Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Nana's Irish soda bread

All right, so it's a little early for St. Patrick's Day, but I have a friend who asked for this recipe.  Friend...ha....I used to babysit for her!!!  Crazy!!!  Anyhow...

My great-grandparents came over from "the old country" back in the early 20th century.  I don't know when; I haven't been able to figure it out on various genealogy sites (after all, it's not like there aren't a ton of Michael McCarthys or Mary Evans!).

I don't remember much about them....I remember their brogue, what they look like, that they had plastic on their couch, and a candy dish on their coffee table.  I don't remember this bread at all, but since I've had my own family and tried to incorporate our heritage into their lives, I make this bread once a year.  Okay, sometimes more, because it's delicious toasted for breakfast!!!

Enjoy the recipe, even if you aren't Irish!  Also notice that you say a blessing before you bake it...it's from the old country...what do you want?!?!

Irish Soda Bread

Preheat oven to 375F.

4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup raisins
2 cups buttermilk

Grease cookie sheet, but do NOT use an air bake sheet!!  In a large bowl, toss flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda.  Stir in raisins.  Add buttermilk  and stir with a fork until JUST mixed (holds together).

Put out onto floured surface,  knead 10-15 times and pat into an 8" round on greased cookie sheet.  Cut a cross into the top of bread, say a blessing, and bake 40-45 minutes, or until lovely golden brown.

Monday, January 18, 2016

....and what to put on them

My last post concerned the yummy rolls we make at our house.  We love to use them for burgers....we all have our favorite combinations.  My hubby's is a bacon cheeseburger with freshly-made onion rings and barbecue sauce.  It's truly delicious, but my favorite is a bacon cheeseburger with smoked Gouda and sauteed mushrooms and onions.  Yumm-o, as Rachael Ray says.

They are also fantastic the next morning sliced with butter and jam, or with a fried egg, cheese, and a sausage patty.  So much better than anything you can get at a familiar fast-food restaurant.

A family favorite is to make Sloppy Joes.  Not the kind from the can (which is perfectly acceptable in a pinch!), but homemade.  It's very simple, so don't worry.  This recipe comes from Cook's Country.

Sloppy Joes

1 onion, minced
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 garlic cloves, minced or put through a garlic press
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 lb 85% ground beef
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup ketchup
1 cup tomato sauce (you could use puree, or paste that you've watered down a bit)
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp hot pepper sauce

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add onion and salt and stir until covered with oil.  Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft, about 10 minutes.  If onion begins to burn after 5 minutes, reduce heat to low.

Add garlic and chili powder and cook, stirring constantly, just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add beef and cook, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until just pink, about 3 minutes.  Don't cook too long, or the meat will be dry and crumbly later on.

Add black pepper, brown sugar, tomato sauce, ketchup, water, and hot sauce.  Simmer until the Sloppy Joe sauce is slightly thicker than ketchup, about 8-10 minutes.  Taste and adjust the salt and pepper.  Serve with the buns.  We usually slice them in half, and kind of scoop out some of the middle so they're less "sloppy".

We serve these with raw veggies and dip, so we can use our fingers for everything!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Beautiful Burger Buns....

These are the best rolls we've ever made.  I "discovered" these on the King Arthur Flour website a few years ago.  I made the mistake of making them once and I have sunk myself because of it!  We simply do not buy rolls from the store anymore.  I have a mutiny on my hands if I even try.  We use them for buns for hamburgers, sloppy Joes, breaded chicken cutlets, and they are fantastic when toasted and spread with butter and jam for breakfast.  They are so good and so famous on our street, that one young man, when asked to stay for dinner, asked, "is your mom making those rolls?"  Kids come in and grab them and run out to play.

I make a double batch every time, because otherwise they barely last until dinner.  I have two breadmakers, so it's pretty easy, but it's a pretty easy recipe anyway.

I intend to use the dough to make pepperoni rolls (a West Virginia favorite!) for our youth group tonight.  You just make a batch and see if you aren't convinced to avoid store-bought rolls forever!

makes 8-12, depending on size.  I make 10 per batch because I still have some young kids.

