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The Americanized Irish soda bread is the one I grew up with, and it’s the one I still prefer.  Unfortunately when I asked my mom for the recipe the other day…she couldn’t find it.  Though I didn’t veer too far from tradition with these recipes, I did make another variation of this bread with one of my other favorites – browned butter.  Both recipes have a little sugar in them, but the browned butter version has black pepper and rosemary in it, which makes it a little more suitable for a dinner accompaniment in my opinion.  The look of the browned butter loaf is more what I was going for, but the other loaf’s batter was so runny it was hard to work with.  The husband and I enjoyed the flavor of both breads, but I’m sending them with him to school tomorrow – so we’ll let the high school teachers decide which one is better!

Brown Butter Soda Bread, makes 2 loaves
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper plus additional for topping
1 3/4 cups buttermilk

1 egg white, beaten to blend

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Stir butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until melted and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Stir flour, oats, sugar, rosemary, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in large bowl to blend. Pour buttermilk and melted browned butter over flour mixture; stir with fork until flour mixture is moistened.

Turn dough out onto floured work surface. Knead gently until dough comes together, about 7 turns. Divide in half. Shape each half into ball; flatten each into 6-inch round. Place rounds on ungreased baking sheet, spacing 5 inches apart. Brush tops with beaten egg white. Sprinkle lightly with ground black pepper. Using small sharp knife, cut 1/2-inch-deep X in top of each dough round.

Bake breads until deep golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool breads on rack at least 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Irish Soda Bread, adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe on www.foodnetwork.com

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for currants
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
  • 1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

 Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.

With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, and egg together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture.  The dough will be VERY runny.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.

Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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This salad is pretty enough to serve for a special occasion, but easy enough to make on a weeknight.  I adapted this salad from Thomas Keller’s “Little Gem Lettuce Salad” from Ad Hoc at Home.  I brought this over to my parents’ house on Christmas Day since I was in charge of the salad.  It seemed to get a good response, and I think it’s delicious!  It is definitely a nice way to incorporate citrus fruits now while they’re in season.

Winter Citrus Salad, serves 6

1 10 ounce container of mixed greens

Seeds from ½ of a pomegranate*

1 ruby-red grapefruit (Texas are the best!)

2 blood oranges

2 clementines

¾ cup walnuts, toasted

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Flat-leaf parsley leaves

Honey Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Cut off the tops and bottoms from the grapefruit, oranges and clementines.  Stand each one up and use a very sharp knife to cut away the peel and pith in wide strips, working from top to bottom of the fruit.  Separate fruit segments.

Spread the walnuts out on the baking sheet and toast in the oven, turning the pan around after 5 minutes, for 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted.  Remove from the oven, transfer the nuts to a plate, sprinkle with salt, and let cool.

Put the lettuce on a large platter and top with fruit segments, pomegranate seeds, and walnuts.  Drizzle with honey vinaigrette.

*Note:  To remove the seeds from a pomegranate, cut the pomegranate in half through the equator.  Hold one half over a bowl and hit the back of the pomegranate to release the seeds.  Add the cold water.  The membranes will float to the top.  Remove any membranes from the water and drain the seeds.

Honey Vinaigrette

½ cup canola oil

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup champagne vinegar

3 tablespoons honey

Combine the canola and olive oil in a measuring cup.  Put the vinegar and honey in a blender or food processor to combine.  With the machine running on low-speed, stream in the oil.  Refrigerate in a covered container for up to 1 month.

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The smell of baking bread in the house is nothing short of amazing.  The taste and smell is even more amazing though when you’ve prepared this treat with your own two hands, and not just popped open that Pillsbury can.  This treat can be made a day ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator too, so you don’t have to get up at 4am to enjoy these as a breakfast treat!  They do require a bit of time and effort, so it is definitely a recipe worthy of a special occasion or company.  I made them for company with the thought that I would want something easy to pop in the oven that morning.

This recipe is from the cookbook, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart.  It uses the SAF instant yeast, which I have found that I prefer to the dry active yeast because there is less room for error.  It is fermented with sugar, so there is no need to dissolve into warm water.  I store mine in an airtight container in the freezer, and it should last at least a year.

Cinnamon Buns, makes about 12 large rolls

15 minutes mixing, 3 ½ hours fermentation, shaping and proofing; 15-20 minutes baking

6 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

5 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 large egg, slightly beaten

1 teaspoon lemon extract

3 ½ cups bread or all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons instant yeast

1 1/8 to 1 ¼ cups buttermilk or whole milk

½ cup cinnamon sugar (6 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar plus 1 ½ tablespoons ground cinnamon)

  1.  Cream together the sugar, salt, and shortening on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large metal spoon and mixing bowl and do it by hand).  Whip in the egg and lemon extract until smooth.  Then add the flour, yeast, and milk.  Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball.  Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes ), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky.  You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture.  Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
  2. Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
  3. Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter.  Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top of the dough with flour to keep it from sticking to the pin.  Roll it into a rectangle about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for larger buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches long for smaller buns.  Don’t roll out the dough too thin, or the finished buns will be tough and chewy rather than soft and plump.
  4. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll.  With the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 even pieces each about 1 ¾ inches thick for larger buns; or 12 to 16 pieces each 1 ¼ inch thick for smaller buns.

