St. Patrick’s Day Part 2: Irish Soda Bread

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Before yesterday I don’t think I’d ever actually eaten Irish soda bread.  Being half Italian, a quarter Spanish, and a quarter mish-mash, this food was not exactly tradition in my house.  But still on my kick of making Irish food for my Irish boy on a (questionably) Irish holiday, I thought – once again – why not!  I had seen recipes before, all of which seemed to have a lot in common with my favorite scone recipe, so I figured it was worth a shot, and fairly confident it would turn out okay.  My baking experiments hardly ever let me down.

So I turned to Google – put “Irish soda bread” into the search bar, and the first result that turned up was from FoodNetwork.com, an Ina Garten recipe, with over 150 reviews and 5 stars overall.  Not too shabby.  I like Ina, the way she cooks, and her philosophies on food, so I figured her recipe would be as good as any.

Warning: if you attempt this, the recipe says the dough will be very wet.  This is a gross understatement.  They should say that the dough will stick to your hands like wet cement.  Also that if you own a dough scraper, you should have it out and ready BEFORE scraping the dough out of your mixing bowl.  Also, if you happen to have a boyfriend sitting around while you bake (note: husband, wife, girlfriend, roommate, child will all work sufficiently), you may need them to sprinkle more flour on your dough so you don’t contaminate the whole container with your sticky fingers.

That being said – stick with it (no pun intended).  This recipe turned out deliciously.  Just the right amount of tang and sweetness, neither one overpowering the other.  I would definitely make this again – although I would find my dough scraper next time.

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Ina Garten’s Irish Soda Bread Recipe (from FoodNetwork.com)

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for currants
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup dried currants

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.

With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Combine the currants with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.  Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Yesterday I bought my first ever corned beef brisket.  Considering I’m dating a good (half) Irish boy, I figured making him corned beef and cabbage this weekend was the least I could do.  But upon arrival at the meat section of my local supermarket, I stood perplexed in front of the meat case overflowing with corned beef, unsure of what the difference was between different brands and different cuts.  And I did what I’ve done more times than I can count when confronted with a confusing situation while at the grocery store – I called my mom.  Mom knew what she’d always bought, but not necessarily what the difference was.  While we chatted, another woman walked up to the case, took one look at all of the different options, and exclaimed, “What’s the difference!”  Luckily the butcher happened to overhear our dismay and came to our rescue.  Turns out the point cut is from the end of the cut, and, predictably, comes to a point.  The flat is, well, flat – and has more evenly-distributed meat. I think depending on how you’re cooking it, the thin end of the point cut could get overcooked more easily.  I didn’t think it would matter in the crockpot, but I figured I’d “splurge” on the cut that didn’t cost $1.99/lb.

Once I got home, I have to say that putting this meal together was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done.  I think it took 15 minutes start to finish, and turned out fantastically.  I looked at a handful of recipes online, and took most of my inspiration from this one here at allrecipes.com – but in the end, I kind of did my own thing, and would recommend it in a heartbeat.

Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Cabbage

4 or 5 medium carrots
one bag of small/baby red potatoes
one onion
4 cups water
1 3-4 lb. corned beef brisket (plus spice packet)
1 bottle beer
1/2 a head of green cabbage

Peel and chop the carrots into roughly 2-inch chunks.  Quarter or halve the potatoes.  Chop the onion.  Dump all three vegetables into the bottom of your slow cooker.  Add water.

Trim the excess fat from the brisket, place on top of the veggies, and sprinkle the spice packet over the meat.  Douse with the bottle of beer.  (I happened to have a single bottle of a Magic Hat IPA in the fridge, so that’s what I used, but any beer with good flavor would work.  Next time I’d love to try something darker.)  Put the lid on the slow cooker, turn to low, and cook for 7 or so hours.

After 7 hours, roughly chop the cabbage, add to the slow cooker (I took the meat out, added the cabbage, and put the meat back on top to submerge the cabbage), and continue cooking for another hour or so.  Then – enjoy!

And the best part?  This morning, my honey took the leftovers, and some inspiration from Alton Brown, coupled with his own dash of creativity, to make us a killer corned beef hash with sunnyside-up eggs for Sunday brunch.  It looked kinda like this.

Gotta love a meal that keeps on giving.