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Sunday, March 15, 2009

mini irish soda breads

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marking the seasons

One of the things I love best about being a mom is celebrating the seasons with Meredith. Re-creating holiday traditions I loved from my own childhood, or coming up with new ways to commemorate the changes throughout the year is so fun…  it brings back pure childhood joy for me as I watch and participate in Meredith’s experience. 

For the last couple of years, we’ve celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, not because we’re Irish or anything, but just because it’s a great excuse to make something yummy to share with friends. We make little Irish soda breads, put them in bags that we’ve decorated with lots of shamrocks, don our greenest apparel, and march around the neighborhood delivering our gifts. This year it was a snowy Sunday—and only ten degrees in the bright sunshine! So we took our sled.

This is the third year we have followed this tradition, and it’s fun to see how much more Meredith can do every year. This year, at 4½ years old, she scooped the flour and oats, measured the salt and baking soda, stirred all the dry ingredients together, and incorporated the butter. Then she reminded me (after I’d already shaped the loaves for the first batch) that I had forgotten to include the golden raisins. “Ack! Back into the bowl to knead in the raisins!” By this time, there was no need for her to slash an X in the top of the loaves—they were a rough and ragged bunch. Then I skinned my thumb knuckle when grating the butter for the second (and final) batch. Ouch! Even though grating is a much quicker and easier method than cutting the butter into the flour, it has its own hazards. I look forward to the year when Meredith is old enough to risk her own knuckles on this project.

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mini Irish soda breads

This recipe is based on one in Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Home Baking. I’ve found this recipe for one huge loaf to be perfect to divide into 4 small loaves, perfect for sharing with friends on St. Patrick’s Day… or any other day! It’s sort of like a big, not-too-sweet whole-wheaty scone studded with golden raisins!

I’ve included my quick and easy method of cutting butter into dry ingredients…  I’m way too lazy to do this with a pastry cutter, my fingertips, or 2 knives, as cookbooks tell you to do. Yes, the food processor works…  but do you really want to get it dirty for this project? Here’s the big secret: you just grate the butter (frozen or refrigerated) and then toss it into the flour mixture. Voila! Done in a trice! You can use this butter-grating method for pie crust, scones, or any other kind of pastry that calls for cutting in butter! Could I really have invented this? I’ve never seen it described anywhere else. Let me know!

3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ cup rolled old-fashioned oats
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) butter, frozen or very cold
2 cups golden raisins, steamed for 5 minutes over boiling water to soften
approximately 2 ½ cups buttermilk, or milk soured with 1 tablespoon lemon juice or mild vinegar

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
2. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a big bowl.
3. Grate the butter on the coarse side of a grater and toss into the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly. (Grating the butter takes the place of painstakingly cutting the butter into the dry ingredients.) Toss the raisins into the flour mixture and mix well.
4. Pour most of the buttermilk into the dry ingredients and mix well to moisten the flour thoroughly. If it is not moist yet, add the rest of the buttermilk—and perhaps a bit more as needed. It’s OK if it turns out a little gooey—it will still bake up into delicious little loaves!
5. Use wet hands to pull it together into a big mound on the counter and divide it with a big knife or dough scraper into 4 pieces. Round each piece slightly and place on baking sheets (I put 2 loaves on each sheet). Cut a ½-inch deep X across the top of the bread, and pop the breads into the oven.
6. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden-brown and crusty. I have a convection oven, so your breads may need a little longer. Also your oven may not burn the golden raisins on the outside of the loaves? Try it and see!  Either way, the bread still tastes great!
7. Set on a rack to cool. Eat warm or at room temperature.

 


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Monday, March 09, 2009

hash browns, plain and fancy

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good neighbors

Our friends Kari & Wade are the best neighbors EVER. Wade has built two houses (three if you count the one he’s just helped his son build) in between his weeks working on the Slope, so he’s the kind of guy who knows how to do just about everything. For example, let’s say that your new 5,000-pound bread oven has been dropped off in your gravel driveway, and you’re trying to figure out how to get it into your garage, then through the workshop into your new bakery space. Without a forklift. Wade’s your guy! Or what if you can’t figure out how to install the auto-closing metal fire-safety doors between the bakery and the shop? Yep. Wade can do it. Have a question about plumbing? Wade can answer that, too.

And Kari? She is one of those wonderful people who always has a big smile and a hug ready. Since Meredith could just barely toddle, her house has been an important neighborhood destination. If we give her a ten-minute warning that we’re on our way over, she’s likely to prepare a tea party! Kari taught Meredith to play Go Fish, which has been a life-saver on plane trips and long afternoons. And don’t get me started on the times she’s taken Meredith for an afternoon so Dan & I could spend some time together.

Anyway, we invited Kari & Wade over for dinner last night, and I knew I wanted to serve tomato soup with garlicky croutons, and broccoli with mustardy vinaigrette & toasted pumpkin seeds. But I also wanted to have a nice appetizer. I had made some delicious salty olive tapenade, but since I would be serving piles of croutons to scoop into the soup, I didn’t want our appetizer to be tapenade on toast. Too much bread.

So I got the fun idea to try tapenade on wedges of crispy, delicious hash browns! This was inspired by recipes I’ve read for fancy little potato pancakes garnished with sour cream and caviar. I didn’t feel like trying to make potato pancakes—I just wanted to use my tried-and-true basic hash brown recipe.  I didn’t have sour cream or caviar—but plain yogurt worked perfectly as a contrast to the crunchy potatoes. Who needs caviar when you can use briny, rich tapenade? If you already have tapenade hanging around (store-bought or home-made), this recipe is super quick and easy—but looks very fancy! Or you can try my tapenade recipe!