     5.  Line 1 or more sheet pans with baking parchment.  Place the buns approximately ½ inch apart so that they aren’t touching but are close to one another.

     6.Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size.  After this proofing, you can place the buns in the refrigerator for up to two days before baking.

     7.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with the oven rack on the middle shelf.

      8.  Bake the cinnamon buns for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes and then streak white fondant glaze across the tops while the buns are warm but not too hot. 

White Fondant Glaze

Sift 4 cups of powdered sugar into a large bowl.  Add 1 teaspoon of lemon or orange extract and between 6 tablespoons to ½ cup of warm milk, briskly whisking until all the sugar is dissolved.  Add the milk slowly and only as much as is needed to make a thick, smooth paste.  When the buns have cooled, but are still warm, streak the glaze over them by dipping the tines of a fork or a whisk into the glaze and waving the fork or whisk over the tops.

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I always feel that New Year’s Day calls for something special to eat, something that you wouldn’t normally indulge in on a normal day.  Growing up, we ALWAYS had shrimp cocktail.  I still love shrimp cocktail, but was feeling like I should try something new.  I was browsing through the seafood section at Whole Foods the other day, looking for inspiration, and came across some fresh crab meat.  Crab cakes!  Done.  Something I’ve never made before, and the perfect occasion.  These actually turned out really nice.  My husband is still raving about them this morning – good thing we have some leftovers to enjoy!

Crab Cakes, makes 12 3-ounce cakes

(adapted from the Cuisinart recipe booklet that came with my food processor)

1 lb lump crab meat

1 garlic clove

1 red bell pepper, cut into 2-inch pieces

3 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces

½ cup parsley

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

¼ tsp kosher salt

¼ tsp freshly ground pepper

2 large eggs, slightly beaten

1 cup bread crumbs

½ cup mayonnaise

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 ½ tsp Old Bay seasoning

2 tsp Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray, or a silicon mat.

Drop the garlic into the bowl of a food processor, while running, to chop.  Add the peppers, green onion and parsley and pulse to coarsely chop, about 10 to 12 pulses.

Put the oil into a large skillet placed over medium heat.  Cook chopped vegetables with salt and pepper until soft, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Remove and reserve in a large mixing bowl.

Once vegetables have cooled slightly, add the crab, eggs, breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, Worcestershire, Old Bay, and Dijon.  Mix thoroughly but carefully, so not to break up the crab too much.  Form mixture into 2-inch round cakes.

Place on prepared baking sheet and bake until crabcakes are evenly golden, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Serve with hot sauce and lemon wedges.

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I’d been eyeing recipes for these cute little candies for months, especially now that it’s citrus season.  My husband’s aunt Bridget, who is an amazing cook, had these candied goodies at Christmas Eve dinner.  I improvised a bit with what I had on hand in the house.  Below are the two recipes I used for the cranberries, lemon, clementine, blood orange and grapefruit peels.  They look so pretty, and taste delicious too!

Candied Orange Peels, adapted from the Food Network website

Yields about 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 6 thick-skinned Valencia or navel oranges (or any type of citrus peel)
  • 4 1/2 cups sugar, plus extra for rolling
  • 1 1/2 cups water

Directions

Cut tops and bottoms off of the fruites and score them into quarters, cutting down only into the peel and not into the fruit. Peel the skin and pith of the fruit in large pieces, use the inside of the fruit for another recipe. Cut the peel into strips about 1/4-inch wide. Put the orange peel in a large saucepan with cold water to cover, bring to a boil over high heat. Then pour off the water. Repeat 1 or 2 more times depending up how assertive you want the peels to be. (Test kitchen liked the texture of a 3 time blanch best, it also mellowed the bitterness. But it is a matter of preference.) *Note:  I blanched the grapefruit peels 6 times because they were more bitter than the oranges and lemons.  Remove the peels from the pan.

Whisk the sugar with 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 8 to 9 minutes (If you took the sugar’s temperature with a candy thermometer it would be at the soft thread stage, 230 to 234 degrees F.) Add the peels and simmer gently, reducing heat to retain a simmer. Cook until the peels get translucent, about 45 minutes. Resist the urge to stir the peels or you may introduce sugar crystals into the syrup. If necessary, swirl the pan to move the peels around. Drain the peels, (save the syrup for ice tea.) Roll the peels in sugar and dry on a rack, for 4 to 5 hours. Return to the sugar to store.

Sugared Cranberries, yields 9 1/3 cups servings

Ingredients

  • 2  cups  granulated sugar
  • 2  cups  water
  • 2  cups  fresh cranberries
  • 3/4  cup  superfine sugar

Preparation

Combine granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring mixture until sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer; remove from heat. (Do not boil or the cranberries may pop when added.) Stir in cranberries; pour mixture into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Drain cranberries in a colander over a bowl, reserving steeping liquid, if desired. Place superfine sugar in a shallow dish. Add the cranberries, rolling to coat with sugar. Spread sugared cranberries in a single layer on a baking sheet; let stand at room temperature 1 hour or until dry.

