Archive for the ‘Cookbooks’ Category

Friday, March 18, 2011 @ 04:03 PM

Yes controversy.

I have been making Irish soda bread for years. My recipe comes from The Fanny Farmer Baking Cookbook. The prologue to the recipe even states that Traditional soda breads are NOT SWEET! They can accompany any meal.

My husband grew up in Ireland. He always told me that the recipe that I made, tasted just like Grandma’s. Though Grandma’s was cooked in cast iron in a peat oven. Mine was, and still is, baked in an 8″ cast iron skillet in my oven.

It irks me to no end when I go into a store during the St. Patrick’s Day season,  and see Irish soda bread all done up with raisins, or caraway seeds, and then covered in a hard sugar cookie glaze. This is the farthest thing from traditional Irish soda bread that you can get. When Americans decided that traditional Irish fruit bread was traditional classic soda bread, I do not know. It is made with bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), therefore making it a soda bread or cake, but it is so far from classic soda bread that it is not funny.

Poor people in Ireland certainly did not have the sugar and raisins for daily bread. Why would you use sweet cakey bread with raisins in it to sop up your lamb stew anyway? But a nice moist, fresh piece of bread slathered with butter is perfect here. Left over bread was usually toasted and slathered with butter and preserves or put in the frying pan to sop up bacon grease and then toasted to perfection. Certain times of the year, you were lucky to get any fruit at all anyway. At Christmas time it was a very special present if you received an orange or other piece of fruit with your gifts.

Traditional Irish fruit bread has many names. Spotted Dog, Sweet Cake, Curnie Cake, Spotted Dick or Railway Cake depending on the area of Ireland that you came from. Given the sweetness of this item, it would be appropriate to sprinkle powdered sugar on top or maybe even a glaze of sugar. But this is not what you want to eat with your Shepherd’s Pie or your boiled corned beef, which by the way is another American tradition, not Irish. This is something you would eat for tea or after dinner as a dessert item.

I am going to include the recipe for both Classic Traditional soda bread, and Spotted Dog so that you may see the similarities, but the definite differences.

Classic Irish Soda Bread:

4 cups flour

1 1\2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking SODA

2 cups buttermilk (milk with tablespoon or 2 lemon juice…let it sit & curdle a minute before you add it to flour mixture)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Grease an 8″ cast iron skillet. In large bowl toss together dry ingredients. Add buttermilk…stir briskly with fork til dough forms together in a rough mass. Knead on a liberally floured surface for about 30 secs. Pat into a 8″ round about 1 1\2 thick (mine is always thicker than that) Slash a large 1\4″ deep cross across the top. Place in cast iron skillet & bake 45-50 mins. or until nicely browned and the cross has spread open. Transfer to a rack to cool, then wrap in a slightly damp tea towel and let it rest for 8 hours. Wrapping the baked, cooled bread in a damp towel helps it to settle and makes it easier to slice.

Spotted Dick:

4 cups  flour

2 tsp. sugar

1\2 tsp. salt

1\2 tsp. baking soda

1\2 cup raisins, sultanas, or currents

1 1\2 cup buttermilk or sour milk

1 egg (optional…you probably won’t need all the milk if you use the egg)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Sift the dry ingredients together. Add the fruit and mix well.

Making a well in the center, add the egg and\or milk. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, but not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a floured surface. Knead for a few seconds, just enough to tidy it up. Place in an 8″ cast iron skillet. Cut a 1\4″ deep cross in the top. Bake in the 450 degree oven for 15 mins. then turn down the temp. to 400 degrees F and cook for an additional 30 mins. or until cooked.

Serve freshly baked, cut into thick slices and spread with butter. Or you can cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar or put a sugar glaze on at this point.

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Sunday, October 3, 2010 @ 06:10 PM

I just got back from a weekend at the races. It did not totally turn out on a positive note. We actually went to watch a friend race a car. He won his race class last year, but after crossing the finish line, the car was wrecked. After a month, my friend and his crew decided to rebuild the car. They worked for 11 months to get the car up and running for the event I attended this weekend. 3 weeks ago we all came to the drag strip in Englishtown, NJ to test the car. Things went well, but they really only got to make one pass. This was truly the first weekend that they got to bring the car out. Qualifying went well. The car placed 5th in time ranking after all qualifying runs were done. Eliminations started and the car and driver did well. The car did make it to the final round. They lost the last round, but it was quite an accomplishment. Most people did not know that this was the first weekend that this car had gotten to run  since the rebuild. I am quite proud of my friend and his crew. To think that they built and ran a new rebuild all the way to the finals.

