28 March 2009

Italian Wedding Cupcakes


Italian Wedding Cake. In name alone it is beautiful! It speaks of family and tradition. It promises love and passion.

A quick glance at the ingredients and the promise is confirmed. Rich butter, wholesome eggs, soft flour, earthy nuts, luscious cream or soothing buttermilk and a spoonful of leavening. What’s not to love? Practical yet powerful, chemistry transforms these elements into a cake that is worthy of legend.

I have made this cake before, more or less. When I heard that this month’s Dinner and a Movie event would be based on the movie “Moonstruck” it was the first recipe that came to mind to enter in the round-up. Yet, when it came to actually following the recipe I was conflicted. Tradition pulled me in one direction, my heart in another.


My recipe called for cream. In the interest of practical predictability that’s what I needed but, in cleaning out my refrigerator before Spring Break, I found that I had buttermilk instead. In addition to its ready availability, I knew that the buttermilk would add a hint of flavor that is both soothing and a little tangy. So, I substituted the buttermilk for the cream.

My recipe also called for traditional flaked coconut. Really though, I don’t like it that much. I found that I didn’t have any of it on hand either so I added a few more nuts, toasted to release the aroma and add an earthiness and a slight hint of bitterness to the flavor, instead.

Then I remembered that my recipe, calling for two cups of white sugar, tends a little toward bland sweetness, so I cut back on the sugar by one quarter and substituted dark brown sugar for one cup of the white sugar to add a little depth to the sweetness.

I mixed the batter and then wondered if my family was in the mood to appreciate an elaborate layered confection. It seemed more appropriate to serve this themed dessert in personal portions, so I made cupcakes from the batter.

Finally, when it was time to add a thick dollop of cream cheese frosting as the finishing touch, I found that my cream cheese was out-of-date and moldy. I had to smile at that twist of fortune! I did have confectioners' sugar and a fresh lemon so I made a lemon glaze instead. It added a layer of tart sweetness as sheer as moonlight to veil these nutty little gems.

In the end they turned out just right. Like the movie itself these Italian Wedding Cupcakes have a dark sweetness, tempered by a tart glow and a nutty texture that is Oh, So Good!


Italian Wedding Cupcakes

Cake:

1/2 lb. butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white sugar
5 egg yolks
2 cups flour
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups chopped pecans, toasted
5 egg whites, beaten

Lemon Glaze:

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 Tablespoon + 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Stir together the buttermilk and baking soda. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and shortening. Add the sugars, beating until light and fluffy.

Add the egg yolks, one at a time, until well combined.

Add the flour, buttermilk mixture and vanilla, mixing just until combined. Fold in the pecans and egg whites.

Pour the batter into prepared cupcake pans.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until cupcakes spring back when touched lightly on the top.

Cool on a wire rack.

When cool, make the glaze, mixing together the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice. Spread the glaze over the cupcakes.


Serve and enjoy!

26 March 2009

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Pineapple with Macadamia Nuts


Until a few years ago I didn’t know that I liked sweet potatoes. Until then I had only ever seen them on the table in a Thanksgiving casserole where they came out of a can and went into a dish along with brown sugar, a stick of butter and lots of little marshmallows on top. The sweet soggy smell was enough to warn me away. A small taste revealed an unpleasant mushiness and a singular overpowering and unnatural sweetness. I wondered, if they were really “sweet” potatoes, then why did they need all of the marshmallows and sugar anyway?

In the way that many traditions are passed down, without true understanding, I made that same casserole, that same way, after I began to cook my own Thanksgiving dinner. Every year I baked it and put it on the table. Some of my guests even ate it. I never touched a bite.

Then one evening I ate dinner with my sister-in-law. She served sweet potatoes in their jacket, just like any old Idaho potato, rubbed with a little oil and baked until tender. Intrigued, I tasted it. Surprised, I found that it was good!

Finding that it wasn’t the sweet potato itself that was the problem with those casseroles from my childhood, I began to look for sweet potato recipes that added no more than moderate amounts of fat and little sugar, relying instead on the sweet flavor of those earthy gems themselves. Better yet, I tried recipes that added savory ingredients, fresh herbs and exotic spices.

