Irish Soda Bread

Last week we shared our exceptionally superb Corned Beef and Cabbage recipe, and in my effort here to get us all up to speed and ready for St. Paddy's Day, as promised I've got some deliciously scrumptious Irish soda bread for you.  And oh my ever lovin' goodness, this is some seriously excellent soda bread.

There are like a bazillion recipes for soda bread circulating through the interwebs, but this is my favorite.  It's almost sort of completely traditional but not quite.  It's actually not as far away from traditional as most of the recipes you'll find out there.  And by traditional I mean, flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. That's it.  

Soda Bread 65.jpg

The Irish have very strong opinions about this sort of thing and some purists would tell you that it's the only way to make it.  Not being a total purist, I opted for just a couple more ingredients... a little baking powder, some raisins and a very wee bit of sugar.  Not too far from traditional, right? Especially seeing as how most of the recipes you find out there add eggs, honey, milk, butter, herbs and all kinds of whatnot.

And here's the best news of all... soda bread is easier than simple to make.  No kneading (please don't knead!), the scragglier and messier it looks the better and you can mix and bake it all in no time. 

This one isn't real sweet, but I do need my raisins.  If you're not a raisin kind of person, leave them out.  You'll be just that much closer to tradition.  Here's the recipe...

P.S.  If you're not into raisins, you could contemplate maybe adding just a bit more sugar to the dough.  But that's your call.  Totally up to you.  (the raisins are awesome though)

Irish Soda Bread

Recipe adapted from James Beard via Mark Bittman

Click here for a printable recipe

4 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup raisins

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Stir in the buttermilk, one half cup at a time, until the dough is soft but slightly sticky.

Lightly flour your hands and quickly knead the dough to form it into a rough ball in the bowl.  If the dough is too sticky, add just a little flour but do not over-knead or your bread will be tough.

Place the dough on the parchment-lined baking sheet and using a sharp knife, cut a large cross in the top.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the outside is brown and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it. Serve immediately or place in a ziplock bag to store for up to a few days.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

I know, this is totally uncharacteristic of me, isn't it.  I mean like how I'm getting this to you BEFORE St. Patrick's Day.  Not usually this organized and intentional, but this year, I was determined to get this recipe to you in time so you could actually make it.  It really is a good one.

The backstory (cuz there always seems to be one) takes place five years ago when grandson Emmett was born.  I went to Colorado to help the new parents get through the first few weeks of sleeplessness, and St. Patrick's Day fell in the middle of my stay.  I whipped out my all time favorite recipe and made corned beef and cabbage for everyone.  And oh, man, it was so much fun and so good and we've been talking about it every year since.  Fast forward five years and little Emmett is now 5 (Happy Birthday, big guy!!) and thinking about kindergarten and we're way overdue to re-live that very special evening when Emmett was only a few days old.  Which is exactly what we did this weekend.

And it was just as good as we remembered.  Possibly, maybe even better.  This is how to cook corned beef... ignore whatever the instructions on the package might tell you because you do not want to boil this cured brisket in water.  No, it is begging for beer, people.  Lots and lots of beer. Well, you will need 2 beers; one a Guinness, and the other whatever you've got.  Or go all out and use 2 Guinness.  This is no time for fear.  

I've no clue what beer does to the meat, beyond tenderizing and moisturizing and creating something a bit magical and oh so delicious.  I just know that this is an awesome way to cook up your corned beef.

I've given you step by step instructions on cooking cabbage (of course), potatoes and carrots to accompany your corned beef; it's all done in one pot which gives it just like a million bonus points, if you ask me.

Oh, and I served it with our cheesy beer scones, because more beer (and cheese), but if you prefer some Irish soda bread to go alongside instead, I'll have that recipe for you very shortly.

If what you're looking for is a fun, delicious and happy St. Paddy's Day, we may just have you covered.  Here's the recipe...

