Pay homage to The Emerald Isle

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day! If you live in Chicago you’ll know that Saturday was the official day of celebration. That’s when the Chicago River was dyed an electric green color, full grown men were using public transportation dressed as leprechauns, and many a young adult drank a year’s worth of Jameson shots. But the world-wide recognition of the holiday was today and in honor of St. Patrick and all that is Ireland I baked up some Irish soda bread. If we hadn’t of had leftovers from Sunday dinner in our fridge I might have made a good ‘ole Irish stew, colcannon (which I love making with kale instead of cabbage), or perhaps some lovely buttered cabbage. But I didn’t. Since this bread is a breeze to make with zero commitment I thought it was the perfect way to pay homage to The Emerlad Isle.

If you’ve never made Irish soda bread before I urge you to try it and soon. If you can stir things together and flop it on a sheet pan you’ve already mastered it. There is no rising, resting or kneading of the dough required. And you probably have all of the ingredients in your home right now, minus a pint of buttermilk. The first time I ever made soda bread was when I was living in Los Angeles a few years ago. My mother came to visit and I don’t remember why I decided to bake it for her but I’m glad I did. Although I probably mixed the ingredients too much, which resulted in a slightly dense bread, the taste was out of this world. And if the bread itself wasn’t enough of a treat we slathered it in Kerrygold Irish butter. Can’t. Go. Wrong. This soda bread will make you want to dance an Irish jig. It’s that good.

As I mentioned, make sure you don’t over mix the ingredients or the bread might come out dense. Just mix until it has barely come together and you should be golden. I learned long ago that I prefer simple, unadorned soda bread so I don’t add currants or raisins. I also only sprinkle caraway seeds on top before I bake rather than mixing them into the dough. But you are free to make it however you please. Enjoy your bread with a pint of Guinness or a cup of tea but the point is, enjoy. Erin go Bragh!

IRISH SODA BREAD

2 cups Buttermilk

1 Large Egg

1 1/4 teaspoons Baking Soda

3 3/4 cups unbleached All-Purpose Flour

1/3 cup Sugar

1 teaspoon Baking powder

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/4 cup Unsalted butter (1/2-inch dice; cold or frozen)

1 1/4 cups Dark Raisins

1 tablespoon Caraway Seeds

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a 12 x 17-inch sheet pan with baking parchment.

In a medium bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the Buttermilk, Egg, and Baking Soda and set it aside while preparing the other ingredients.

Combine the Flour, Sugar, Baking Powder, and Salt in a large bowl.  Mix the dry ingredients with a wire whisk, then cut in the Cold Butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until the mixture looks like coarse meal. The largest pieces of Butter should be about the size of tiny peas. The butter should be suspended in tiny granules throughout the Flour, not rubbed into it to make a doughy mass. If any large chunks of Butter remain, break them up with your hands until they’re pea size, then stir in the Raisins and Caraway Seeds until they are evenly distributed.

Make a deep well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the Buttermilk mixture into the well. Save the last bit of the Buttermilk mixture remaining in the bowl or cup for a glaze for later. Stir the wet and dry with a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon just until the dry ingredients look like a shaggy mass. This dough will be very wet but should be firm enough to hold its shape after the loaves have been formed. With floured hands, divide the dough evenly into two pieces. On a floured work surface, gently shape each piece into a rough-textured round about 5 inches in diameter. It should be more like a shaggy pile of dough than a smooth, compacted round ball. Be warned, your hands are going to be a gloppy mess. Place the rounds on the prepared sheet pan, leaving several inches between each loaf and around the edges of the pan to allow for spreading. Clean your hands. Then, using a floured dough scraper or a sharp knife, deeply score each round into 5 wedges, cutting all the way down to the pan. Try to cut the wedges as evenly as possible. Using a pastry brush, brush a little of the remaining buttermilk liquid onto the top of each loaf. Sprinkle the tops of the loaves with a little unbleached flour to give them a rustic look.

Bake the loaves in the center of the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and rotate the pan from front to back. Continue baking for 15 to 20 more minutes, until the loaves are golden brown on both the top and bottom. A toothpick inserted in the center of a loaf should come out clean. Remove the loaves from the pans to cool on a wire rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Store any leftovers in an airtight container. They’re best if eaten within 2 days.

Recipe courtesy of Amy’s Bread as featured on The Chew.