Now I love sweet potatoes and eat them often. Fresh, they are a nutritional powerhouse and are delicious cooked many different ways. My latest favorite pairs sweet potatoes with pineapple and macadamia nuts suggesting warm island breezes. Both the sweet potatoes and the pineapple are brushed with a savory herbed balsamic dressing and roasted, then tossed with candied macadamia nuts for a contrasting crunch.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Pineapple
with Macadamia Nuts


2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1 inch cubes
1/2 of a ripe pineapple, trimmed, cored and cut into 1 inch chunks
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 T olive oil
½ teaspoon ancho chile powder (or red pepper flakes)
½ teaspoon rosemary, minced
½ teaspoon lemon thyme, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 T brown sugar
1 T butter
½ cup macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place sweet potato pieces on a lightly oiled rimmed baking sheet.

Whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, ancho chile powder, rosemary, lemon thyme, salt and pepper. Brush half of the vinegar and oil mixture over the sweet potatoes and turn to coat.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile - melt 1 Tablespoon butter in a small non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter is melted add 1 Tablespoon of brown sugar and stir to combine.

Add the chopped macadamia nuts to the skillet and stir to coat with the butter and sugar. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until the nuts begin to brown slightly. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

When the sweet potatoes have baked for 25 minutes - remove the pan from the oven. Add the pineapple chunks to the baking sheet. Brush the sweet potatoes and pineapple with more of the vinegar and oil mixture.

Place the baking sheet back in the oven for 15 minutes more.

Remove from oven. Transfer the sweet potatoes and pineapple to a serving dish and sprinkle the nuts on top.

Serve and enjoy!


Note: This makes a great side dish but can also be served as a salad on a bed of romaine lettuce.

To make it a main course, cut honey ham or sliced chicken breast from the deli into half-inch strips and add them on top of the sweet potatoes and pineapple during the last 5 to 10 minutes of roasting.

21 March 2009

Poached Pears with Red Fruit and Ginger


I never thought I liked poached pears. Until quite recently I had never even eaten one. Until this past year I had never intentionally poached anything. To me poaching conjures up visions of partially cooked eggs in free form, taking on any shape they like in the poaching water. Like patterns in tea leaves, there is something sort of revealing and creepy about that.

But then thumbing through "Table for Two: French Recipes for Romantic Dining" I saw several illustrations of poached pears, one whole and one halved, and both were so beautiful. The curve of their side, the color of their delicate flesh, the expected and yet surprisingly lyrical asymmetry of their form, make them pleasing to look at, to draw or to study. Pears are really such a lovely photogenic fruit, inside and out.

I have so few recipes with pears, I tend to just eat them raw, sliced when perfectly ripe. Just thinking about their luscious flavor makes my taste buds dance. With a good cheese, a sliver of ripe pear can be the perfect complement. Enhancing a salad of arugula with walnuts, pears add a lovely note of tart sweetness. A simple fresh pear is a wonderful addition to a meal.

Still, for a beautiful presentation, a poached pear can’t be beat. So I chose the recipe on page 149, read it, then I changed almost everything. The result was delightful! Here’s what I did…


Poached Pears with Red Fruit and Ginger

2 pears *
2 cups poaching liquid (white wine or water, for example)**
½ cup sugar

¼ dried cherries
¼ dried cranberries
3 Tablespoons minced crystallized ginger, divided
pistachios, chopped
mint leaves, slivered

First, find two beautiful pears, They should not be too ripe, as poaching can add nothing to an already perfectly ripe pear. But then again, they should not be too under-ripe. Poaching cannot bring that silken soft pear texture to a piece of hard fruit. No, like Goldilocks looking for a bed, you want the pears to be “just right.”

Peel the pears and cut them in half lengthwise. With a grapefruit spoon or melon baller, carefully scoop out the seed section leaving a small well for the stuffing. Dip the pear halves in a small bowl filled with water and two tablespoons of lemon juice. Set aside.

