an irishman for a day

I consider myself relatively fearless in the kitchen. I’m willing to try just about any technique, recipe or style of cooking at least once and I’m confident enough in my abilities that I can improvise if/when things go awry. However all that goes out the window when we’re talking about bread baking. No matter how many times I attempt to bake a nice crusty loaf of bread the results turn out disappointing. I don’t know if it’s my own impatience with the whole proofing, kneading, rising process or if I’m choosing overly complicated recipes, but every time without failure… failure.

Since next weekend is St. Patrick’s Day and EVERYONE is officially Irish for a solid 12 hours, I like most of America will be cooking up what we imagine to be true Irish fare… soda bread and something that takes several hours of slow cooking to go along with it. Usually that means corned beef but this year I’ve decided to branch out a bit, to make something that wasn’t so reliant on the quality of the pre-brined corned beef I purchased. Rather I was looking for a recipe that required real honest cooking and that I had more control over (I like control). Anyway I decided that this St. Patty’s my family would be feasting on homemade soda bread and Chicken Stout Stew. Since soda bread by nature is really much more like a quick bread than a yeast bread, I considered it to be far less intimidating and chicken stew with a nice hardy stout in the gravy— how could I miss?

Well it turns out that I couldn’t… The stew was so tasty and my soda bread so successful that we briefly considered changing out last name to O’Greco.

Éirinn go Brách and sláinte!

Irish Soda Bread
This is one of my all time favorite breads. It’s perfect alongside some stew or toasted and slathered with jam for breakfast. It’s easy to throw together, doesn’t require much advance prep and it comes out delicious every time.

soda bread2

3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup raisins
4 tbsp. butter, frozen
1 1/3 cups + 1 tbsp. light buttermilk
1 large egg

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and raisins. Using a box grater grate the frozen butter into the flour mixture. Sir with a fork and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl whisk together the buttermilk and egg. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Knead the dough a couple of times before forming it into a ball. Place the loaf on the prepared cookie sheet and use cooking sheers (or a sharp knife) to cut a deep ‘x’ across the top of the loaf.
  4. Bake the bread for 45-55 minutes, until it’s golden brown and a tooth pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool on a rack before slicing.

*adapted from king arthur flour

Chicken Stout Stew
This recipe calls for chicken thighs, which happen to be perfect for slow cooking. I won’t deny that they take a bit more time to trim and clean, but if you were to use chicken breast instead it would undoubtedly be dry and disappointing. I promise that the extra effort will totally be worth it.

stout stew2

6 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, divided
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 1/2 lbs. boneless/skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cubed
6 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
7 slices quality turkey bacon, diced
4 cups chopped onion
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 14 oz can Guinness beer (or other stout)
1 lb. whole baby carrots
12 small potatoes, quartered
6 springs fresh thyme
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 3/4 cup chicken broth
2 cups frozen baby peas

1 lb. button mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. salt
3 sprigs fresh thyme

  1. Combine 6 tablespoons flour with salt and pepper in a ziploc bag. Trim and cube the chicken and add to the bag. Seal the bag and shake to dredge the chicken thighs in the flour mixture.
  2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the chicken and cook until lightly browned on all sides, transfer to the slow cooker. Continue with the remaining chicken, adding additional oil to the pan as needed, and reserve the seasoned flour that remains.
  3. Add the diced bacon, onion and garlic to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle the seasoned flour that remains from dredging the chicken over the bacon mixture and cook, stirring frequently, for 8 minutes more. (The fat and flour will create a light-colored roux.) Add the stout and stir, being sure to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
  4. Pour the bacon mixture over the chicken and add the carrots, potatoes and thyme. Pour the broth and Worcestershire sauce over the top and give everything a good stir.
  5. Cover and cook on medium 4 1/2 hours, until the chicken is falling-apart tender.
  6. When the stew is nearly done add the frozen peas and allow to continue cooking until the peas are heated through. Meanwhile sautee the mushrooms with the salt and thyme until they are nicely browned and all the moisture in the bottom of the pan has cooked off. Add the mushrooms to the stew, season with additional salt and pepper if needed and serve with a little soda bead.

*adapted from eating well

Move Over Kozy Shack…

A few weeks ago my daughter discovered the classic children’s book The Poky Little Puppy. It’s been her number one choice for afternoon reading and bedtime story ever since. She never tires of hearing about the puppies heading roly-poly, pell-mell and tumble-bumble down the hill. She tisk-tisks when the fresh puppies get scolded by their mamma and is delighted when the poky puppy gets to eat up all the rice pudding and chocolate custard. But I’ll be honest with you, The Poky Little Puppy is beginning to get on my nerves. Seriously, the same book every night for weeks on end— I challenge you not to grow weary too! But she loves the story, so we read it again and again and again. Anyway, thanks to a certain little puppy I’ve been thinking about rice pudding lately.

In my mind there really is no middle ground when it comes to rice pudding, you either love it or you don’t. And the same goes for whether you prefer it with raisins or you think it’s at it’s best unadulterated. Personally I can’t think of a more soothing dessert than a bowl of rice pudding (without raisins) topped with a nice dollop of whipped cream. Mmmm…

In the past I’ve made rice pudding with brown rice and coconut milk, and while it wasn’t bad it certainly wasn’t the rice pudding you remember from childhood. But this recipe is. It’s rich and creamy and not overly sweet, really it’s near rice pudding perfection with one exception… it only makes a small quantity of rice pudding! Now perhaps in your house this isn’t an issue, but in mine things could get ugly pretty quickly if someone feels they haven’t gotten their fair share. Naturally my solution was to double the recipe which not only made enough to satisfy the crazies I live with, but also gave me enough to share with my visiting parents. Happiness reigned! Oh and that night my mother got the pleasure of reading The Poky Little Puppy to her granddaughter before bed. It was a win-win situation all around…

Classic Arborio Rice Pudding
When it comes to rice pudding my family is a bunch of purists. In other words— no raisins, ever! But feel free to add them to yours if you wish. 

