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Archive for March, 2010

Irish Soda Bread

One of my favorite things about St. Patrick’s Day, in addition to the arrival of Spring and the excuse to drink green beer, is Irish Soda Bread! I’ve been enjoying this bread since I was a wee-little leprechaun and I’ve since realized it’s actually quite easy and quick to make yourself!

This year I used a recipe from my Joy of Cooking cookbook and it worked like  a lucky charm!  

Wait. You say this isn’t REAL Irish Soda Bread? Around this time of year much attention is drawn to the fact that what we, Americans call Irish Soda Bread, is not in fact authentic Irish soda bread. Some argue that the inclusion of raisins, caraway seeds, and even eggs, are an American invention and corruption of the original recipe.  Yes my friends, there is even a Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread.

Apparently, traditional Irish soda bread is just plain brown bread consisting of flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk. If you ask me though, that sounds like bread I would eat any day of the year. Boring. As an Irish American, I don’t think my ancestors would hand me over to the British for adding raisins, seeds, or anything else so long as it is in the tradition of recognizing and celebrating my Irish heritage. It’s not like I’m putting Doritos or Coca-Cola in the dough….

So with that said, please enjoy my recipe for Irish Soda Bread as I know and love it!

Irish (American) Soda Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbs. sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 4 tbs. (1/2 stick) warm melted unsalted butter

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together the first 5 dry ingredients into a large bowl. Next, stir in raisins and caraway seeds. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, and butter. Add to the four mixture and stir until the dry ingredients are moistened. Srape batter (which will be sticky) onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and form into a large mound. Use a sharp knife and slash a large X about 1/2 inch deep on top of the dough. Bake until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean, approx. 30 minutes.  Enjoy!

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One Sunday morning while eating breakfast, Tony and I found ourselves watching an episode of Giada at Home on the Food Network  (yes, I realize the irony in the fact that we were watching a cooking show while eating… but  I’m sure we’re not the only ones who do this!). Giada made this look so quick, easy and DELICIOUS (never mind the fact that she was feeding it to her 2 year old! that kid certainly eats well). Tony and I immediately turned to each other and agreed “we’re making this tonight.”

I love Giada and turn to her recipes quite frequently (as you can tell).  She always uses fresh, whole ingredients in a simple way.  I think it’s fair to say that she actually helped me really learn to cook. Obviously my Mom played a huge part in my culinary education, but I never really took her tips and advice to heart until I was doing it on my own, as opposed to just helping her out in the kitchen.  It wasn’t until well after college, once I owned my own house with my very own kitchen, that something clicked and I decided that I was ready to move past simple pasta and grilled cheese and really wanted to learn to cook for myself.  I remember looking through the cookbook, Giada’s Family Dinners- which I believe my Mom actually gave me- and thinking “I can do this!” All I needed were the right ingredients and the right pots and pans and then all I had to do was follow the directions.  Obviously, it’s never quite that simple and dishes are often a big FAIL even after following the directions to a “t”- but whenever I think that a recipe or dish is too difficult to make I always remind myself that all I need are the right ingredients and the right tools and I can do it  (i.e., don’t own a spring form pan= can’t make that cake; but note to self: buy a spring form pan!).

This recipe was really easy and involved only a few simple, fresh ingredients. The only item we needed from the store was fontina cheese!

Ingredients

  • Ciabatta bread (or other baguette), cut into 6 (1/2 inch thick) slices
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups spinach
  • Salt
  • 1 cup shredded fontina cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or tin foil. Arrange the bread slices in a single layer on the baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until light golden, about 10 minutes. Cool for 2 minutes. Rub the warm toasts with the cut side of the garlic. Set aside.

For the topping: In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add spinach and stir until it begins to wilt, about 3 minutes. Season with salt, to taste. Using tongs, arrange the spinach on top of the toasts. Sprinkle with cheese and bake for 5 to 8 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Season with salt and cool for 2 minutes.

This would make a great appetizer or serve it with salad (or soup) for a light dinner, as we did.

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Italian Wedding Soup

I hosted our book club meeting this month for which we read Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert. We previously read Eat, Pray, Love by the same author, which (most) of us really liked. So we were all excited to read her new book. It was a very different book, but I liked it all the same. It wasn’t as entertaining as Eat, Pray, Love, but it was just as thought provoking.  Definitely a hot topic of conversation for a group of 30 year old women!

What better dish to accompany our discussion than Italian WEDDING Soup!?!  I made it vegetarian-style, of course (I don’t think anyone missed those little meatballs anyway : )  I was  surprised to learn that the term “wedding soup” is actually a mistranslation of the Italian phrase, minestra maritata (“married soup”), which is a reference to the combination of green vegetables and meat.  I was also surprised to see how many variations there were to what I thought was a classic, straight-forward recipe.  I suppose all the same could be said about marriage itself. Marriage is simple word with deep meaning. It’s a word in everyone’s vocabulary,  whether married or not.  However once you begin to look closely at individual marriages you realize that what goes into them-  everyone’s own “recipe,” if you will-  is different and unique, for better or for worse. One woman’s ditalini pasta is another woman’s orzo, or so it goes.  I suppose I could go a step further and make a comparison between the right to make a vegetarian version of the soup and the right to gay marriage- but I think I’ve already stretched my analogies in this post beyond the scope of a food blog for one day… What we were talking about? Oh, soup…

Italian Wedding Soup (Vegetarian)

Ingredients

  • 4 carrots (peeled and chopped
  • 4 celery stalks (peeled and chopped)
  • 1 large onion (chopped)
  • 3 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 1 Tb. oregano (dried)
  • 1 Tb. basil (dried)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cups Kale and/or Spinach (trimmed and chopped)
  • 1.5 cups pasta (ditalini or other small shape)
  • 6 cups of vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tb. lemon juice
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese (grated)
Directions
In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add garlic and onion and saute  for 4 minutes. Stir in carrots, celery and herbs. Saute for another 5 minutes, until soft. Add broth and water and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 5 minutes, until pasta is a dente. Add kale and/or spinach and reduce heat. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add lemon juice and stir. Next, in a small bowl, lightly beat the egg and then mix in the parmesan cheese. Finally, slowing stirring the soup in a circular motion, add the egg/cheese mixture to the pot, continuing to stir until egg is cooked, about 2 minutes [while the addition of the egg can definitely be omitted, I found it added a really interesting flavor to the soup].

I served the soup with Grilled Cheddar Cheese and Tomato Sandwiches pressed on the Cuisinart Griddler and a simple green salad. Perfect combination for a cold winter night and good conversation!

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