Pour 2 cups of a white wine into a tall saucepan, just large enough for the pears. I used chardonnay and also tried a pear wine for the poaching liquid. Another time I used 1 cup of pear sake and 1 cup of green tea. Each had a slightly different flavor, but all were good. I think you could also use two cups of water or fruit juice, if you prefer.

Add ½ cup sugar (omit if using fruit juice for poaching) and bring the liquid to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.

When the liquid is boiling turn it down to a low simmer. Add the pear halves. Cover and simmer for ten minutes.( If your pears are on the ripe side it may not take quite as long, extremely unripe pears will take longer.)

Remove from heat. Reserve 3/4 cup of the poaching liquid. Let the pears cool in the remaining poaching liquid in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, place the ¾ cup of reserved poaching liquid in a small saucepan and cook, stirring constantly over medium heat, until reduced by half.

Combine the dried cherries, dried cranberries and 2 Tablespoons of minced ginger in a small bowl. Pour the reduced liquid over the berry mixture, cover and store in the refrigerator for several hours, or overnight, while the pears cool.

Assembly:

Drain pear halves and place on individual serving dishes. Fill the cavity with approximately 1 Tablespoon of the fruit mixture and several spoonfuls of the juice. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios, slivered mint leaves and minced candied ginger pieces. Garnish with a mint sprig, if desired.

Makes four servings.

*Most sources I have found recommend Bosc pears for poaching. I found that other varieties poached nicely as long as they were not too ripe. StarKrimson is a good choice. Simple Anjou pears worked fine, as did Comice when put in a mixture of lemon juice and water immediately after peeling. Again, the main thing is not the variety but the stage of ripeness.

**To double the recipe you might want to add 2 cups of water and ½ cup sugar to the poaching liquid.

19 March 2009

Slow-Cooked Green Chicken Masala


The Gatekeeper

Are you a Healthy Cook? Would you call yourself a “nutritional gatekeeper”? Do you have a certain Style in the kitchen? A New York Times article by Tara Parker-Pope suggests that those who buy and prepare the food in our home strongly influence the eating habits of those around them. That's good news if your nutritional gatekeeper makes healthy choices and is well-informed. If, instead, that person has weak nutritional habits and tends toward poor food choices that is also likely to bear consequences on the health and nutrition of the entire family. What an awesome responsibility we bear in the kitchen!

I also found the article’s discussion of how size and shape of serving dishes effects the amount we serve, and then eat, thought provoking. I bought new dishes several years ago when I remodeled my kitchen. I noticed that my new plates were at least an inch wider than my old plates, encouraging larger serving sizes to make the plate look full. Because of this discovery I now try to be more mindful of portion sizes and we frequently serve weeknight dinners on the slightly smaller luncheon plates from the same set of dishes.

Cooking Personality

The article also links to a quiz from “Mindless Eating” by Brian Wansink. This quiz will help you discover your own cooking personality. I took the quiz but I must confess, I found it difficult to identify my own Cooking Personality. In fact it seems that I am something of a Sybil in the kitchen. At times it might appear that I am “giving,” making nostalgic recipes, especially baked goods that I share with friends. On the "methodical" side I tend to rely heavily on recipes. And, while I do experiment with health-conscious recipes that are rich in fresh produce and herbs, suggesting that I can be a “healthy” cook, I can also be “competitive” and I definitely have a perfectionist streak that can get me into trouble.

I do hope I am at least a somewhat “innovative” cook. I like to think I am creative, though I doubt I would ever be called trend-setting. While I do use recipes I like to change them around and adapt them to the culture of my own kitchen and what I have on hand. This recipe for Green Chicken Masala is an example.

Synthesis

I first saw this dish at Eat. Drink. Think. It caught my eye because of the amazing color of the sauce and because I had just made a similar sauce that went with Cauliflower Pakoras. Most of the sauce I made for the Pakoras remained unused, probably because the serrano pepper made it very spicy.