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Click here for a printable recipe

Serves 4

1 head cabbage
4-lb corned beef brisket
2-3 bay leaves
1 to 2 tablespoons whole peppercorns
4 large carrots, cut in half lengthwise and then into quarters
8 medium red potatoes, quartered
1 bottle Guinness beer
1 bottle regular beer
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
6 tablespoons butter, melted
Good quality stone ground mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Pour the beers into a large heavy pot (I use my heavy Le Crueset) and place the brisket into the pot.  Add water if needed to cover (just to make sure it's submerged, but no more than that), add the bay leaves and peppercorns and cover tightly. Bring to a simmer, place in the oven, and cook for 3 hours.

While the brisket is cooking, prep the veggies as noted above.  Halve the cabbage through the stem and then halve again, keeping the stem end intact.  You should have 8 cabbage slices that hold together.

After 3 hours, remove the pot from the oven and place it on top of the stove over a low flame.  Add the potatoes, cover, and let them cook for about 7 minutes.  Add the carrots, replace the lid and cook for a couple minutes before adding the cabbage on top.  Squish the lid down over the whole thing and let it simmer for about 20 minutes or so.

While the veggies are cooking, mix the melted butter and parsley together and place about half in a large-ish bowl.   Remove the potatoes from the pot and place them in the bowl with the butter and parsley.  Mix well and keep warm.  Remove the cabbage and carrots from the pot, drizzle with the remaining parsley butter and keep warm.   

Slice the meat and place in the center of a large serving platter, surrounded by mounds of the veggies.  Drizzle the meat and veggies with some of the cooking liquid from the pot.  Serve with more of the au jus and lots of stone ground mustard.

Blackberry Jam Cake

Imagine, if you will, a moist, tender cake filled with blackberry jam and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar on all sides... something like a jelly donut but in cake form.  Go ahead and imagine that cuz believe me, you are going to want to make this cake.  Oh my heavenly days, it's just simply amazing.  

The backstory on this cake takes us to a previous post about these Cheddar Onion Yeast Rolls that sort of gave me fits because the recipe was so poorly written.  The publishers of the cookbook in question apologized profusely, and as part of their apology, sent me a couple of their other books to peruse, one of which contained a beautiful assortment of agonizingly gorgeous desserts.  

When I came upon this Sugared Jam Cake recipe, my heart did a little happy dance, and I've been wanting to get it made ever since.  But there are only two of us in this household, and we don't eat a lot of dessert, so I kept waiting for just the right excuse to get it made.  Finally, I decided that wanting to eat it was excuse enough, and got it made, bringing on another happy dance...it was every bit as good as I had imagined.

...except it could maybe have used a bit more jam.  The recipe called for 3/4 cup, but as you can see from the photos, their 3/4 cup looks like waaaay more than mine, so next time I'll be inviting quite a bit more jam to this party. I mean, that's what this cake is ALL about.  They provide a recipe for a quick jam, but I don't see the point in making jam if you have a jar of it in the fridge.  You can use any jam you like, but I was ever so lucky to have some of my Cousin Katie's blackberry jam, which I could bathe in it's so good.  

Then there's that little sugar coating on the outside of the cake... a blend of sugar, cinnamon and kosher salt; yes, that's salt.  Very clever touch as it provides the perfect little textured sweetness with just a hint of salty that keeps your fork quite busy indeed.

There are some beautiful and delicious cakes in the Circle B Kitchen repertoire, and I really do love them all, but at the moment, I've got a serious crush on this one.  Here's the recipe...

Blackberry Jam Cake

Click here for a printable recipe

This is simply a beautiful cake that’s as moist and tender as it is pretty.  The original recipe called for 3/4 cup of jam, but I've upped that to 1 cup.  Feel free to add a little more if you're so inclined.  The recipe also asks you to pipe the top layer of batter over the jam, but if you don’t have a piping bag, just snip the corner of a ziplock back and use that.  And might I suggest that you spray the foil before setting it on top of the cake for the last 30 minutes so it doesn’t stick.  

Makes 1 (8-inch) cake

For the Cake:

2½ cups all-purpose flour
1¼ cups granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
¾ cup whole milk
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla)
1 cup of blackberry jam (or more if you like)

For the Topping:

½ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an 8-inch round cake pan with baking spray with flour, and line pan with parchment paper.

