Wednesday, March 16, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Feast

Brown Butter Soda Bread
(recipe of Chef Cathal Armstrong - Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, VA
I recently saw this recipe and thought I'd give it a try- especially since I've never made Irish Soda Bread - this is not a traditional version, rather a twist on an old classic.  In case you aren't familiar with the bread (as I was not)- it's a quick bread that uses baking soda in place of yeast, requires little kneading, no rising time (since you don't have to wait for the yeast to do it's thing), and consists of the following main ingredients:  flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk.  This version uses rosemary and brown butter to give a nutty flavor to the bread.  The cross at the top of the bread is indicative to Irish Soda bread.  Some believe it is made to ward off the devil, others (and more widely accepted) believe it is created to allow circulation and expansion of the dough while baking. 

Makes 2 medium loaves:
  • 1/2 stick of unsalted butter
  • 3 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
    1/2 loaf ready for baking
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 Tbls sugar
  • 1 Tbls chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 3/4 cup buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, add ~ 1-2 tsp of acid (lemon juice or white vinegar) to the milk and let stand for ~30 min. to allow curdling
Pre-heat oven to 375F

Stir butter in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until melted, and then continue to cook about 3 minutes or until golden brown; remove from heat.
Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar into a large bowl.  Mix in oats, rosemary and pepper.  Pour the buttermilk and brown butter over the mixture; stir with a fork until the flour mix is moistened, and then turn out onto a floured work surface.  Knead gently for a few turns - just enough to get the dough molded and a bit smooth (NOTE: overworking (kneading) the dough will result in a tough bread- you do not want to over develop the gluten).
Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a ball.  Flatten the ball into a 6" round, and place on a baking sheet.  Brush the tops of the bread with a little melted butter, sprinkle with additional ground pepper, and cut a 1/2" deep "X" into the top of each dough. 
Bake the breads until deep golden brown - about 40 minutes.  Cool on a rack for 30 minutes. 
Excellent served slightly warm with butter.

For my first attempt, this bread turned out better than expected.  Lending off a sweet aroma, reminiscent of fresh baked biscuits; the taste was slightly sweet with a touch of rosemary and pepper. 

Irish Parsnip and Apple Soup

Parsnips, common to Ireland, were used quite often in the winter when many green vegetables were not available.  This comforting soup lends a good balance of sweet and spice.
(Serves 4-6 sides):
1 Tbls flour
1 pound of parsnips (~ 2 very large), peeled and thinly sliced
1 pound of apples (~2 large), peeled, cored and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp cardamom pods
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 litre chicken stock
3/4 cup heavy cream (or sour cream)
salt and pepper
chopped parsley

Melt the butter in a large stockpot/saucepan.  Add the parsnips, onion, and apples, cooking until just softened; Do Not brown.
Add the spices and garlic, and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, stirring well.
Pour in the stock slowly, stirring until well mixed.  There should be enough stock to cover all the veg/fruit.  Turn the heat to simmer, cover the pot, and cook for ~40 minutes, or until the parsnips are fairly soft (may take up to an hour).  Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.  Add the cream and mix well - Do Not let the soup come to a boil, or the cream will curdle.  Serve hot with chopped parsley. 
Irish Parsnip and Apple Soup with Brown Butter Soda Bread

Irish Stew

Traditional Irish Stew is a simple, pure peasant dish made with cheap and available ingredients of the season.  Potatoes and lamb dominate this dish since the Irish primarily grew root vegetables and raised sheep in the country's grassy hillsides.  The stew has evolved and adapted to include whatever offerings available in your area.  For instance, lamb is not as popular in America as it is in the British Isles, so beef is often substituted (as it is in the following recipe).  Other root veggies can also be substituted such as parsnips, turnips, or swedes.
Whichever you choose to include, the stew will be rich and hearty.

(Servings: 3-4)

* 1.5 pounds boneless lamb stew meat (or beef)
* 2 russet potatoes, peeled
* 3 large carrots, peeled
* 1 yellow onion, diced
* 2 Tbls chopped fresh parsley
* 1 1/2 cups of fresh or frozen peas
* Beef stock (2 -3 cups)
* salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 250F.  Cut the carrots and potatoes into fairly large chunks (as they will cook for quite a long time; pieces to small will become overcooked and soggy).  Place the chopped veggies and the meat into a large ovenproof dish (dutch oven works good) with a fitting lid.  Add 2 - 21/2 cups of beef stock to the pot, along with the chopped parsley, salt and pepper.  Be sure to season generously.  Put the pot on the stove top and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Then cover the pot and place in the oven for about 2 hours. 
Remove the pot from the oven and add the peas - also add more stock if the liquid is running low (the liquid should cover the meat and veg).  Cover the pot and continue to cook in the oven for about 30 more minutes.  Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes. 
Bon App!

Up next:  Where did it all come from!  

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