To make this dish I used the leftover Cilantro Mint Sauce as a starting point and added onion, garlic and more spices along with the coconut milk from the Green Chicken Masala recipe at Eat. Drink. Think. The coconut milk cooled down the fire of the serrano pepper and the spices added balance and aroma to the flavor. Then I poured the sauce over chicken thighs in my slow cooker where they simmered until my family was home for dinner. The result was a synthesis of recipes and techniques that let me use ingredients I had on hand to produce a healthy and flavorful weeknight dinner.


Slow-Cooked Green Chicken Masala

1 serrano chile, stemmed
2 cups cilantro leaves
12 large fresh mint leaves
2 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 can coconut milk

8 - 12 chicken thighs, skin removed (boneless? even better)

To prepare the Cilantro Mint Sauce, place chile, cilantro leaves and mint leaves in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until uniform. Add water, vegetable oil, lemon juice and salt. Blend until smooth.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. When hot, add the onion and garlic and cook over medium heat until it begins to soften. Add the turmeric, cinnamon, cardamon and cloves. Cook for one minute. Add the Cilantro Mint Sauce and coconut milk. Continue cooking until heated through.

Place the chicken thighs in a 3 ½ - 6 quart slow cooker (mine holds 4 quarts). Pour the sauce mixture over the chicken thighs and cover. Cook on low heat for approximately 8 hours, or until the chicken thighs are tender and cooked through.

Remove chicken from the slow cooker with a slotted spoon and place on a serving platter.

Remove fat from the sauce remaining in the slow cooker. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Serve with rice.

Note:
If I am going to be at home I will place the chicken thighs in the slow cooker then cover and cook them for several hours before I make the sauce. When I am ready to make the sauce, somewhere around half-way through the cooking time, I drain the juice from the slow cooker and add the sauce ingredients to cover the chicken. This makes a thicker sauce and reduces the need to defat before serving.

17 March 2009

Irish Soda Bread and a Fine Irish Cheese


Irish Soda Bread is a great recipe to bring a little of the Irish to your table on St. Patrick’s Day. It is a humble bread that asks for just a few ingredients and is economical to prepare. Even better, it is a quick bread so you don’t need to hang around the kitchen all day waiting for it to rise. You can make it for breakfast or add it to fill out a modest dinner or even toast it for a late night snack. It is also great for picnics or for a St. Patrick’s Day appetizer, served with a fine Irish cheese.

A few days ago I picked up a wedge of Cahill’s Irish Porter Cheese at Whole Foods. In contrast to the soda bread it is safe to say there is nothing humble about this cheese. It is both pricey and showy. The brown wax rind, though it must be removed before eating, adds a sultry note of dark chocolate to the cheese's visual appeal and lends to an elegant presentation. In fact this cheese is gorgeous straight out of the wrapper!


What’s more, the flavor of this cheddar does not disappoint. Richly marbled with the bittersweet malt of a good porter this cheese has a distinct and interesting taste. It makes a notable appetizer featured on a cheeseboard, with crackers or slices of earthy bread.

Ever curious, I wanted to see what else I could do with it. I thought it might make an exceptionally good grilled cheese sandwich. Of course, hidden between two slices of bread I thought this cheese would be a bit of an aesthetic waste for anyone but the cook, so I made the sandwiches open faced on thick slices of the soda bread. I also checked my garden for some new green shoots of fresh herbs to add on top. I found some chives pushing up into the sunshine, sprigs of parsley still nestled down in the leaves and some new shoots of sage to add a touch of spring to the sandwiches.


Open faced they looked great going into the oven. The cheese is crumbly but looked pretty with the fresh herbs laid on top.


Melted and bubbly fresh from the oven they left much to be desired. My photos look even worse than the real thing but the pleasing appearance of the cheese was lost under the broiler and the soda bread slices looked as if they were coated in brown goo rather than topped with a beautiful slice of cheese. Still I sprinkled more fresh herbs on top and tried them. Though they were certainly nothing to look at they did taste nice! The bittersweet of the porter veins in the cheese contrasted nicely with the hearty rustic flavor of the bread. Served with a beer these would be a treat but would definitely profit in looks from a slice of tomato on top.