On another note, my parking lot wanderings turned up many different kinds and types of food. The drag racing circuit, in my mind, puts NASCAR tailgaters to shame. Unless someone wants to prove me wrong. Mario Batali wrote a cookbook regarding NASCAR tailgaters. It totally inspired me along with a book by a man named Big John. I have always cooked something different and something inspired by both of these men anytime I have ever tailgated. My last trip to a NASCAR track turned out, not by me of course, only propane grills, burgers, dogs, and brats,every where I looked! And, that was all. The two weekends that I spent at the drag strip I saw less tailgaters, but so much more food. All different kinds of food & cooked in many different ways. The grills, the BBQ smokers and outdoor propane deep fryers. I even saw a Bayou Classic outdoor patio stove with a giant stock pot filled with pepper steak made by The Philly Cheese Steak Queen herself!

I will go into this topic a bit more in depth tomorrow. I would like to add pictures and discuss the menus of some of these wonderful and talented tailgaters.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010 @ 04:09 PM

There are many influences that go into Cajun & Creole cooking. Both originated in Louisiana, and were influenced by the many different cultures that had settled in the area. Some of these cultures include The French, Spanish, Portuguese, Africans, and even Native Americans.  Cajun cooking being more influenced by French Provincial peasants, and Creole being developed more in well to do homes, largely in part to slaves’ cooking influences.

Louisiana style cooking was also  influenced by the food available in the area. Fish, shrimp, crawfish, alligator, pork, game, and poultry were available. Gumbos typically contained fish, okra, and ground sassafras leaves for a thickening agent. Other outside inspirations came into play as more cultures moved to the area. Tomatoes, rice, beans, and hot peppers eventually found their way into the mix.  Smoking and deep frying of foods also played an important role and still do today.

One of the facts of this wonderful food, was that you could feed large groups of people with whatever you had on hand. This is when the cooking in large cast iron pots over and outdoor fire came into play. Church socials & political rallies, family reunions & weddings were all places that you could find what we now typically call Jambalaya Pots.

Many of the dishes that have come to be main stay in the area, are a jumbled up mix of both Cajun & Creole example. Regardless of whether it is Cajun or Creole, some wonderful dishes have come down through history and can be found throughout the United States today. Gumbo, jambalaya, & etouffee are no longer just regional favorites of The Louisiana people.There are millions of cookbooks and recipes out there available even to a Northern Yankee like me. They are restaurants all over the nation now serving Louisiana cuisine. The food is easy enough to make at home. You don’t need a large cast iron pot & a wood fire either. You can cook it inside in a slow cooker or on your stove top. If you are cooking for a large group though, get out your turkey fryer kit. You can make a huge pot of jambalaya right in the stock pot over your the outdoor propane patio stove that comes with it.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010 @ 01:05 PM

OK gang….This one of my all time summer/tailgating favorites!

This recipe can be modified depending on how many people you are planning on serving.(This version serves about 4 hungry tailgaters)

1   2 1\2 lb boneless pork loin



salt free pork seasoning(I prefer McCormick’s (TM) Grill Mates(TM) Pork Rub

2 c water

2 medium onions,peeled and sliced

1  1 lb package (or more) of sauerkraut(bags only!!!  NO CANS)

1-2  Granny Smith Apples cored, peeled, & chopped(Save this step to the end. You don’t want brown apple)

Another 1\4 c water

Take pork loin & season with salt,pepper & pork rub.

Heat a cast iron skillet and brown the meat. Start fat side down & cook until the fat is starting to crisp, then brown rest of the loin.Remove pork loin from the skillet & place in a foil pan with sliced onions & 2 cups water. Cover foil pan with aluminum foil.(I like to also put the pan on a cookie sheet or double up the foil pans.)

Pre-heat your Brinkmann Grill or your Cajun Grill to 350 degrees. Place the pan on the lower grilling surface.Bake (or roast) with the cover closed for about 1 hour. Center should be 160 degrees.

Get your cast iron skillet going again about a  15 mins before the pork should be done.Use your side burner or wait til the pork is done & remove it but keep it covered until your kraut is ready.

Add the 1\4 water,apples & kraut & cook for about 20 mins, stirring every 5 mins.Meanwhile, take the pork out and let it rest about 10-15 mins. Take the onion & pork juices and add it right to your sauerkraut & apple mixture. (If your cast iron skillet is too small, just pour everything into the foil pan & heat it that way…you can use the foil pan as your serving platter.) Slice up the pork loin & place it right on top of your kraut mixture.

For a nice side dish, I like to bake some halved potatoes on the top cooking surface while the pork cooks.


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