Saturday, May 30, 2009

Imagination (Hard) at Work

The many faces of Sir Charlie...

"Hidden"... (not sure why I took a picture of this one since you obviously can't see him, hidden and all)

A scary SCARY monster (??)... with an adorably huge smile...

Shaking the "monster" off...

And of course, quite clearly... a Pirate....

It's that darn smile that gets me.

Friday, May 29, 2009

No Matter Where You Are

Nothing says grilling by the beach like grilled pork tenderloin... unless of course you're not at the beach, then it says "grilling by [wherever you are]".

We've done pork tenderloin 'on the barbie' before - and each time I'm more and more convinced that this meat is just made for the grill. Course I did like this non-grilled version a whole lot too... darn it, perhaps there are no conclusions to be drawn just yet. Pay no attention to my rambling and go fire up your grill.

Sadly, this past weekend didn't find us at the beach, so this was more of a "grilling on our deck" pork tenderloin... and while I'm not certain when we'll get to the beach next, something I do know is that we'll make this recipe once we're there.

Garlic Herb Grilled Pork Tenderloin
adapted from All Recipes

2 pork tenderloins
4 TBSP olive oil
3 cloves garlic: 2 chopped, 1 cut into 4 pieces
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 TBSP chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 TBSP salt
1 TBSP ground black pepper

Pour olive oil into casserole dish with cover. Add chopped garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper, and stir. Place tenderloins in dish and make sure the meat is coated well with the olive oil mixture. Marinate in the refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to grill, cut 2-3 small slits in one side of each tenderloin and insert pieces of garlic. Prepare your grill for medium-high heat. Grill to a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees.

Let the meat rest for about 5 minutes before slicing into medallions.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

... And Not Ashamed to Admit It

I've taken some heat over this recently but I'm absolutely positively one of those people... who try insanely hard never to delete any pictures (even once they are uploaded, I admit it) off my camera. And it's when I come across random shots like this that I remember why I'm perfectly okay with this.

Or maybe this one...

I can't decide... so I guess I'll keep both.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Family Secret

I'm fairly certain that my dad (and even my mom) qualify pretty easily as Blue Angels groupies. Our family's allegiance to anything Navy has already been well established but I've been able to keep this obsession of my parents under wraps... until now.

So was it a coincidence that my parents wanted to come visit all of us on the same weekend as a Blue Angels' show? Hardly. And we were happy to be dragged along. Especially since one of the pilots is a family/high school friend.

Charlie may have been the most willing participant... especially once his Nana had presented him with his very own Blue Angel plane.

Outfitted in his personal set of noise-reducing ear muffs, Charlie flew his own plane right alongside the elite Blue Angels crew. Unfortunately, his plane deviated quite a bit from the otherwise perfect formation.

Nana was very proud of her little John Deere-wearing, Deac-visored, future pilot.

We were happy to witness Charlie's first experience with non-farm equipment.

No clue who that is in the background of this picture... she seemed to be enjoying the show, too, though!

Blue Angel groupie jokes aside... I couldn't have imagined a better way to spend a Memorial Day weekend. It was especially meaningful to pause and remember those who've paid the ultimate sacrifice in the middle of a military airshow. May each freedom we have remind us daily of those who've gone before us to afford us those luxuries.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Their Perfect Day

Two (pretty darn good) reasons why this'll be short: 1) It's very late, and 2) After one glance at these pictures, you'll agree that there's honestly not much I could say about the wedding we attended yesterday that would in anyway improve upon the beautiful couple that we were lucky enough to witness be married.

My only comment (I can't help it... sorry!) will be that besides a ton of fun dancing (a special thanks go to Brad for joining me in the dance from my favorite scene in Hitch), we were treated to some super cute and equally delicious cupcakes in lieu of a traditional wedding cake. I only tried the red velvet and chocolate varieties (only!) but both were delicious.

CONGRATULATIONS, Ian and Francesca!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Second Time's a Charm

I haven't been slapped in the face in a while... a good, long while. So I guess it was due. It may have been warranted, though in my defense, I've only ever had one good 'good-for-you' baking experience... yes, only one in my 29.99999 short years... so why would I think otherwise?!

Apparently, lightened-up baked goods are sick 'n tired of being overlooked. They want their day to shine... and who am I to stand in their way!!