For cake: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla bean paste. Add flour mixture to the milk mixture, stirring just until combined. 

Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Spoon remaining batter into a large piping bag. Pipe a ring of batter around the inside edge of the pan. Spoon the jam into center of the ring. Pipe remaining batter on top of jam, and smooth with an offset spatula.

Bake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 55 minutes to 1 hour, covering with foil during last 30 minutes of baking to prevent excess browning.  Let cool in pan for 10 minutes.

For topping: In a small bowl, stir together sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Run an offset spatula around edge of pan to loosen cake before turning out. Turn cake back over (so dome is on top). Brush top and sides of cake with melted butter. Sprinkle top with sugar mixture, and press into sides of cake.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Kale with Shallots and Bacon

It’s always a bit challenging to post something as potentially uninspiring as brussels sprouts and kale.  Chocolate lava cake, this is not.  But still.  I will do my best here to make the case that when done well, brussels sprouts and kale can be some very fine eats indeed.  And then there’s bacon, so there's a little wiggle room for inspiration.

And I get that there are lots of you who think you don't like brussels sprouts.  Or just really don't like cooking them.  And I get it.  They can be unappealingly aromatic, and if not cooked correctly, a bit bitter, and if overcooked, a bit mushy and almost inedible if undercooked.  But have you tried them shaved?  Awkward imagery aside, thinly sliced, they're transformed into almost a completely different veg altogether.  I can't explain it, but I'm here to sell you on this.

It's not a hard sell, but we're adding bacon, so perhaps I'm not actually being all that subtle. Chopped kale, shaved brussels sprouts, shallots and bacon turn out to make one heckuva great side dish; add some pasta and lots of grated parmesan and you've got a healthy and delicious one pan meal.  I haven't done that, but it's how my mind works.

This is actually a dish that I served at Thanksgiving and people seemed to like it (looking at you, Kristal).  I loved it and have made it a couple of times since then and have now deemed brussels sprouts and kale to be like a favorite veg combo.

Around the holidays in these parts, you can find brussels sprouts still on the stalk and they looked so cute, and the sprouts were small which I think taste best, so I picked one up, and from this time forward I will always do this.  These were the sweetest, freshest brussels sprouts in recent (and not so recent) memory.

When I was ready to cook them up, I just sliced them off the stalk.  I had seen shaved brussels sprouts in bags at Trader Joe's and other stores and actually bought them once, but honestly, they just weren't quite as fresh as buying them whole.  And if you have a food processor, you can create your own shaved sprouts in like 2 or 3 seconds.  No kidding.

So awesome.  A quick whiz with the slicing blade created perfectly shaved sprouts.  Then I just bagged them up and stuck them in the fridge until it was time to use them.  They will last like this for several days or even a week.  But go ahead and buy a bag of them already sliced (shaved) if you prefer.  They'll work just fine.

There are a few types of kale out there and this happens to be lacinato or dinosaur kale.  Sometimes it's called Tuscan kale.  But it's perfect in a recipe like this because it's a little more tender and cooks up quickly in a saute.  It's also great for salads, but you can use whatever kind you have on hand. The curly varieties sometimes need a little blanching first and I mentioned that in the recipe. 

You can also buy kale pre-chopped and bagged, but I never do.  They do a terrible job separating the leaves from the stalk, which is super tough and woody.  So I like to buy bunches of kale and simply cut the leaves away from the stalk.  It's quite cinchy.  

Now that your veggies are prepped and you've cooked your bacon, use some of that tasty bacon fat to saute your brussels sprouts.  I used turkey bacon which doesn't have much of a fat content, so I chopped the bacon and sauteed it in 3 tablespoons of olive oil which infused the oil with some smokey bacon flavor.  

Then add your chopped kale and saute until just wilting.  At this point you can add your bacon back in and stir in a little balsamic vinegar and serve it up, but I like to make things as complicated and time consuming as possible,

so I transferred it all to a baking dish and let it hang out in a low oven (250 degrees) for 15 or 20 minutes which gives everything a chance to get sort of chummy and spread the love a bit.