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hash browns, plain and fancy

This recipe is based on a recipe in the September 1998 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Don’t try this recipe unless you have the proper potatoes—you really need to use russet or Idaho potatoes—a high-starch, non-waxy variety. If you try and use Yukon Gold or Butterball potatoes, they burn before getting brown and crispy because of their higher sugar content.

Don’t bother grating the potatoes ahead of time, because they will discolor—it doesn’t take long to grate them, so just do them right before you’re ready to start frying them up.
I love to make hash browns for dinner, not just breakfast! Even if you don’t serve them with my little garnish of yogurt and tapenade, they make a great dinner dish. Just serve wedges of hash browns with a big salad!

1 pound high-starch potatoes (such as russets or Idahos), scrubbed and grated coarsely
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
freshly-ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or butter (I use olive oil)

optional fancy garnish

a few scoops of plain yogurt (low-fat rather than non-fat)
tapenade (my recipe below, or buy it prepared)

1. To get rid of some of the extra water in the potatoes, place the grated potatoes in a dish towel, roll the towel up around the potatoes and, using two hands, twist the towel as tightly as you can, and watch the water pour out!
2. Toss the dried grated potatoes with salt and pepper in a medium bowl.
3. Heat half the oil or butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot, then scatter potatoes evenly over the entire pan bottom. Using a wide spatula, firmly press potatoes to flatten; reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking until dark golden brown and crisp, 7 to 8 minutes. Check the underside after 3 or 4 minutes and turn down the heat if it looks like it’s browning too fast.
4. Slide hash browns, browned side down, onto a large plate. Cover with another plate and flip them over so the browned side is up. Add the remaining oil or butter to pan. Once the oil is hot, slide the hash browns back into pan. Continue to cook over medium heat until remaining side is dark golden brown and crispy, 5 to 6 minutes longer.
5. Slide the hash browns onto a plate or cutting board, cut into wedges and serve immediately, with or without garnish.
6. If you’re garnishing, stir the yogurt until smooth. Put a little dollop of yogurt on each wedge, then top with a spoonful of tapenade.

kalamata olive, sundried tomato & roasted garlic tapenade

This tapenade is really easy if you already have roasted garlic hanging around, and it keeps for a long time in your ‘fridge. You can also put it in a jar and freeze half of it for another time—it keeps just fine that way. Because of the addition of the tomatoes, it’s not quite as rich as regular tapenade, but it’s still got fantastic flavor.

2 cups sundried julienned tomatoes (not the kind packed in oil)
6 garlic cloves
¼ cup roasted garlic cloves (use either one of the following recipes)
2 cups kalamata olives
¼ cup capers
¼ cup pine nuts

1. Put the sundried tomatoes into a heat-proof bowl, pour boiling water over them to cover, and cover with a small plate. Let them soak for 15 or 20 minutes until soft.
2. Put the raw garlic into a food processor and mince finely. Add the roasted garlic and softened tomatoes and puree until smooth. Add the olives and pulse several times until the olives are in smallish pieces and the mixture is coming together, but don’t turn it into a paste.
3. Add the capers and pine nuts, and pulse several more times until everything is nicely combined.

olive oil infused with “roasted garlic”

This is how we “roast” the garlic for our Alaskan cheese & roasted garlic bread…  and both the olive oil and garlic are wonderful in many other dishes.

several heads of garlic, cloves peeled
olive oil (you don’t need extra-virgin olive oil for this—the garlic imparts so much flavor that you can use regular olive oil)

1. Put all the whole peeled garlic cloves in a heavy pot. Cover the garlic cloves completely with olive oil.
2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Give the garlic a stir, and then turn the heat down to the absolute lowest possible heat, cover the pot, and simmer just at a bare bubble. Stir the garlic occasionally and continue to cook until the garlic cloves are completely soft and tender, and you can easily squish them against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. This will probably take an hour or more, but check after 45 minutes.
3. Uncover the pot and let cool. Strain the garlic from the oil. This garlic can be used in any recipe that calls for roasted garlic (for example, in the Southwest Caesar Salad, or in the Hummus in the cookbook or on the website). If you make a soup or a stew that needs a little extra pizzaz, just scoop out a few cloves, mash them with a fork, and add them to your dish to really pump up the flavor. You can freeze the garlic indefinitely (I keep it in pint-sized canning jars in the freezer), and just take it out when you need it.

roasted garlic

You can make several heads of this garlic when you bake it, and spread the soft, sweet cloves on toast, or add to other dishes, like soups, or hummus, or beans.

heads of garlic, unpeeled
olive oil
salt & freshly-ground pepper

1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees (or whatever temperature at which you’re baking something else). Slice the top off the garlic bulb, just enough to expose the tops of the garlic flesh. Center the bulb on a square of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap the bulb securely and pop it into the oven.
2. After 45 minutes or so (longer if it’s at a lower temperature), you should start to smell the roasting garlic, but depending on the size of your bulb, it may need a bit more time. Test by unwrapping it and slipping the sharp point of a paring knife into one of the cloves. If it slides in effortlessly, or the cloves are starting to poke out of their skins, then the garlic is ready.


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