Thus I present my second ever healthy baked good... (lightened-up) Butterscotch Bars. This recipe was a no-brainer since we keep a healthy (read: enormous container full) of oatmeal in the house and I'd been looking for a recipe to use up some left-over butterscotch chips. Once the bars were baked, though (after maybe one TINY test!), they were wrapped up for my next Baking GALS recipient; thank goodness, otherwise between Chris and me, they'd have been gone.

By the way, for any of your numbers-folks who are saying "hey, 2 for 29.99999 isn't that bad"... look again. Sophisticated calculation aside... I am dealt a meager 'batting' average of barely 0.067! Even though that might be good enough for the Nats to come knockin', most others won't be impressed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I Ate Grits TWICE Last Weekend!

Oh Charleston... we'd only met a couple of times before but it didn't take us long to get acquainted again last weekend (perhaps the key was spending 2+ hours 'acclimating' to the new city in its airport)...

Mount Pleasant, just next door to quaint and beautiful Charleston, was our home for the weekend and the scene of Dan and Amy's wedding.

After some mandatory pre-wedding errands, Kevin and Angie, Chris and I, headed to the rehearsal dinner, hosted at yummy Benito's. It doesn't get much better than endless varieties of pizza and pasta served family-style.

Sunday morning took us to Hominy Grill - which was highly recommended to us and we all heartily re-recommend it. Their line is "Charleston's favorite neighborhood restaurant" and we couldn't agree more. Extremely reasonable prices, great service (do you see a trend here?), great Southern food and free to-go cups of their delicious coffee!!

After a quick afternoon of some window shopping for the girls and speech prep for the boys, it was off to the Creek Club at L'On for the wedding festivities.

As is tradition (Kevin and Dan gave great speeches at our wedding), Chris and Kevin gave a hysterical 'duet' of a best'men' speech before the night concluded with dancing and some post-reception festivities at the Sumners' (gracious hosts and newlyweds!).


Saturday, May 16, 2009

So, When Are You Coming?

To anyone who made their decision whether or not to visit us based on this... I beg you to reconsider. Don't get me wrong, Nicole's chocolate chip coffee cake was (and will be, forevermore amen) delicious, and different. In the best way possible.

But once you see this, you'll be booking your tickets for sure. If you want your traditional - laced with cinnamon, nuts, and brown sugar, coffee cake - look no further... THIS. IS. IT.

Actually, I take that back... do look further. Please.

If you haven't ventured over to Kathy's blog, you're missing out big time... almost as much you will be if you don't make this Sour Cream Coffee Cake, which she found just waiting for her (and the rest of us), on the back of a box of dark brown sugar... so perfectly fitting.

I feel I must tell you that in a fit of creative inspiration, I did end up making a light, cinnamony glaze to drizzle on the cake and it was wonderful, but I also happen to know that it didn't need the glaze... not one bit.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thanks, Mom

Growing up, my mom (read: baker and cook-extraordinaire) allowed us to pick out our favorite dessert for our birthday "cake" - and no matter what we chose, she made it happen (or at least that's how I remember it going down - for certain, I know I was never disappointed when the big day rolled around).

For many (many) years, my mom didn't even have to ask me - she knew the answer was always "cheesecake, please" (it's best to respond very politely to those willing to make you homemade delicious-ness).

Not sure how many years this unnatural obsession lasted but going through my childhood pictures last year to make our wedding slideshow, it quickly became apparent that [fill in the blank variety of] cheesecake became as much a part of my life as my family for a good long while.

Since today is the celebration of no-one-in-particular's birthday (although I could claim a late - oops - Mother's Day tribute)... more-like "had a 3 lb hunk of Philly picked up on super-sale at Costco", I decided it would just be down-right uncelebratory (I just verified that this isn't a word - but I like the sound of it) of me to not share this delicious Brownie Bottom Lemon Cheesecake.

It was only fitting that I find a recipe calling for an incredible amount of cream cheese given how much I currently had staring back at me from the fridge, but as it turns out, this recipe is best (if you're like me and your 9-in springform pan only has 1.5-2 inch sides) if you make only 2/3 of the filling. So while I didn't (and you can't make me!!) change any of the ingredients, here's that version for people with vertically challenged springform pans:

nonstick cooking spray
6 TBSP flour
1.5 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp salt
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 c unsalted butter
3/4 c sugar
1/4 c brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

3 1/3 8 oz pkgs cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/6 c sugar
1 1/3 TBSP flour
2/3 TBSP finely grated lemon peel
2 2/3 tsp fresh lemon juice
3 1/3 eggs
1 1/3 egg yolk
1/3 c sour cream
1/6 c heavy whipping cream

1 c sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray inside of springform pan with nonstick spray.