Not even kidding about how good this stuff is.  If I've done my job here, you'll be wanting this recipe...

Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Kale with Bacon

Click here for a printable recipe

Serves 6 or more as a side dish

1/2 lb bacon
2 lbs Brussels sprouts (sliced in food processor)
2 shallots, sliced
kosher salt and black pepper
8 cups of kale,(about 5 oz), chopped and blanched (*see note below)
1/4 cup of balsamic reduction or vinegar

Cook bacon in large skillet until almost crisp.  Remove it from the pan and leave about 2 tablespoons of the grease in the pan.   When the bacon is cooled, chop into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

Add the shallots to the pan and cook for 2 minutes.

Turn up the heat and throw in the brussels sprouts with a little more of the bacon fat, if needed.  Saute until they're just starting to soften.  Add the kale with any remaining water that clings to the leaves after blanching. Saute for 3-4 minutes until the kale softens.

Add the bacon back into the pan and stir to combine well.  Add a little more salt and pepper.  

At the this point you can go ahead and serve it, but I like to transfer it to a baking dish, cover, and place it in a low oven (about 250 degrees) for about 15-20 minutes to let the flavors mingle and the veggies soften just a bit more.

*To blanch the kale, just submerge it in boiling, salted water for about 5 minutes, then drain and set aside.

Simple, Easy Chicken and Rice

Today's post promises to be all over the map with a few rants regarding pet peeves, an ode to the wondrousness of awesome comfort food that is ready in 30 minutes and, well, whatever else might leap onto the page and surprise us all.

But let's start with the joy and wonder of a simple, delicious, quick and easy recipe that you can rely on to fill tummies and create smiles on those busy weeknights when dinner seems like the impossible dream.

The recipe in question originates with Mark Bittman, the NY Times recipe guru, prolific cookbook author and one of my favoritely reliable sources for good eats.  And what makes me supremely happy about this recipe is not only its simplicity, but the affirmation from one very accomplished chef and food writer that every meal doesn't have to be sophisticated or complicated with new and trendy ingredients. There's lots of room in our daily lives for basic, wholesome meals.  And that's where I would put this one.  It just doesn't get much more basic than this... simply chicken and rice.

And not to disparage the simplicity here; chicken and rice is a time honored dish that shows up in just about every culture on earth.  We've got a few of those here on this site, namely, an Asian version of claypot (rice cooker) chicken and rice; a Mexican arroz con pollo; an Italian risotto (just add chicken), a scrumptious chicken marsala and rice bake, and I'm currently working on an Indian chicken biryani to share with you.  So yes, you may conclude that I'm most definitely a devotee of chicken and rice however it chooses to present itself.

As for this particular version, I loved the simplicity of Mr. Bittman's recipe...just some onion, water, rice, chicken.  (He also asks you to throw in a pinch of saffron, which is lovely, but I'll get to that in a second).  You honestly need nothing else to create a wonderful meal for yourself or those you love.  But, of course, not being one to leave well enough alone, I subbed in some broth for the water and added a teaspoon of turmeric to the rice instead of the saffron, and this is what I encourage you to do as well.  As much as I love saffron, you would need to add quite a bit more of the $$$ stuff to make a flavor difference in this dish, and I actually like the turmeric a little more. Heavenly days, was this good.  It also lent the rice a golden, saffron hue and subtly earthy flavor, that if I were Nigella Lawson I would be able to describe in more poetic verse.

(The above photo is of the rice after it has sauteed with the onions and turmeric.  No liquid has yet been added)

But now it's time to rant a bit and share a culinary pet peeve that I hope won't sound too very disagreeable.  But the thing is, I would absolutely LOVE to disabuse all cook's everywhere, including Mr. Bittman, of the notion that the best way to cook rice is with a 2 to 1 ration of liquid to rice.  Never in all of my 50 years of cooking have I ever had rice not be soggy or gummy with that much liquid.  The one exception to that is converted rice (like Uncle Ben's).  Maybe it's just me, and you cook your rice 2 to 1 and it works and you love it.  But wanting to trust Mr. Bittman's judgment in this particular recipe, I followed his instructions and used 3 cups of water to his 1 1/2 cups of rice and you guessed it.  Soggy rice.  In subsequent trials I reduced the amount of liquid to 2 3/4 and even to 2 1/2 cups which produced rice that was just about perfect...still moist and cooked through, but most definitely not mushy or gummy.

