiff. Spread over cooled cake. Sprinkle top with flaked coconut.

 Finally, I've been having Peachtree Schnapps with orange juice or cranberry juice to go with the Gatlin Peach theme.  And another very good drink with Southern flair is Sweet Tea flavored vodka and lemonade.  Of course, a good 'ol American Bud Light will do, too.

 Well, I'm definitely going to make more okra this week.  And maybe a Key Lime Pie. . .

Friday, March 1, 2013

Beautiful Creatures - Book vs. Movie

Beautiful Creatures is the first book in a widely popular young adult paranormal romance series written by authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. 

And it is now a major motion picture from Warner Brothers.  Richard LaGravenese directed the film and adapted the book to the screenplay.   Admittedly, this is a very long and complex story to adapt to film, but so many changes were made that the film falls far short of the book.

Frankly, I have been trying to not to read more YA, but when the film came out I decided to read the book.  I was not yet all the way through the book when I saw the film.  Since the film was so much different than the movie, it really didn't matter much whether I had finished the book or not.

So how do you make a bad movie with Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons?   I suppose that decisions had to be made to streamline the story for film, but here is what bothered me the most.

***Spoiler Alert*** from here on out---

The dark and tragic background of Ethan is completely left out, and he is turned into a simple southern, country boy who is looking to escape his small town roots.  But Ethan is so much more than that.  Both of his parents are university professors, and they have diligently worked to remove any southern accent from his speech.  So the constant "stupid hick" sound of Ethan, small town southern boy, in the movie is not the basis or voice of the book at all.   His mother is recently deceased and his father has completely lost it due to her death, so he is being raised by a defacto grandmother of no actual relation.

The movie seems to mash together the characters of Amma and Marian into some completely different person.  I find this particularly disturbing.  Amma is a voodoo practicing, classic older Southern woman.  Marian is an exotic, formally educated liberal transplant to Gatlin.  What the film ended up with is just some nondescript person of color character without any of the distinct eccentricities of either character from the book, which definitely adds texture to the story.  These characters really emphasize diverse aspects of Southern culture that make the story setting so cool, and without them all the characters could be in a small town anywhere in America.  We are left merely with accents as signifiers of place and local.

Ridley is completely different.  She is blond and pink hair modern urban super-sexy-- Avril Lavigne style among others-- and sucking on a lollipop to make mortals do her bidding.

And what happened to Macon?  Jeremy Irons was a great casting choice.  Too bad he didn't have the real character to work with.  He become a sinister 2-dimensional bad guy, not the dream-sucking vampire trying to look out for Lena's best interests.

It would have been cool to see Ravenwood change interiors like it does in the book.  But maybe that was prohibitively expensive.  Though in that way Ravenwood itself becomes a character in the book, reflecting moods and foreshadowing events.

And where's that magical, mystical connection between Ethan and Lena?  It was supposed to be more than sexual chemistry.  All the connecting dreams and kelting?

Oh, no!  Not the ending!  It changed so much that I don't know where to start.  It doesn't even seem like the same story.  It certainly didn't end the same.

 Jean Trinh talks about the changes that bothered her in The Daily Beast. 
Jean Trinh
Jean Trinh

It's hard to say if I would have enjoyed the movie more without the foreknowledge of the book.  Some of the same characters are still there, in name anyway.  And there is a witch.  And (a slightly older) boy who falls in love with her.  In the Southern United States.  I'm just not sure if that's enough to make it the same story or not.