Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Irish Soda Bread

One more week of winter and we've had our first, almost-measurable, snow.  There is more snow in the forecast for today and tomorrow.  The bad weather didn't stop the dying of the Chicago River green a few days ago.  I never quite understand why they don't do that on St. Patrick's actual day.  I'm not doing corned beef and cabbage as we have plans to eat out.  I am baking Irish Soda bread.  I've combined a few recipes to come close to my grandmother's delicious loaf.  This is part Ina Garten and part Nanny's.  It is wholly delicious slathered with a little butter and a little jam with a steaming mug of coffee (or tea).

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all whether you are Irish or not!!

Irish Soda Bread

4 cups flour, plus extra for raisins and candied orange peel
5 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
4 Tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp grated orange zest
1 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup candied orange peel
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper

1.  Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Combine on low speed for 30 seconds.  Scatter the butter in and mix, on low speed, until the butter is crumbled into the flour.
2.  In another bowl, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg and orange zest together.  With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture for about 1 minute or until flour is incorporated.  Combine the raisins and candied orange peel with one tablespoon of flour and then mix into the dough.  The dough will be very wet and sticky.
3.  Liberally flour a wooden board and scrape the dough out onto the board.  Using well-floured hands (I used a dough scraper too), knead the dough a few times and form into a rough, round loaf.  Place the loaf onto the prepared sheet pan and cut an X into the top (not easy with the soft dough--I ended up cutting a rough X with kitchen scissors).  Bake for 45-50 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  The loaf should sound hollow when tapped.
4.  Cool on a rack.  Delicious served warm or at room temperature.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Birthday Party 2017

What were my parents thinking by giving me a January birthday?  Obviously not the weather!!  Unknown to each other, the parents of two of my best friends weren't thinking by welcoming them to the world in January either.  I'm so glad it worked out though.  There have been times during the twenty-five plus years that we've celebrated together that we've changed the date several times.  This year started out to be a travel challenge.  Our area has had little to no snow this winter.  However, on the eve of our celebration (a month after the actual date), a thin sheet of icy snow fell.

We conferenced and I offered to do our luncheon.  Yes, about three hours before the event, I agreed to be the hostess!!  Instead of meeting at Gamba's, our delicious restaurant of choice, we'd be dining at my house.  Having forewarned them the meal would be assembled from my freezer, I got busy setting the table.  It turned out to be the easiest entertainment ever!!  I didn't spend days deciding on the menu, grocery shopping, etc..

Minestrone Soup and Cornbread

I made a big batch of this delicious soup several weeks ago.  It was perfect for a very cold day.  There were five generous portions of homemade cornbread tucked into the freezer as well.  

Evolution's Poppyseed Cake

The Baker had made peanut butter cookies for a friend's children the day before.  I announced they would be dessert.  He didn't think them worthy of a birthday celebration so he headed out to a local sweet shop and came home with this cake.  The bottom layer is poppy seed.  That is topped with a vanilla cream, topped with a fruit gelatin.  Perched on top was a raspberry macaron.  Oh my!!

Of course there were presents
and good conversation.
It was another successful celebration!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Cookies For Your Valentine

It was a bit of a shock to glance at the calendar this morning and see that Valentine's Day was only a week away!  To be honest, I haven't felt winter yet.  I don't think we've had an inch of snow so far this winter.  We've had a lot of rain.  The grass is green.  The trees are leafless but the birds don't seem to mind.  Cardinals and finches are our main visitors right now.  I don't know who their choreographer is but they put on quite a show.  They swoop and land, swoop and land spreading out on the branches.  Sometimes they seem to line up for the feeders.  At other times, they don't always wait their turn and roust those who take too long dining.  One particularly delightful species is the Northern Orange Cardinal.  I'd never seen one until we moved here last year.  Flashes of brilliant orange kept capturing my eye.  I knew the bird was a cardinal but had never seen such brilliance.  I Googled "orange cardinal" and there he was--the Northern Orange!!

Back to Valentine's Day.  These cookies are delicious, package well and keep well.  Well, if one doesn't eat them right away.

Almond Butter Cookies adapted from the Chicago Tribune

1 cup brown sugar

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup almond butter (or creamy peanut butter)
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp granulated sugar

1.  Beat the brown sugar, butter and almond butter together until light and fluffy.  Add the egg, vanilla and almond extract and mix in.  Add the flour, baking soda and salt.  Stir only until combined.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill at least an hour to overnight.

2.  Preheat the oven to 350.  Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and coat in the sugar.  Transfer to a lightly sprayed cookie sheet and place 2 inches apart.  Using a fork, press the cookies down slightly using a criss-cross pattern.