Persuaded not to worry about covering this pretty cheese as it melted, I made a closed grilled cheese sandwich on the stovetop as demonstrated by my son last year, in his brilliant recipe for a Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwich. This sandwich looked more impressive. I added a few strands of grated parmesan to the top of the bread before grilling to pattern the bread and add some interest. Grilled slowly over a low heat it browned nicely and had a great flavor.

However you serve it, fresh, toasted, or as a sandwich with a handsome Irish cheese, try this simple Irish Soda Bread. You'll be glad you did!


Irish Soda Bread
Adapted from a recipe for Mary Loughran's Irish Wheaten Bread I clipped from The Oregonian some years ago…

2 cups all-purpose four
3/4 cups whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Stir together the flours, baking soda, sugar and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the buttermilk. Blend with a fork until the mixture begins to hold together and form a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead it five or ten times to form a smooth dough.

Shape the dough into a circle approximately 1 1/2 inches thick and place it on a greased baking sheet. Cut a cross on the top of the loaf with a sharp knife.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until golden.

Remove from the oven and let rest on a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy!

Note: Add 1/4 cup wheat germ, bran or oats to the flour, if you like, to add texture.

14 March 2009

Pecan Pie Bites


I really like Pecan Pie. It is one of my all time favorites. It is usually over the top sweet but, in small doses, it speaks of warm southern tradition like no other dessert can hope to. In every bite there is the whisper of huge trees swaying over green lawns lending their shade and, in season, their bountiful harvest. There is nothing that tastes better than a fresh pecan kernal you have just pulled from its shell.

While I like pies I'd have to say that I love cookies. I like small cookies that offer just a luscious sweet bite, a small taste of something rich and special. In fact what I love about cookies speaks to the way I like to eat pecan pie too. I like just a taste, a small bite or two now, another bite or two later. And so when I saw this recipe for Pecan Pie Bites in the local paper I thought, "How perfect!" I clipped the recipe and hoped to give it a try.

The one thing that was holding me back was making the crust layer. Those Pillsbury Pie Crusts only come in circles and I needed an oversized rectangle of pie pastry to line the baking sheet for this cookie recipe. I was reluctant to proceed.

Finally last year, in response to Alanna’s Pi Day challenge I found that I could make a passable pie crust. It wasn’t pretty getting there but as a result I gained a little confidence in my pastry skills.

This year I thought I would give a nod to Pi Day by finally trying this enchanting recipe. I rolled out the pastry on my Silpat baking mat to help transfer the dough to the baking sheet. (Rolling it between layers of plastic wrap would also work.) I still ended up tearing the pastry as I positioned it in the pan but I put it in the refrigerator for a few minutes and then patched the dough and it turned out fine.

It didn’t take quite as long as the recipe said to bake these cookies so I suggest keeping an eye on them for the last 10-15 minutes in the oven. Also, I think that next time I will just cut them into 1 – 1 ½ inch squares instead of diamonds. The diamond pattern seems to leave a lot of waste around the edges in odd shaped bits and crumbles. Of course those would make a great topping for vanilla ice cream so I’ll leave that decision up to you.

These little pecan gems turned out to be a hit with the family. I liked them too, especially the honey in the pecan filling. It added a nice exotic depth to the flavor, and in tandem with the earthiness of the pecans, made these Pecan Pie Bites utterly transporting.

Happy Pi Day!


Pecan Pie Bites
from a newspaper clipping

Crust Layer

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
3 1/4 cups cake flour, sifted

Place the butter, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer. With the paddle attachment, combine the ingredients at medium speed until the mixture is smooth and light.

Add the egg and blend, scraping the sides of the bowl once or twice, until smooth.

Add the flour all at once, mixing on low speed just until blended.

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and shape into a flattened disc. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or longer (or freeze for future use.)

Prepare a 15 x 10 inch jellyroll pan by greasing and lining the bottom with parchment paper.

When the dough has had time to thoroughly chill, prepare a work surface (I use a silicon mat or a sheet of plastic wrap laid on the counter) by lightly dusting it with flour.