Simple and satisfying salad

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First of all, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Lori at Creating Beauty in the Kitchen for nominating me for the Liebster Award! What an incredible honor! There are few fun things I need to do before I can accept the nomination but I want to take my time doing them so I will put aside some time this weekend and report back on it soon.

As far as today’s food moment (or last night’s, rather), it was a first for me. Two nights ago I was in bed just about to fall into a blissful deep sleep when out of nowhere Kevin whispered, “Hey, I saw them cook a recipe on the Today show this morning and it looked really good. Do you think you could make that for us?” I have cooked Kevin many a meal but he’s never before asked me to make anything specific. It was completely adorable, how could I not make it for him? So the next day I hit up the grocery store and collected all I needed for, what turned out to be, a simple and satisfying salad. I was actually a little surprised this recipe had jumped out at him. I think he’s been craving fresh spring food as much as me. The dish could only have been better had we been able to walk down to the farmer’s market (which hasn’t opened yet) in the warm spring sunshine (which hasn’t arrived yet) to buy fresh vegetables.

The recipe doesn’t call for it, but I bought a loaf of sourdough bread to make croutons. These days most health conscious people think about how to remove carbs from a meal…I think about how to include them in an otherwise carb-free dish. Bread and pasta are a weakness. So is cheese. And chocolate. When I got home from the store I cut up a few cubes of the bread, removed the crust, and spread them out on a baking sheet to dry up for a few hours. Then I threw them in the oven before cooking the shallots and eggs and let them get nice and toasty for perfectly delicious homemade croutons. They added a nice crunch to the salad, too. As for the greens, I couldn’t find frisee at the store so I used escarole instead. Use whatever your heart desires. Just a quick note: make sure you let the egg whites just set. You want the yolk to be nice and runny to give the salad a golden glaze of the rich yolk when you cut into it.

Kevin was very pleased with the outcome and commented on how this version had to be better than the one he saw on TV. I just love feeding him.

Asparagus and proscuitto salad with egg, mustard, shallots and frisee

7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large shallots, peeled and sliced into 4 thick slice
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons grain mustard
8 ounces asparagus, peeled if thick, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
2 tablespoons vegetable stock or water
2 heads frisee, washed and cut into small pieces
8 slices of proscuitto
Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small ovenproof sauté pan. Put shallots in pan and sprinkle with salt. Turn stove on high and cook until shallots begin to sizzle. Cover with a lid or foil and place in oven until tender but not falling apart, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

For the eggs:

Place a pan large enough to hold 4 eggs on medium high heat. After a minute, spray the pan with vegetable spray to coat the bottom and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the eggs and immediately place in the oven to cook. After about 3-4 minutes when the whites are set, they are ready.

For the vinaigrette:

Place juice, vinegar, mustard and a pinch of salt in to a mixing bowl. While whisking, slowly drizzle in 4 tablespoons of the olive oil. Check seasoning and reserve.

Heat a medium sauté pan on high heat and add remaining oil. When oil is just below smoking point, add asparagus and cook until lightly brown, about 3-5 minutes depending on thickness. Add shallots and toss on heat for 30 seconds. Take off the flame and add seeds and toast for about 20-30 seconds. Then add stock or water to prevent further browning.

Dress frisee with vinaigrette and divide onto 4 plates or shallow bowl. Top with 2 slices of proscuitto and 1 egg in each bowl. Spoon over asparagus and eat.

Serving Size

Serves 4

Recipe courtesy of Today show.

Spring makeover extravaganza

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It has been a weekend of truly wonderful food moments. Friday’s took the cake, though. A few weeks ago I was at Nordstrom to buy some face cream I had run out of and the sales woman suggested I sign up for their spring makeover extravaganza. It was to take place on a Friday night, a friend and I could come get a facial and makeover, and Sarah Jessica Parker was going to be there promoting her new shoe line. I told her I was most likely not going to buy any of the products they attempt to sell you on but she said, “Come and join the party anyway!” So I enlisted my best friend Jenny to be my plus one and we made it into a date. A bit of backstory here…I lived with Jenny just after she gave birth to her beautiful daughter to help take care of Cynthia and get Jenny back on her feet. She had some complications during and after the birth so I wanted to make sure my BFF was in good hands. It was one of the best times in my life! We had so much fun getting to know this new, tiny human and spending some quality friend time with each other after living apart for years. We developed an almost nightly ritual of eating a great dinner prepared by moi, grabbing our glasses of wine and some cheese, getting into bed and watching episode after episode of Sex and the City. Those were some good days and wonderful memories.