3.  Bake until firm with golden brown edges, about ten minutes.  Cool slightly on baking sheet and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

To be really decadent, dip half of each cookie into melted chocolate.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Fast the New Year Approaches

I am not unhappy to say goodbye to 2016.  I'll just leave it at that rather than detail all the negativeness that has been bantered about by so many.  Rather, I'll leave 2016 with a reminder to myself of the positive things that have been in my life.  I have been blessed with a wonderful family and wonderful friends.  We enjoyed time with our children.  We've enjoyed our old friends and made new ones.  Our 2016 calendar is filled with memories of good friends, enjoyment of the arts, strolling beautiful gardens and much, much more.

The tree is still up.  We'll soon remove the decorations from the tree and reminesce as to where they came from and when (as far as memory serves us).  

We'll remember meals shared in our home and the homes of others.  There was always good food and good conversations.

This was our second Christmas in our new home.  We've never looked back.  We've never questioned our decision to relocate to a new place and a new city.

I was going to take a photo of our sweet Oliver.  However, every time I have the camera in hand, he is napping.  So, instead, here is one of our Christmas presents.  An original, and one-of-a-kind piece of art from Stefan and Elyssa.  I think the artist has captured all three of our dalmatians in one!!

I seem to have a love of cars, especially "woodies", with trees being taken home to decorate.

While Stefan was home, we enjoyed working this lovely wooden puzzle.  In full disclosure, he did most of the work.  Andrew has requested it be dismantled so that we can work it together.  I think that sounds like a plan for a snowy day!

Now, we want to wish each and every one of you a happy and healthy new year!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Let the Season Begin!

I am wealthy in my friends.

Yesterday was the day two of my best friends and I got together to celebrate the season.  We had 
planned to meet at the new Thai restaurant in town.  The weather, however, was not cooperating.  It was very cold and icy out.  While the roads were clear, the parking lots were not.  So, we decided to get Thai takeout. The Baker was kind enough to brave the elements and pick up food for us.  He was also kind enough to make a dessert for us which I'll share in another post.

I have drawers filled with cloth napkins but could not resist these.  They are so delicate and soft and were perfect for a simple table setting.

Notice the price for twenty five.  That's right--30 cents.  I picked them up last December at an antique shop in Chesterton.  They aren't antique but, I'm guessing, mid-century "modern".  I paid $3.00 for two packages.  Still a bargain!!

We stayed in and warm while the tree sparkled and carols played.  We also feasted on

Thai vegetable soup

Pad Thai
Pad se ew
Green Curry

Finally, a glance at the clock let us know we'd been dining, opening gifts and chatting for almost four hours!!  Time passes quickly when you are with those you love. 

Thank you, dear ones.
You are very special!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Autumn in the Neighborhood

"Come said the wind
to the leaves one day,
come o'er the meadows
and we will play.
Put on your dresses of
scarlet and gold,
for summer is gone and the days grow cold."
A Child's Song from the 1880s

Fall color seemed to be long in coming here.  When it finally arrived, there was an explosion of color that lasted for an all too short time.  Of course, I suppose that is what makes it so special

Taken from our hallway looking out of the front door.  This was five days ago.  Today, almost all of those leaves are on the ground.

A neighborhood beauty.  I love the way it seems to be sheltering the small evergreens beneath it's branches.

Happy Fall! 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Candied Citrus Peel

This is the time of year that I start saving orange and grapefruit peels to candy.  It goes into cookies and cakes.  There's always a tin filled to enjoy with tea.  Tied up in cellophane bags, it is perfect for small gifts to friends and some family members.  My boys would rather find a bag of coals in their stockings than candied fruit peel!!  I guess I didn't introduce them to the treat soon enough.

In case you are an aficionado, here's my tried and true recipe.

Candied Citrus Peel

3 large navel oranges, well scrubbed
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Carefully remove the peel from the oranges.  This is easier if you cut through the peel in four sections.

Cut the four sections of peel into eight sections and, with a sharp knife, cut away as much of the white pith as possible.

Cut the eight sections into pieces approximately 2 1/2 inches by 1/4 inches.  This is entirely up to you.  You may even dice them depending on how you'll use them.

Put into a pan and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil and gently simmer for five minutes.  Drain and repeat the process once.  This gets rid of some of the bitterness.  I happen to like the bitterness and sometimes skip this step altogether. 

Place the water and sugar in a heavy saucepan and heat to dissolve the sugar.  When dissolved, bring to a boil and add the orange peel.  Simmer for approximately 45 minutes, uncovered,  or until the peel becomes translucent.    

Remove from heat, drain, and spread onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Allow to cool slightly before dredging in sugar to just coat.  Place back on the parchment and allow to dry at room temperature overnight.  Place in an airtight container.  This keeps for a very long time--months if you can refrain from eating them.

If you would like a real treat, dip the peels into melted chocolate to coat about an inch.