Place the dough on the prepared work surface. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour, or cover it with a sheet of plastic wrap, and roll it from the center out with a rolling pin. (Work quickly. If the dough becomes too soft, place it on a pan and put it in the refrigerator to chill before continuing.) Roll the dough into a 17 x 12 inch rectangle that is 1/8 inch thick.

Carefully transfer the dough to the prepared pan. Gently press it into the pan, lining the bottom and sides without stretching the dough. Trim as necessary for a good fit. Prick the bottom with a fork.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 - 12 minutes. Remove to cool while you prepare the Pecan Filling.


Pecan Filling

1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 cups pecans, chopped

Combine the butter, brown sugar, white sugar, honey and heavy cream in a saucepan fitted with a candy themometer. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil while stirring constantly until the mixture reaches 240 degrees. Remove from heat.

Add the pecans and stir until mixed. Immediately pour the pecan mixture over the pre-baked crust and spread evenly.

Bake at 350 degrees until the filling bubbles evenly across the surface and the crust is golden, approximately 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

When cool carefully remove the slab of cookies from the pan in one piece. Turn it upside down to remove the parchment, then carefully turn it rightside up on a cutting board.

Trim away the edges and slice the remaining sheet into bite sized diamonds or whatever shape you desire.

Store at room temperature, or wrap airtight and place in the refrigerator or freezer.

Enjoy!

12 March 2009

Potato Bread Bowls


The weather has turned cold again and there is snow in the foothills I can see from my window. I wouldn’t mind a little more spring-like warmth to coax the budding leaves from the maple trees. Still, it is too pretty outside to complain. The sky is a beautiful shade of blue. Daffodils and crocuses are pushing up through a warm blanket of bark mulch to brighten the season. They seem determined to stretch their showy petals in the chilly air and add a splash of color to the emerging spring landscape.

That's where I was today too, out in my back yard redoing my photos of Emerald Isle Stew. The abundance of natural light has helped me to capture some great images this winter. When it is dark and gray it can be difficult to get any shots I am happy with but this winter the gray days have kept to a minimum and taking pictures has been a real joy.

Today the sunshine and the chill conspired to add atmosphere as my stew visibly steamed. As I strived to capture a vivid shot I realized there’s nothing more appealing when I am extra cold and hungry than a hearty stew served in a bread bowl. At a lodge in the mountains or on a windy trek at the coast I am always delighted to see stew or clam chowder in a bread bowl on the menu. There is something deeply satisfying about a rich savory gravy soaking into a thick slice of good bread.

When filled with Emerald Isle Stew these bread bowls are no exception. I often make bread bowls to serve stew in on St. Patrick's Day. The potatoes in the dough make it a little bit unusual and add another Irish note to the menu. I first made these from directions that were printed along with the recipe for Emerald Isle Stew. They were made from a box of packaged Hot Roll Mix.

I tried the recipe using the boxed mix and made it several times. It was good but I could never figure out the advantage of using the Hot Roll Mix instead of flour and a bit of yeast, salt and sugar from my own pantry. The Hot Roll Mix can be hard to find and I think it is probably more expensive, not to mention that extra packaging that must be discarded. Instead I found another Potato Bread recipe, made a few changes to incorporate what I liked about the original recipe and ended up with these pretty rustic bowls.

I think they turned out well, but if making bread bowls seems too fussy, or just doesn't appeal to you, you might like to make the dough and shape it into rolls or loaves. It has a nice smooth texture and mild flavor.


Potato Bread Bowls
adapted from an idea in Southern Living and a recipe at foodnetwork.com

1 Tablespoon yeast
5 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon dried chives (or use fresh chives, chopped, if you have them)
1 cup mashed potatoes, at room temperature (made from instant potato flakes is okay)
1 cup milk, scalded (or potato water if you just cooked the potato you mashed)
2/3 cup warm water
3 Tablespoons butter, melted

Add the ingredients, in the order listed (or the order suggested by your bread machine's instructions). Set the machine to 'manual' so that you can take the dough, when ready, and shape it yourself.