Fast forward almost 10 years later and Jenny and I are sitting down to a fantastic dinner with a glass of wine, getting ready to pamper ourselves and catch a glimpse of the beautiful and stylish SJP. It was like everything had come full circle in a way. If I may take a moment to mention the food. Chicago was blessed with the opening of Eataly a few months ago. This place is ridiculously awesome! Every Italian culinary product you could possibly imagine with several restaurants to sit at and enjoy some quality dishes. We chose to dine at La Verdure, which is the vegetable restaurant. After several wine tastings we settled on a beautiful Tuscan red and bathed the slices of fresh baked bread in golden olive oil. Jenny and I are both huge veggie fans but what came to us was something of our dreams. We started with the Scarola alla Grilglia which was grilled bitter greens with pine nuts, currants, Parmigiano Reggiano, and aged balsamic. Simple, right? Yes, but the flavors made it into a much more complex dish. The smokiness of the grilled greens combined with the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar was out of this world. I have never drooled so much over a salad in my life. We then split the Farrotto con Zucca which was farro cooked in the style of risotto, with butternut squash, Parmigiano Reggiano and butter. Lots and lots of butter. This might have been one of my favorite things I have ever eaten…EVER. There was no pasta, no cream, and not that much cheese but this dish tasted better than the best macaroni and cheese. I don’t understand how they did it but you can bet I’m going to be attempting to create this at home. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Unfortunately, by the time we got to Nordstrom Sarah Jessica Parker had come and gone. Not that we minded much. We both agreed that the meal beat any spotting of a celebrity. The women who gave us facials and did our makeup were asking where the two of us were going afterward since we looked so gorgeous and made up. To a hot dance club? To a trendy bar to sip trendy cocktails? Nope. We promptly went back to Jenny’s house to get into our cozy pants, snuggle up on the couch with her daughter Cynthia and watched a Harry Potter movie. Life is grand!

Flakiest, tastiest, butteriest crust

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Spring is nowhere in sight here in Chicago. This last week we were back to negative degree wind chills and several inches of snow. I made a big pot of soup at the beginning of the week and was feeling a little souped out. But I still craved the kind of soul warming fare reserved for snowy winter nights. Then like a gift from the culinary fairies the new issue of Bon Appetit arrived in my mailbox. On the cover was the most delicious looking photo of short rib pot pies. Coincidentally, Kevin and I had recently been to Billy Sunday and had split a mouth-watering short rib pot pie while sipping cocktails at the bar. I had a recipe in my hands, cold weather outside and a hungry belly. Why not try to whip up this pot pie on my own?

The pot of meat simmered on the stove for 3 hours filling the house with such an intense beefy smell that I couldn’t wait to dig in. The recipe says to stir in order to break up the short ribs but I scooped the meat out, shredded it with a fork and then added it back to the pot. The stirring wasn’t doing the job. Besides the ribs, the only other filling the recipe calls for is pearl onions. Granted, the only pot pies I grew up eating were chicken but they were always stuffed with a variety of vegetables. In this case, I happened to have carrots in the fridge and peas in the freezer so I threw those in. You can never have too many vegetables, especially in a pot pie. Despite the very satisfying and incredibly tasty filling, the one word that made my tastebuds want to scream with pleasure was “crust”. Crust. CRUST! God bless the Bon Appetit chefs for giving me this recipe for pot pie crust. I have to admit that I was pretty skeptical when the recipe called for equal parts butter and vegetable shortening. Shortening? Why on earth would I need shortening when butter is available? Butter is supposed to be best, yes? In the case of this dough, shortening was the magic ingredient that elevated this crust to something of mythical proportions. I have never used shortening. This was my first time…and it won’t be my last! Since I was at Whole Foods to buy the short ribs I went ahead and bought the organic butter flavored vegetable shortening there, as well. I don’t think all shortening is butter flavored but I would advice you not to use anything but. What came out of that oven was the flakiest, tastiest, butteriest crust I have ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth. I thought the crust would be second string to the short rib filling and boy was I wrong. This was one food moment I was not expecting. It’s such a joy and relief when a recipe you’ve never tried before comes out better than you could have hoped.