1 cup water
a pinch salt
1/2 tbsp. butter
1/2 cup Arborio rice
2 cups whole milk
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
whipped cream, for topping

  1. Bring water, salt, and butter to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the rice, return to a boil, cover and then reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Allow to cook, stirring frequently, until the rice has absorbed most of the water but it still al dente, about 8-12 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile bring the milk, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add the warm milk mixture to the cooked rice and continue to simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the rice absorbs most of the milk and mixture starts to get thicken, about 15-18 minutes.
  3. Transfer the pudding to a serving dish. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it onto the surface, and allow to cool until set. Serve warm with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a dollop of whipped cream, or chill for a later date.

*adapted from the food network

Homemade Whipped Cream
It’s so easy to make your own whipped cream it’s really not worth wasting your time (and money) buying it.

1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp. powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

  1. Put all the ingredients in a medium high-sided bowl. With a hand mixer on low, whip cream until it begins to firm up. Slowly increase speed to high and beat until the whipped cream holds it’s shape when you lift out the beaters. Use immediately and enjoy!

you’re so granola!

I happen to be a savory, not a sweet girl (but then you may have already known that!) I like bold flavors like dark chocolate, strong coffee and dry red wine. This preference of mine is most evident at breakfast time. I’m a sunny side up eggs, grits with butter or even last night’s leftovers kinda girl. The idea of a stack of pancakes smothered in syrup and butter makes my stomach ache. In fact I have childhood memories of waking up to the smell of pancakes cooking and thinking “oh yuck, not pancakes again.” (sorry Mom!) Anyway you get the idea, I don’t like sweet, especially in the morning.

My breakfast most weekday mornings is usually something fast, simple and often consumed standing at the kitchen counter. Something like toast with butter, a homemade muffin or granola with a dollop of plain yogurt. Good store bought granola can be expensive and is often too high in calories to feel like I’m starting the day the right way. So instead I make my own. It’s quite tasty and as long as you keep an eye on it while it bakes (a lesson I learned the hard way) almost foolproof to make.

While standing at said kitchen counter one recent morning I thought to myself “I wonder how difficult it is to make yogurt.” It turns out it’s not difficult at all, but it is a process. It’s by no means hard or even particularly labor intensive, but if you want a bowl if fresh yogurt and granola on Sunday morning, then you better start cooking it on Saturday morning.

I read a lot of recipes for making yogurt before attempting my first batch and it turns out that the science of fermenting milk is fairly straightforward: You heat the milk to just short of boiling, cool the milk to a temperature that will allow the yogurt cultures to grow, stir in the cultures and let it sit in a warm and undisturbed spot for several hours. And voilà— yogurt!

My homemade yogurt was creamy, delicious and much more lush than store bought. And even though it was crazy easy to make, I still get this great sense of accomplishment each time I sit down to eat it (or lean against the counter as the case may be). But next time I make it I think I’ll double the recipe. Now that my family has tasted homemade yogurt they look truly offended when I try to offer them the store bought variety. But I guess I only have myself to blame…

Homemade Granola
This granola can really be customized with whatever dried fruits or nuts that
appeal to you the most.

2 1/2 cups regular rolled oats
3 tbsp. wheat germ
2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp of salt
2 tbsp. coconut oil
1/2 cup apple juice
4 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup apricots, diced
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup sunflower seeds

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease baking sheet with cooking-oil spray. In a large bowl, combine the oats, wheat germ, cinnamon, nuts, dried fruit, coconut and salt. Mix well.
  2. In a small bowl combine the apple juice, maple syrup, honey. Mix well.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring until the mixture is fully combined and moist.
  4. Spread the mixture on the baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently until golden brown and crisp.
  5. Remove from the oven and stir again. Allow to cool. Store the granola in an airtight container.

*adapted from Body + Soul

Homemade Yogurt
You can make this yogurt with whole milk or 2% if you like, but I don’t think I would use skim milk.

1/2 gallon organic 2% milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt (store bought or your own)
1/2 cup organic powdered milk (optional)

  1. Preheat your oven on to 250°F. When it comes to temperature turn it off but keep the door closed to retain the heat.
  2. In a large pot over medium-high heat, warm the the 1/2 gallon of milk to 180°F. Stir constantly and do not allow to come to a boil.
  3. Pour the hot milk into a bowl and set that bowl in a larger one filled with ice water. Let the mixture cool to 110-115°F and stir in 1/2 cup of plain yogurt and the powdered milk (if you’re using it).
  4. Ladle the yogurt mixture into warm glass jars, cap and put on a tray in the still warm oven. Wrap the tray in a blanket or heavy towel and let cool down slowly, for 12 hours or overnight.
  5. In the morning you will have yogurt! If you didn’t use the powdered milk and you prefer your yogurt more of a greek style, then you need to drain the whey out.
  6. Line a mesh strainer with a paper coffee filter and set over a bowl. Add your thin yogurt to the filter and allow the whey to drain into the bowl*. After about an hour you will have a thick homemade greek style yogurt.
    Refrigerate and enjoy.

*adapted from happy simple living

*Many of the recipes I read recommended saving the whey to use in place of water when you bake. It’s an easy way to increase the amount of protein in your homemade breads and muffins.