February 28, 2013

Red Shoes & Irish Soda Bread

"There are only two types of women that wear red shoes, and YOU my dear are no Spanish dancer". 

That little gem came out of the mouth of my friend's 86 year old mother, delivered in the thickest Irish brogue you could imagine.

We had been out shopping and she had purchased a pair of red shoes.   Upon showing off her new purchase, that was her mother's response.  Did I mention that said friend was in her 50's?!
I was still in my 20's at the time and thought it was one of the funniest things I had ever heard, the fact that it was delivered with perfect comic timing from an 86 year old woman made it even better.

That happened over 15 years ago and it still cracks me up when I think about it.  To this day, I have never met another person (of ANY age) that was as much of a firecracker as that lovely Irish lass.   

This is her recipe, it is a touch sweeter than most soda breads I've had and a little cakier.  It goes brilliantly with a strong cuppa tea. 

There are many variations of soda bread out there.  Most traditionally, it is not sweet and does not have raisins in it.  I like this version, so it's what I make and quite honestly, that is an integral part of cooking and baking as far as I'm concerned.  If you are making something you like, you are more likely to cook and bake and isn't that the point here?

Yes, there are times when you want to make something as close to "the real deal" as possible and sometimes that matters a little less.  If you tend to like less sweet, in theory you should be able to reduce the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup without any major disasters.  I haven't done this, so I can't be held responsible for the results! 
If you don't care for raisins you can omit them or stick with all currants.  I will never admit to this in public, but perhaps you could swap out the raisins for a different dried fruit. 

This bread is great the first day, a little less on the second and by by the third day: make toast.   It makes a rather large loaf, so you could split the dough in half, reduce the baking time and just freeze the other one...  OR if, like me, you tend to make enough to feed half the neighborhood,  make someones day and share your golden, studded beauty with a few friends.

Irish Soda Bread

4 c. AP flour, plus extra for board
4 tsp. baking powder
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. caraway seeds (optional)
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/2 c. brown raisins
1/2 c. currants
1/2 c. butter
2 large eggs, beaten
1 c. whole milk

Preheat oven to 350.

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. 
If using caraway seeds, add to flour mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine raisins and currants. 
Toss with a few tablespoons of flour mixture to coat. 
Set aside.

Using a pastry blender, fork, or food processor cut in butter until pebble sized pieces remain.  Add milk and eggs, mix to combine (I don't recommend food processor here).   Fold in raisins and currants, then turn out onto well-floured board.  Dough will be sticky, using floured hands, mold into a round or oblong loaf.  This is a quick bread and is not meant to be kneaded, take care not to overwork the dough.


Place on baking pan lined with parchment paper or in cast iron pan (preferable) in center of oven.

Bake for 1 hour, remove from oven and place on cooling rack. 
Brush top with butter while hot.

(because I lack patience, I sliced mine while it was still warm... It is better to wait until it has cooled completely before you cut into it)


February 11, 2013

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Kitchen...

As soon as I walk into this space, I know if that were a real commandment, I'd be breaking it.  And breaking it hard.  Those of us who cook and are forced challenged to "get creative" with minuscule kitchens feel the sting every time we walk into someone elses's beautiful kitchen.  We look at their (audible gasp) cabinet space, counter space & WHAT?!  You have built in ovens AND a center island?!

OK, maybe that's just me...  I look at my tiny space & feel a tinge of frustration, but remind myself that plenty of people have it worse.  Although it doesn't usually make me feel much better when I'm balancing things on top of one another just to find a little extra space to set down a cutting board.

To further torture myself, I look at "dream kitchens" online.  Twisted, isn't it?
What?  That wound didn't sting enough?!  Let's sprinkle a little salt in there...  make mine Maldon please.
I seem to have gone off on a bit of a tangent, my apologies.

The point is, we work with what we have and sometimes what we have can be a bit trying.   So does that push those of us that have to "rise to the challenge" to be a bit more creative?  I'm sure it has nothing to do with it, but I'd like to think so... Now that I've had my little rant, off to the 3x5 space I'm relegated to. Thanks for listening.

I had no intention of doing back to back soup recipes, yet here we are. 
Chicken Noodle soup.  Not exactly ground-breaking, earth-shattering, cutting-edge haute cuisine, but something everyone should have in their arsenal.  When it's good,  it's really good and it possesses inexplicable magic.  A good bowl of chicken soup can make you feel so much better when you're under the weather.  It satisfies your soul and can warm you to the core on a bone-chilling day. 

There are more variations of this soup out there than one could ever imagine. 
Certainly there are faster versions than this, and when I don't have the time to let my stock simmer all day I put everything in the pot and go from there... but, that being said this is how I prefer to do it as it makes the most intensely "chicken-y" flavored broth.

For me, it is also one of those "base" soups that you can play with.  Once you nail down the basic procedure you can start swapping out ingredients, changing up seasonings, vegetables, etc.  Add a few stalks of lemongrass to perfume it with a wonderfully fragrant citrus flavor.  Add in Asian greens, some shiitakes, swap out egg noodles for small dumplings or udon noodles and you've just created a completely different soup. 

The broth (stock) of your soup is the key.  It needs time so don't rush it. If you give it time to develop there will be a major payoff when it's done.  Season it properly and let the flavors deepen and that soup will banish the memories of any bland, colorless sad excuse for chicken soup you've ever had.

Deep Golden Broth!
Chicken Noodle Soup

For the stock:
3 - 4 lbs chicken carcasses (necks & backs included, skin and excess fat removed)
12 cups water
1 onion, rough chop
3 carrots, rough chop
2 stalks celery, rough chop
1 bay leaf
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 clove garlic, peeled & smashed
1 small bunch thyme
1 small bunch parsley

Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot and simmer uncovered for 4 - 6 hours.  Stock should not boil, it should be kept at a gentle simmer. Longer is better, you can simmer up to 8 hours if you have the time, but 6 hours will give you a rich, deep stock.

Skim the "scum" from the top every 15 - 20 minutes for the first couple of hours, then you will only need to do it a few more times for the remainder of the cooking time.   Skimming the stock will result in a cleaner flavor and clearer broth.  Add hot water to pot as needed to keep chicken and vegetables submerged.

Strain stock through a fine mesh strainer and discard solids.  If not using immediately, cool down and refrigerate.  After it has cooled completely, remove solidified fat from top and discard.

For the soup:
1 onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 lbs chicken (If you are using boneless chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces )
8 cups chicken stock
4 oz egg noodles
1 TB canola oil
salt & pepper

In a large stock pot, heat canola oil over medium heat.  Add onions and saute 2 -3 minutes.  Add chicken to pot and saute until lightly browned. Add carrots and celery and saute 2 -3 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper. Add stock and simmer until chicken is cooked through. 

If you are using chicken on the bone, remove from soup and let it cool until you are able to handle it, then remove meat from bone and cut into bite size pieces.

Add egg noodles and cook according to package directions, usually 6 - 8 minutes.  Serve & eat!

*For those of you who are thinking "Is this girl nuts?!"  Before you come after me like a mob of angry villagers, here's a quickie version:

Heat canola oil in stock pot and saute onions until they just begin to turn golden brown.  Add chicken pieces and saute until it is nicely browned.

Add 8 cups water and bay leaf.  Let it simmer for 20 - 30 minutes, skimming the surface as needed.  Remove chicken pieces and let them cool until you are able to handle them.

Add celery and carrots to broth.  While they are simmering,  take the meat off the bones and cut into bite sized pieces.  Add the chicken meat back into the soup and add noodles.  Cook another 6 - 8 minutes until noodles are done.