(Or if you don't have a bread machine:
Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Heat the milk, mashed potatoes, water and butter over low heat until warm, 115 to 120 degrees. Add mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until a dough forms. Turn the dough onto a well floured surface and knead for approximately 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turn once. Cover with a towel and let it rise in a warm place until double, approximately 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Continue as follows.)

When the dough is ready, punch down and divide it into 6 equal portions. Cover and let the dough rest for 5 - 10 minutes.


While the dough rests prepare the pans. Grease two baking sheets and then invert 6 small bowls or large custard cups, 3 on each baking sheet. Spray these with cooking spray.

Roll each portion of dough into a circle wide enough to cover the bowl forms.


Place one circle of dough over each bowl or custard cup, shaping so that the edge of the dough rests on or near the baking sheet, covering the form.


Cover loosely with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm place (85 degrees), free from drafts, 30 -60 minutes.


Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden. Cool 5 minutes; remove bread bowls from bowl forms. Bake, right side up, 5 additional minutes, if desired, for extra crispness.

Yield: 6 bread bowls.

Note: This is my entry in this month's Potato Ho Down hosted by Krysta of Evil Chef Mom.


10 March 2009

A Good Irish Stew


My friend Alanna and I have been sharing recipes for close to 25 years now. From back in the day when we wrote out recipe cards for each other I have Nana’s Shortbread and Gourmet Mocha Cookies, not to mention Orzo with Spinach, written out in Alanna's handwriting and filed in my box. They are still favorites and made regularly in my kitchen.

When I worked on my Family Heirloom Cookbook several years ago, it turned out that Alanna was working on a similar project. A couple of thousand miles apart by then we still connected over recipes and food histories. There were places where I found I had food stories from my family but no recipe and Alanna helped me find recipes that matched in style and era of origin. Thus Old Bill’s Beaten Fudge was paired with my grandmother’s story of a Little Lost Boy in a way that still makes me smile at the symmetry and serendipity of life which is so lyrically manifested in food stories and traditions.

In many ways Alanna’s tastes are different from my own, hers tending toward influences from Canada and the midwest while my cooking heritage is German and southern. Still one of the things I love about cooking is, where food is concerned, I think that any two people can find common ground. Alanna was responsible for my reluctant introduction to Brussels sprouts and I made my Grits casserole for her consideration. She made Corn Chowder topped with cottage cheese and I made Gazpacho with croutons.

We found that we both loved to bake cookies. Often the same recipes caught our eye and still they turned out differently. Like the gingerbread cookie recipe we found we were both baking one winter. Alanna's cookies turning out uniform and delicious, while mine were decorated with bright royal icing, pretty but best dipped in a cup of coffee. We also started dabbling in vegetarian cuisine together.

Now that we are both blogging I find that we still treasure some of the same recipes. At Kitchen Parade you will find a recipe for Tiappino, an herbed fish stew that began with the same recipe as my Northwest Cioppino. The recipe has evolved a bit differently in both of our lives and we have both posted about it.

Once again I am posting a recipe that Alanna has posted too. This recipe began as a magazine clipping, most probably from Southern Living. We have each changed the recipe, at least a little, to make it better suit our own style and taste but at its core it is the same, a dependably rich stew made with stout. It can be made with beef or lamb, but I always make it with beef though I think that makes it less authentically Irish. I rely on the stout to give it a compelling Irish touch. Hearty and filling this is a great dish for warding off the late winter chill. Served in a Potato Bread Bowl, followed by a slice of Chocolate Stout Cake and a cup of Irish Coffee it makes a festive St. Patrick's Day dinner well worth sharing with friends.


Emerald Isle Stew

3 to 4 pounds boneless beef sirloin, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 12 ounce bottle of stout beer *
4 bay leaves
1 (10 ½ ounce) can condensed beef broth, undiluted
2 cups water
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper

1 pound bag of baby carrots, or thickly sliced carrots
1 pound small new potatoes, or cubed potatoes
2 to 3 teaspoons dried tarragon

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup water
1 (17 ¼ ounce) package frozen puff pastry, thawed

Heat oil in a large pot or dutch oven. When hot, brown the sirloin cubes on all sides. (This is best done in batches, adding more oil if needed, so that the heat in the pan stays high enough to brown the meat efficiently.)