Note: The steeping liquid clings to the berries and helps the sugar adhere. Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to a week.

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It’s not too late for holiday candy making. If you’re like me, holiday plans and get-together seem to run well into January these days.  Truffles would be the perfect thing to make for a New Year’s Eve party to share, or as a hostess gift!  Below are two recipes I concocted for friends and family gifts this year.  Chocolate Peppermint (which tasted like Frango Mints) and a Toasted Coconut Rum.  You can be as creative as you’d like with truffles though by adding different extracts and coatings.  Anything goes really! 

Basic Truffle Recipe

11 ounces good quality chocolate (I used Ghiradelli’s 60%cocoa chocolate chips, this is just under two cups)

2/3 cup heavy cream (make sure you don’t use light cream or their won’t be enough fat content for the ganache to thicken properly)

various coatings (i.e. cocoa powder, chopped nuts, toasted coconut, colored sugar, crushed peppermint candies, candied ginger, etc.)

optional – 1 tsp  flavored extract

Bring heavy cream to a boil in a small heavy saucepan.  Pour the cream over the chocolate, then stir with a whisk (don’t beat or you’ll incorporate air), until the ganache is smooth.  If this doesn’t quite melt the chocolate, you can put the bowl of chocolate and cream in the microwave and heat in 15 second intervals, stirring in between.  This would be the time to add a flavored extract or alcohol if you desire.

Chill the ganache in the refrigerator for at least an hour, or until it holds it’s shape.  When ready to form the truffles, I prefer using a small scoop or teaspoon.  Roll the pieces of chocolate into a ball between your hands.  If you plan on coating the truffles with cocoa powder or dipping them in chocolate, it’s a good idea to chill them again for a few minutes so they don’t lose their shape. 

Toss the truffles in the coating of your choice.  I use a fork to do this, again so you keep their in tact.  If you want to coat your truffles in chocolate, you’ll need to temper the coating chocolate so that it hardens.  You can find a good how-to on tempering here.  If you are lazy, or over-commit yourself like I do and want a quick coating, just melt some of the Wilton chocolate melts to dip your truffles in!

Store in refrigerator.

Chocolate Peppermint Truffles

11 ounces good quality chocolate

2/3 cup heavy cream

1 tsp  peppermint extract

1 bag Wilton chocolate melts, dark chocolate variety

Follow instructions in Basic Truffle recipe, but chill formed truffles for about 20 minutes longer before dipping in chocolate melts.  Melt or temper chocolate, and use a fork to roll the formed truffle around before setting on a parchment lined baking sheet to cool.  Store in refrigerator. 

Toasted Coconut Rum Truffles

11 ounces good quality chocolate

2/3 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup shredded sweetened or unsweetened coconut, toasted

1 tsp  coconut extract

1 tsp Malibu coconut rum (optional)

Follow instructions in Basic Truffle recipe, but roll in toasted coconut after truffles are formed.  Store in refrigerator.

I apologize for the lack of pictures in this post, but my hands were full of chocolate during this WHOLE process and my husband wasn’t at home to be on camera duty!  I will have to make again and post pictures later. 🙂

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I have a natural tendancy to over-extend myself.  This includes everything from over-booking my weekends to taking on too many projects.  I thought the caramels might be in that category since my experience with candy making in the past hasn’t been all that successful.  However, I’ve discovered while making these – that you can fix a sugar concoction that was screwed up on the first go!  Food & Wine had an article on homemade gifts in their Holiday Guide section and these chocolate-dipped vanilla caramels looked so pretty I had to try them!  Make sure you use a good quality butter because that is where a lot of your flavor will come from.  I didn’t cook the caramel long enough the first time, and it did not harden enough.  The next day I scraped it all out of the pan, put it back on the stove and reheated it to 255 degrees.  It turned out much better the second time around!

Chocolate-Dipped Vanilla Caramels

  • ACTIVE: 30 MIN
  • TOTAL TIME: 1 HR 30 MIN Plus cooling
  • SERVINGS: Makes about 7 dozen caramels
  • Ingredients

    1. 2 sticks unsalted butter
    2. 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
    3. 1 cup light corn syrup
    4. 1 cup heavy cream
    5. 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped – I used vanilla bean paste
    6. Coarse sea salt, crumbled
    7. 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, melted (optional) – I used the Wilton dark cocoa Chocolate Melts

    Directions

    1. Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with foil; spray it with vegetable oil. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter. Add the sugar, corn syrup and cream and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the vanilla seeds. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until a golden caramel forms and the temperature reaches 245° on a candy thermometer, 1 hour. Stir in 1 tablespoon of salt and scrape the caramel into the prepared pan. Let cool and set completely overnight.
    2. Lightly oil a sheet of parchment paper and line 2 baking sheets with wax paper. Invert the caramel onto the parchment and peel off the foil. Using a sharp knife, cut the caramel into 1-inch-wide strips and then into 1-inch squares. Dip the squares into the chocolate, tap off the excess and transfer to the wax paper on the baking sheets. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Alternatively, wrap the plain caramel squares in wax paper and tie with thread.

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