Whisk flour, cocoa, and salt in small bowl. Combine chocolate and butter in medium metal bowl; place bowl over pan with simmering water and stir until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Add both sugars to chocolate and whisk until blended. Let cool until mixture is barely warm, about 10 minutes. Whisk egg and vanilla into chocolate. Fold flour mixture into chocolate and spread brownie batter evenly over bottom of prepared pan.

Bake crust until top looks slightly cracked and tester inserted into center comes out with some moist crumbs attached about 20 minutes. Cool crust to room temperature.

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar, flour, lemon peel, and lemon juice; beat until smooth. Add eggs and yolks, 1 at a time, beating just until incorporated after each addition. Beat in 1/3 c sour cream and whipping cream. Pour filling over brownie crust and smooth top. Bake until top is puffed, light golden, and set around edges (center will still move slightly), about 1 hour 20 minutes. Remove cake from oven; maintain oven temperature.

Spoon 1 cup sour cream in dollops over top of cake and then spread gently over top with offset spatula. Return cake to oven and bake 5 minutes. Run small sharp knife around sides of cake to loosen. Place pan in refrigerator and chill at least 5 hours.

*I made the brownie crust one night and finished making the filling the following day

What birthday (or any-day) desserts are you obsessed with?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

To Market, To Market

Saturday at "the Wharf" or "the Maine Avenue Fish Market"... call it what you will... I learned all sorts of things about fresh fish.

Including the fact that I knew very little to start with! Luckily, the two very experienced fish marketers we brought along taught us everything we needed to know:

  • Two acceptable ways to prepare a platter of mussels: hot sauce, vinegar and a squeeze of lemon juice OR hot sauce, Old Bay, pepper and a squeeze of lemon

  • Cloudy fish eyes (ewh!) and dark red or dried out gills = not fresh

  • Croakers are local and probably the freshest fish you can get 'round these parts... so why don't they sell them in our local grocery stores? (even our experts couldn't answer that)

Fish Market, you were worth the (8-year) wait, but now that we've met, I expect to be a frequent visitor. Next time hopefully to indulge in some Chesapeake Bay blue crabs.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

A Definition

Funfetti Cake: [FUN FE-tee] noun

A straight from the box, moist white cake with fun 'explosions' of little color throughout; eating usually elicits squeals of delight and hours of reminiscing about childhood birthday parties

Whoever invented the tradition of having cake on your birthday... pure genius.

Whoever invented sharing your birthday cake with great friends... we thank you.

Whoever invented Funfetti Cake... we doubly thank you (with sugar on top).

Amber's 29th was all-too-appropriately rung in with Sheila's beautiful Funfetti Cake - perfectly enrobed in pink icing and sweet sprinkles.

The rest of us sadly didn't contribute a whole lot...

Unless joining the birthday girl at dinner, and enjoying a great movie together, and finally scarfing down way too much cake counts for anything.

Happy Birthday, Amber!

Thursday, May 07, 2009


Hello, my name is Kara and "this has been hard for me." (admission is the first step in the recovery process - whee, I'm on my way!)

Losing sleep over this? Not entirely. Thinking about it more than necessary? Absolutely.

I'm not a huge fan of reviews... this goes for books, movies, restaurants, you name it... I want to try it for myself (okay, reviews of cooking classes may be an exception). Since very few people are the exact kind of weird that I am, how do they know what I'll like?

Then why even consider a restaurant review when I, myself, don't value others' reviews? Who knows. I skipped that part of the thought process; I said I think about things more than necessary, I didn't say I think about the right things too much!

So, let's not think of this as a real restaurant review (as if you were) - more like Kara and Chris' Dogfish Head Alehouse experience.

First things first, GREAT Happy Hour prices. $1.50 off all drafts (and they are worth paying full price so that's a steal) and $2 off appetizers (you must have the Warm Three Cheese Crab Dip) and pizzas? I just may become a regular!

Numero dos: great service. Our waiter, Chris, was just the right amount of attentiveness. And he accepted our coupon at the end of the meal without batting an eyelash. We've received our fair share of unhappy looks from waiters after seeing that we planned on using a coupon so I notice this type of thing (and we, of course, tipped off the pre-discounted amount).

