Thursday, March 4, 2010

Irish Soda Bread

Irish soda bread is awesome, and it's that time of year when the supermarket starts stocking it and the recipes are in every food magazine and Website. So I'm joining the crowd. It's hard to believe that up until past week, I've never made it. According to Irish chef Rory O'Connell (in Bon Appetite's online article), both the white and the brown Irish soda breads are traditional, and butter was not an original ingredient. The recipe I read about was made with 50% wheat flour and had butter, but not too much, and that's nice compromise in my mind.

The recipe came to my attention in the doctor's office. That seems to be when I get inspired to cook - looking at the recipes while I wait for my appointment (just seeing how my wrist is doing). This time, I brought along the latest issue of Bon Appetite. There was a fabulous article about Andrew McCarthy's (the actor) search for the Irish soda bread of his youth. It was a great read and the recipe was a tempting one for me. Though I had every intention of disgracing Andrew McCarthy's concept of what Irish soda bread is by adding nuts and currants.

The results were mixed. Things I did like were the oat flour and walnuts.

But there were issues with the dough being too dry, my overworking it, and the difficulty cooking it through without burning on the outside (I scrapped the worst parts of the piece in the picture).
Based on the issues with the first loaf, I also made some changes which worked out well. I was pleased with the loaves when I took them out of the oven.

The flour mixture was 2 1/2 cups of white, 2 1/2 cups wheat, and 1 cup oat. If I were to make the recipe a third time, I would make change it to 2 1/2 cups white, 2 cups oat, and 1 1/2 cups wheat. If I don't become completely sick of Irish soda bread, I see a third batch in my future!

Irish Soda Bread
Inspired by Bon Appetit

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup oat flour
(note: I also enjoyed 3 cups white flour and 3 cups oat flour)
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled margarine or butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 cups buttermilk + 1/4 cup reserved to the side in case the dough is too dry

2/3 cup currants

1 cup toasted and chopped walnuts

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Whisk the flours, sugar, baking soda, and baking powder in medium bowl to blend. Add the butter and cut it into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender (aka dough blender). It will be ready when the bits of butter are the size of peas.

Add the buttermilk and stir until the ingredients are just blended. There will be clumps at this stage. But if you notice that there is no way that the dry ingredients are going to be able to become one with the dough, you should immediately add more buttermilk.

Turn the dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until the dough comes together, about 10 turns. Be careful not to overwork the dough!!! If you kneed it too much, the bread will be tough.

Shape the dough into two 6" rounds and cut large "x", 1/3 inch deep, in the top of the dough.

I read that cutting the "x" on the top serves several purposes. For the bread, the cut helps the bread cook because it is at the thickest part of the bread. For the people of Ireland, it signifies the cross, and is a way that the bread is blessed. It also is a symbol for breaking the bread - which is easier to do once the bread is baked.

Place dough on prepared (oil-sprayed) baking sheet. Mine baked for 42 minutes, but I suggest checking the dough's progress at 35. I did the toothpick test, but with a wooden skewer. Poke it into the thickest part of the bread, and you'll know it's done by a lack of resistance when you pull it out, and when you look at it, it's clean (there's no dough on the toothpick/skewer).

Let it cool completely before cutting it.

My favorite way to eat it is toasted, with butter and honey.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dried Shitake Mushrooms

Shitake mushrooms give fantastic flavor to Chinese food. But they can be either hard to find or expensive. The solution? Dried shitake mushrooms!

Dried shitake mushrooms are a great deal. First of all, they seem to last forever if you don't use them. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the shitake mushrooms I just used in my Orange-Soy Glazed Tofu dish were probably over five years old. And they were no worse than they were the day I bought them.

But not only are they good for how ever long you store them, but they are good for your budget. If you have an Asian food market near you, you'll see what a great deal they are. But if you don't have an Asian market, or if you feel intimidated to go in, you can buy them online. I did a search on and found numerous good deals on dried shitake mushrooms.