When all the meat is browned put it back into the pot and add the onion, garlic, stout, bay leaves, beef broth, water, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add carrots, potatoes and tarragon. Cover and simmer 30 minutes more. Remove bay leaves.

Combine ¼ cup water and the flour until smooth. Pour into the stew in a thin stream stirring constantly. Cook stew over medium heat for 3 minutes, until thickened.

Meanwhile cut puff pastry sheets into shamrock shapes using a cookie cutter and following package directions.

Place the shamrocks on an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Ladle stew into bowls and garnish with a puff pastry shamrock.

Sláinte!

*Rogue's Shakespeare Stout is my favorite but in the interest of celebrating the Irish you may want to use Guinness.

05 March 2009

Golden Treasure Cookies


It's already March and St. Patrick's Day is fast approaching. I guess that explains why I have had leprechauns on my mind lately. Such strange folkloric creatures, leprechauns, and a bit disconcerting. I never did care for those little feisty old men who make mischief around St. Patrick’s Day. Like clowns and old dolls, they sort of give me the creeps. I don't understand the reason for them and there is no portrayal I am aware of that suggests they can be cute or caring, no one to rehabilitate their image, like Orlando Bloom as Legolas did for elves or Tinkerbell did for fairies. Instead of any suggestion of a heart of gold leprechauns are almost always portrayed as creepy old tricksters, jealously guarding their own pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Still, every year I find myself looking forward to St. Patrick's Day. Despite leprechauns, there are many Irish customs and traditions that I admire and, eager for an occasion to celebrate as I wait for winter to turn to spring, I welcome the opportunity to observe St. Patrick's Day.

I think spring in Portland must have a lot in common with spring in Ireland. There is the persistant rain, the relatively gentle climate and the emergent green of a lush landscape. There are also an abundance of rainbows as the sky quickly changes from blue to lightly overcast, to rain clouds of gunmetal gray punctuated by bursts of brilliant sunshine. It is a rich environment for intense rainbows. If leprechauns do hide their pots of gold at the end of the rainbow the Pacific Northwest is prime territory for chasing treasure. Should such pursuits appeal to you I've found clear directions for how to wrest a pot of gold away from a leprechaun.


If, however, you prefer a more practical approach to filling a pot with gold I have a recipe for Golden Treasure Cookies. (And, with the economy what it is, who couldn‘t use a pot of gold these days?)

These cookies are easy to make, require only three ingredients, and are delicious. The taste reminds me of Tagalongs, that yummy chocolate covered peanut butter version of Girl Scout Cookies, only Golden Treasure Cookies are made with butterscotch instead of chocolate. They possess an appealing balance of tastes. They are both sweet and salty and are filled with peanut butter goodness.

I found this recipe in one of my Aunt Hen's many cookbooks. This particular book featured seasonal gifts from the kitchen. I no longer have the book but I do remember making these unexpectedly wonderful cookies for several St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.


Golden Treasure Cookies

1 box Ritz crackers (I used two sleeves)
1 cup smooth peanut butter (approximately)
1 (11 oz) bag butterscotch morsels
1 -3 teaspoons shortening

Spread peanut butter evenly on half of the Ritz cracker, and top with another cracker to make approximately 36 peanut butter filled cracker sandwiches.


Melt butterscotch morsels in the top of a double boiler stirring frequently. Add shortening, a little at a time, to achieve a good dipping consistency.

When the mixture is smooth dip the peanut butter cracker sandwiches into the melted butterscotch with a fork. Let the excess butterscotch drip back into the pan or smooth the excess back into the pan using a knife.

Place coated crackers on wax paper to cool and set.

Enjoy!

Makes approximately 36 cookies.

Note: I think I added closer to 3 teaspoons of shortening to my butterscotch morsels and that may have been a little too much. The butterscotch nearly slid off the crackers, though the finished product turned out well. I ended up almost icing the cookies with the butterscotch using a knife to smooth the edges and scrape the excess back into the bowl before placing the cookie on waxed paper.