As usual, I was my indecisive self about my beverage selection but waiter-Chris didn't miss a beat - he offered a few complimentary taste-tests! Final choice - Black N' Tan. Perfect.

And the food... the best way I can put it is that the pizzas are so good that I've had to resist ordering one each time we've been. That makes no sense, I'm well-aware, it's just that I know and respect my limits and I know it would not be pretty if said pizza and I were to get that close.
So instead, Chris orders the pizza and I make eyes at it until he offers me a bite (or three). In between bites of his pizza, I devour my Wood-Grilled Chicken, Bacon, and Shrimp Salad.

One recommendation: unless you like super strong mustards, choose a dressing other than the Mustard Grain Vinaigrette. It certainly didn't ruin the smokiness of the chicken and shrimp, but I'll try their house-made Balsamic Vinaigrette next time.

Or maybe I'll order a pizza...

Monday, May 04, 2009

I Wish It Was Sunday Again

One of the most highly anticipated afternoons of my spring has come... and gone. And my mom will tell you, when something that I really, really enjoyed has come and gone, I spend about the next week+ whining "I wish it were [enter the day/hour/minute before said event happened]".

Well, "I wish it was Sunday at 11:30am again".

Gourmet (in every sense of the word). I spent 2 hours yesterday with the Executive Chef of 2941
(along with a few other people), a restaurant just around the corner that I have been dying to go to for... well, forever.

Let's just say this was a dangerous toe-dip into the world of fine dining. Every part of the experience of watching such a master instruct us on making pure deliciousness was better than I could ever have (and did!) imagined.

Artichoke Barigoule Salad. Garnished with micro-fennel and blood oranges. Oh, and that sauce... like nothing I've ever tasted; I unabashedly used an entire baguette to sop up every last bit of it.

Cooking Class Lesson #1: Always garnish with micro-greens. Just so you can say "oh yes, those are micro-greens found only at high-end markets" with a French accent.

Handmade gnocchi. It was so light and delicate and yes, perfect. I dare say too much about it in case I should disturb the intricate balance of the fluffy pillows of potato and the herbed, light cream sauce.

Cooking Class Lesson #2: Buy a potato ricer; oh, and don't let your baked potatoes crystallize (whatever that means, I just know it's bad news in the gnocchi world). Ah, heck... just order gnocchi at 2941.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp. Oatmeal streusel and homemade vanilla bean ice cream?!? Needs no explanation.

Cooking Class Lesson #3: Buy tons of cute plates, in assorted shapes and sizes. As far as this amateur could tell, that was key to 2941's amazing food.

Cooking Class Lesson #4: Find and hire one of those people who brings all of your ingredients measured exactly and at the specifically appointed time, not too early, not too late. If anyone knows where to get one of "those" people, please order one for me - my dishwasher (thanks, Chris!) is good, but not that good.

The Chef - Bertrand Chemel. Undeniably talented Chef, humble and helpful guy. No wonder 2941 is so wildly popular with him at the helm.

Cooking Class Lesson #5: Make reservation at 2941 ASAP.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

User Error

Do you have things in life that you just know you are meant to do? Like huge life plans... goals and dreams? (sorry, I keep talking about goals - one day I will move on... or you guys will - one or the other)

I realized one of those yesterday. Pretty big time, right? Welllll, I should confess... my achievement wasn't exactly in the realm of what most people would call a life-long dream. It was more of a 6-month long goal - but gosh darn it, I did it.

And I am now here to celebrate the little things in life, including my ability to finally throw a brunch for some of my girlfriends.

Normally having some friends over wouldn't be such a big deal. You all are surely, in fact, rolling your eyes. For whatever reason, though, for as long as I'd been dying to host a brunch, each time we tried to pull it together, something stood in our way.

Enter this fateful weekend. The stars aligned and finally, "the" brunch was here. As far as the food was concerned, while tasty and enjoyable, I wouldn't dare call it the brunch to end all brunches. The company, on the other hand... will be hard to beat.

That's not to say the food wasn't worth mentioning - it just needs some perfecting. Though, let me be clear - this 'perfecting' has nothing to do with the recipes, but rather what I like to call "user error(s)".