This is what they will look like:

To use them, you have to rehydrate them. Put them in a bowl or plastic container and
add boiling water - enough to cover them.

Then, you have to push the mushrooms down with something so they are submerged. I used a smaller lid and it fit perfectly so that I didn't have to weigh the lid down with something.

But chances are you'll have to put something on top of the lid to hold it down and keep the mushrooms submerged.

Then cover the bowl or container to keep the water good and hot.

In about 15 minutes, the mushrooms will be ready.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Roasted Pears Topped With Almonds, Raspberries, and White Chocolate Yummies

I'm so happy that this is my first recipe of 2010. It represents the way I'd like to cook and eat this year.

First of all, it's absolutely delicious! And it looks elegant, so you can serve it at the finest dinner party. Another plus was that it is quite simple. There really aren't a lot of ingredients, and you can have everything ready to assemble by the time the pears come out of the oven.

I don't know about you, but I need the "simple" in my cooking repetoire. My life is overwhelmed with minutia. But I do not want to cook the semi home made way. I want to cut down on processed foods and overwhelming amounts of sodium and chemicals. I believe that foods taste better when they are natural, and I feel better about eating them.

I decided to use organic frozen raspberries for my version of this recipe. It's the dead of winter, and while fresh raspberries were available, they were quite expensive and the quantity was small. I got about twice the amount of rasperries, and with the juice, I was able to make a 2nd sauce - a raspberry reduction. Here it is in all it's juiciness:

It was pretty spectacular. If you want to make the sauce, just though the raspberries. Strain out the juice while preserving the best of the berries for decoration. With some of the less-beautiful berries, put them in a sieve and use a rubber spatula to press out all the juice. You would be smooshing the berries to do this. Then put the juice in a small saucepan and boil it down to about 1/2 of the original amount of juice. If you wanted to, you could add some sugar. I didn't.

This recipe uses Vietnamese Cinnamon, aka Saigon Cinnamon. It is not the same as regular cinnamon - it's more pungent and complex. Maybe some of you can buy it in the grocery, McKormick does distribute it. But I prefer to order my spices online. I get mine from Penzey's Spices. They do have a few stores, which I hear are an incredible experience, but they also ship. My link is to the Vietnamese Cinnamon, but they sell every kind of spice, and they are fresher than anything you can buy in the grocery store, and most likely much cheaper per weight.

  • Penzey's Spices: A jar of 1/4 cup (7 ounces) of the cinnamon is $3.25.

  • McKormick on the shelf at Stop and Shop supermarket: only 1.5 ounce (the regular tall-size glass jar) costs $5.98.

  • Spice Islands Saigon cinnamon, the same size (7 ounces), is 5.80.

  • King Arthur Flour: just 2 oz. cost $4.50

Roasted Pears Topped With Almonds, Raspberries, and White Chocolate Yummies

Inspired by Cat Cora (for McKormick)

1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon Vietnamese cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 pears, firm, halved with cores removed
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons heavy cream
2 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
fresh or frozen raspberries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the pear haves, cut side up in an 8 x 8 inch baking dish sprayed with cooking oil. Brush the tops with butter and drizzle some more into the cavity, but leave as much as you can for later (I used half the butter).

Mix the sugar and spices in a small bowl and then sprinkle half of the mixture evenly over the pears.

Bake for 15 minutes. If your butter, sugar, and spices have fallen off of the pears, use a brush or spoon to baste the pears with it again. Sprinkle the remaining sugar mixture on top, drizzle with the remaining butter, and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the pears are tender.

While the pears are cooking, bring the cream to a boil in a small pot over medium heat. Take the pot off of the flame and add the white chocolate, stirring until it is melted and the sauce is smooth.

To serve, place a pear half on a dessert plate or shallow bow. Spoon any of the butter/sugar mixture from the pan over the tops and sprinkle with the almonds. Then drizzle the cream and chocolate mixture over it and top with the berries.

Roasted Pears Topped With Yummies

I'm so happy that this is my first recipe ...

See Roasted Pears Topped With Yummies on Key Ingredient.