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.

Wishful (Spring) Thinking

I’ve loved to cook for years.  I distinctly remember discovering that I liked being in a kitchen in my Home Economics class in Middle School.  I will forever be indebted to Mrs. Dobos for introducing me to scones and teaching me how to make pie.  But there were stretches of years where I lived alone and wasn’t dating anyone seriously, and let’s face it – cooking for one isn’t fun.  You either put tons of time and effort into producing very little food, or you end up eating the same thing for a week straight.  I love leftovers, but to a point.

Enter Adam.  Ever since we started dating last year, and especially since he moved in last September, I’ve been cooking almost every day. And I love it.  I love having the time to cook.  I love having someone to cook for.  I love trying new recipes.  I love that we both eat everything and that he’s open to any and every culinary experiment and adventure.

Last weekend we were both feeling a dash of spring fever, and wanted to spend our Sunday evening cooking a spring-like meal together, and so we decided to consult our resources – my bookshelf overflowing with beautiful cookbooks full of glossy images of mouthwatering food, and, predictably, Pinterest.  We quickly decided we wanted an appetizer and a pasta, both featuring green-tasting things, but nothing that would take over an hour to prepare.

The first thing we hit on was a recipe for Green Beans with Charred Onions, from Mario Batali’s Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking.

The photograph screamed seasonal deliciousness, and the recipe seemed simple but ultimately satisfying.  I then remembered a recipe I’d pinned recently for pasta tossed in a creamy avocado-spinach-basil pesto that just coats each noodle in green avocado goodness.  (I heart avocado.)  We thought we had a winning combo.

And we did.  Both dishes were super-simple to prepare, and both turned out amazingly flavorful and tasting of Spring.  Exactly what we were going for.

Green Beans with Charred Onions (adapted from Mario Batali, Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking)

Kosher salt
1 pound young green beans or haricots verts
2 medium sweet onions, such as Vidalia or Walla Walla (we thought this was too much onion – eyeball it to your liking)
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add 2 tablespoons kosher salt.  Add the beans and blanch until crisp-tender, 3 to 5 minutes.  Drain in a colander and cool under cold running water; drain well.

Halve the onions lengthwise and trim off the ends.  Cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide slices.

Heat a dry 12-inch saute pan over medium-high heat until very hot.  Add the onions and saute until charred in spots but still crunchy, 4 to 6 minutes.  During the last minute or so, add the beans, stirring and tossing to warm them through.  Transfer the beans and onions to a large bowl.

Whisk the balsamic vinegar, orange juice, and oil together in a small bowl.  Pour over the beans and onions, tossing to coat.  Let stand for at least 10 minutes, or up to 1 hour, before serving.

Sprinkle the beans with sea salt and serve.

Creamy Avocado Pasta (adapted from Blissful Eats with Tina Jeffers)

1 medium ripe avocado, pitted
1/2 a lime
3 garlic cloves
1/2 a jalapeno pepper
handful of fresh basil
handful of baby spinach
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
handful to half a bag of baby spinach
basil leaves to garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the pasta and cook until tender but still al dente, 9 -11 minutes.  Drain and reserve 1 cup of the cooking water.  Put the handful-to-half-bag of spinach in the bottom of a serving bowl, place the spaghetti on top, and toss for a few minutes to wilt the spinach.

While the pasta is cooking make the avocado sauce.  Scoop out the flesh from the avocado and place in a food processor.  Zest the lime and add along with the lime juice, garlic, jalapeno, basil, handful of spinach, salt and pepper.  Drizzle in oil and blend until smooth.

Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss everything together, adding a little cooking water to loosen the sauce as needed (I used about 1/4 to 1/2 a cup).  Top with the grated Parmesan and basil and serve.

You’re welcome!

It’s a blog!

I’ve been thinking about doing this for quite some time now. I don’t know if it’s from living in the age of Pinterest, having more time to cook, having someone to cook for, or having finally found the person that I want to be with, and wanting to make a home for us, but I find myself pushing my boundaries more these days, both culinarily (I know that’s not a word) and creatively.  I find inspiration yes, on Pinterest (some great recipes and DIY projects have come from those pins!), in cookbooks, on television, or just going about my day-to-day life.  I may see something at work that sparks an idea, I may read about something I want to do or try…but I figured in this day and age, when more people are trying to save money and make meals at home rather than eating out, or re-purposing or creating something for the home at a fraction of what it would cost to buy at Pottery Barn….I could post here my successes (and failures), recipes I’ve loved, little projects that have made subtle changes in the way I live.  I hope you see something that helps you out or gives you inspiration!