Since every meal needs a main dish, though this wasn't necessarily the star of the show, we enjoyed a vegetarian version of my very own cheesy strata. Turns out if you add enough flavorful (and colorful) vegetables, you don't miss the sausage in the least! We thought the combination of asparagus, mushrooms, spinach, onions and roasted red peppers, were just right.

Along with coffee, in the morning another thing I can't do without is some fresh fruit. Filling that role for our brunch was this wonderful Cantaloupe Salad with lime, mint, and ginger.

In my efforts to prepare everything ahead of time, I chopped the mint and zested the lime the night before (good thinkin', right?) - only to return to a bowl of dark green (not yet brown - phew!) mint. I will make this again and (repeat this after me) I will not prepare anything except the cantaloupe early.

And last, but oh my gosh, certainly not least... the Cinnamon Rolls (all 7-8 pans of them). If you don't know which ones "those" are, get to know them immediately. I've been dreaming of making the Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Rolls for almost as long as I've been planning this brunch, and they didn't disappoint (although my pictures sadly did).

*note to self - this dough will rise, it will, no doubt about it, so no need to get all over-excited and let it rise like 17 times

I'll keep you all posted on my second try at these - can't decide if it'll be the original again (the perfectionist in me wants mine to look like hers) or PW's newest creation Orange-Marmalade Rolls or Deb's version of Ranch Rugelach.

(Not even remotely) close to perfect food or not, this brunch was almost as fun planning as it was 'attending'. I should have known that Mr. Brunch and I were destined for ever-lasting friendship.

Friday, May 01, 2009

My Turn

When I was younger, I was never one of those kids who would just endlessly ask "why" (I think my brother did enough of that for both of us). Sure I had my own ways of prolonging conversations (i.e. trying to get the answer I wanted), but rarely did I just say "why... okay, but why... great and why?"

I know better... never say never.

For your sake (and frankly, my own, too), I've been doing some thinking about why I have this blog (not to mention, why I spend a decent amount of time thinking about it). Even though I had the best intentions, my jump into this little venture was quite haphazard. I was inspired by a good friend's fun blog and since I'd been tinkering around more in the kitchen and with a camera, I thought I might try my own. Not much more thought was put into it.

I should have known that one day I'd be back here, examining the goals I have for this site - after all, the better part of my day job is spent helping our employees set, meet and even exceed their own goals so it's high time that I take some of my own medicine.

So... Kara's Kitchen? Why do I sit at this computer posting pictures and crafting my stories, especially since I talk about decidedly more than just food (and the mediocre pictures I take of it).

I've come up with a very non-exhaustive list to explain my existence here (and it's good for about 5 minutes, until I change my mind):

  • First one is easy - a hour and a half flight separates my parents (Hi, Mom!) and us, so this is one way I can keep them posted on what we're doing; other sadly far-away friends fall in this category, too
  • To share cooking successes (and learn from failures) although I certainly don't consider myself a real-live food blogger - my pictures aren't good enough and the recipes usually aren't my own, though I'm working on this
  • To discuss collegiate (and other) sports, the ACC in particular; it should be said that this highly biased, unprofessional sports-writer happens to believe that the only team worth mentioning is Wake Forest (and Navy, the Nationals, and Redskins)
  • To talk about entertaining and cooking within a tight food allowance; some occasional budgeting tips and coupon mentions (plus, I can't help it - the frugal part of me just leaps out sometimes)
  • To keep a list of various things about DC... fun restaurants that we've tried and some of the different events going on in this great city that we are fortunate to call home
At the end of the day (or just this post), it turns out that Kara's Kitchen is merely one big record of some (often not) interesting parts of our lives and that lo-and-behold, I'm here just to write and kind of like it! Whatever you do, don't tell my elementary and middle school teachers - back in the day, I wasn't tops in my creative writing endeavors... for a while after a teacher suggested we vary our writing by starting or ending our assignments with a question, I ended everything I wrote with "how about you?"

Thus, and you already know this if you've made it this far, I usually sit down with some topic in mind, sometimes distantly-related to a recipe recently tested, and proceed to ramble.

This time, I wasn't able to come up with even the most remote relation to this delicious, healthy, crunchy, made-from-pantry-staples Coconut-Almond Granola, but you deserve, at the very least, to know where to find the recipe. It's so good that only a good cause such as Baking GALS could keep Chris and I from having an all-out brawl over it; the granola was quickly mailed off with the Celebration cookie bars.

How about you!? Am I the only one who does this blog-soul-searching? Yeah, I thought so.

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