And as always, when talking about rice, I will encourage you to rinse it well before cooking.  This removes the layer of powdery starch on the surface of the rice that will also make it gummy.  This is especially crucial when using imported rice.  But I rinse all of my rice before cooking, which you can do well before the time crunch of dinner prep.  I place a bowl in the sink and find a strainer that fits just inside the bowl.  Place your rice in the strainer and then run enough water into the bowl to cover the rice, then slosh it around with your fingers, pull out the strainer, drain the water and repeat this about 3 times or until the water isn't so cloudy anymore.

Now just set your strainer in the sink and let the rice drain while you prepare the rest of the dish.  Once you get in the habit of doing this, you will notice a marked difference in the finished texture of your rice.  As long as you don't add too much liquid to it, that is.  The goal is to produce rice grains that are toothsome and somewhat separate.  I normally cook rice in my rice cooker and for 1 cup of rice I only add about 1 1/4 to 1 1/3 cups of water.  Of course, that amount increases if I'm using brown rice.

But if you're cooking rice on the stove, you can increase the water or broth to 1 1/2 or 1 3/4 cups for 1 cup of rice, as some of the liquid will naturally evaporate even if the lid is fairly tight.  Oh, and one other thing... you can also cook your rice as you would pasta!  Bring a pot of water to a boil (lots more water than you would otherwise need), add salt and dump in your rice.  Depending on the kind of rice you are cooking, you can let it go about 15 minutes before starting to test.  When it has cooked through, drain it until it is completely dry before adding it to your pan.  I often do this for fried rice by placing it in the fridge after cooking and once cold, it's ready to stir fry.  

Now then.  That's how you take a simple, easy chicken and rice dish and make it sound like something ferociously complicated and time-consuming.  Sorry.  🙈  But I do believe you were fore-warned that we would be all over the map today.

But seriously, there is nothing complicated about this dish unless you choose to make it so.  Simply put, just saute a little onion in your pan (or don't), add your rice, stir, add water, salt, stir, add chicken, cook, eat.  Done.  If you have more than 20 minutes for dinner prep, I've offered a few suggestions in my recipe for amping up the flavors a bit.  Add your own touches however you might see fit.  That's the beauty of chicken and rice...it's as practical as you need it to be on a busy weeknight or as fancy as you might like to make it for a special occasion.  And lots of options in between.  Here's the recipe...

Simple, Easy Chicken and Rice

The following recipe reflects the changes that I made to Mr. Bittman’s recipe.  Click here to see the original.  If you’re pressed for time, you don’t need to brown the meat first; I just like the little boost of flavor and color it brings to the party.  

Recipe adapted from Mark Bittman, NY Times

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, about 8 ounces, peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 lbs boneless (or bone-in), skinless chicken thighs
1 ½ cups white rice (I used jasmine)
1 teaspoon turmeric
Freshly minced parsley, thyme or cilantro for garnish (optional)

Set 2 1/2 cups of water (or chicken broth or a combo of the two) to boil. Place olive oil in a large skillet that can be covered, and turn heat to medium-high. Add the meat to the pan and sear on both sides until it takes on some good color.  Remove the meat to a plate.  Add the onions to the pan and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions soften and become translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. 

Add rice and turmeric to the onions; stir until each grain glistens.  Nestle chicken in the rice, add a little more salt and pepper and pour in the boiling water/broth. Turn heat to medium-low, and cover.

Cook 20 minutes, until all water is absorbed and chicken is cooked through. You can keep this warm over a very low flame for another 15 minutes; it will retain its heat for 15 minutes beyond that.  (I prefer to place the pot in a low oven, about 200 degrees F, until ready to serve).  Garnish with a sprinkling of fresh herbs, if you like, and a drizzle of lime juice.