3/4-1 cup lukewarm water (watch your dough!)
2 Tbsp butter
1 large egg
1/4 cup sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp instant  yeast

Mix and knead all the ingredients to make a soft, smooth dough.  Cover and let rise in warm spot until nearly double, about 1-2 hours.  When I make it in the breadmaker, I set it on dough, which is about 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Heat oven to 375F.  Gently deflate dough and divide into pieces.  Form into balls, and slightly smush.  I do not usually use flour when doing this.  I dip my hands into water.  It seems to make the buns a better shape.  They're delicious either way, but for burgers, it works better if they stay a little flatter.  You'll get the hang of it as you make these again and again.  And you will!

Set buns on a greased sheet, cover with a clean, lint-free towel, and let rise for about an hour, until visibly puffy.  I usually smush them a little more right before I put them in the oven.

Bake for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown.  LET COOL on a wire rack before you cut them.  That's an important piece of the bread baking process, you know.


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Mexican night

Every Wednesday at our house is Mexican night.  Hmmm...maybe I should say Tex-Mex night.  I'm pretty much as "gringo" as you can get (Irish/northern European), but lived in Texas for a couple of years.

When hubby and I were first married, we didn't have a lot of money, so we'd have Margarita night every Friday.  We'd pull out the couch, get a movie, have homemade margaritas, and some sort of Tex-Mex.  It was like a little trip away every Friday!

Once we had children, it continued to be popular for several reasons - no babysitter needed, and then when the kids were old enough to eat, they got to dip pretty much everything.  If you don't have kids, they love to dip things.  Heck, I love to dip things!  Salsa, sour cream, queso...yumm-o!

Usually we keep it pretty simple, using store-bought soft tortillas, seasoned ground beef, and queso in the teeny slow-cooker I have.  Yes, I use Velveeta, and no, I don't feel bad about it.  It's delicious and so creamy!!  However, every once in a while, I get inspired and fry my own corn chips and taco shells.  It has ruined us forever for store-bought taco shells!

It's very simple to do, but takes a bit of effort and care.  Just buy the best, thinnest corn tortillas you can find (we have a Global Food store near us, with plenty of ethnic food).  To make tortilla chips, just cut a stack of tortillas into six or eight pieces, depending on the size you want.  Set up a draining station - several layers of paper towels on top of a few layers of newspaper is what I usually use.  Make sure your salt shaker is also right there.

Heat a shallow pot with a few inches of cooking oil (I've used vegetable oil, coconut oil, and shortening.  All are fine) to 350F.  Watch your pan.  Heating oil past 400F is extremely dangerous.  DO NOT LEAVE THE STOVE AT ANY POINT!!!!  You also want to fill it no more than half-way.  When the oil is hot, carefully place 8-12 chips in.  Let cook for a few seconds, then flip.  Watch your temperature.  You want it to stay right around 350F.  Turn down the burner if you must.

Scoop out with a "spider" or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  Shake salt on immediately and let cool before you eat.  Place some more chips in and continue until you have enough.  Keep your friends and family out of the kitchen or you'll have to make lots more!

For taco shells, it's about the same.  You just need two sets of tongs.  Heat oil as before, set up draining station as before, and here we go.  It's a little hard to explain, but basically, you gently bend a corn tortilla in half (a curvy half - like a taco shell!).  Set one half into the oil and hold it down with one set of tongs, keeping the non-cooking part of the shell up with the other set of tongs.  Let cook only until the bottom is just set, then flip and hold open again until that side is completely cooked - just look at it - it will become a great golden brown color.  Then flip again and finish cooking the other side.  You do it this way so that you don't overcook the first side and end up burning the "bottom" of the taco.  Keeps you on your toes.

Pull out to drain upside-down on the paper towels, and sprinkle with salt.  Enjoy.  And you will never enjoy store-bought shells ever again.  So sorry.

We will continue to revisit Mexican night....I mean, don't you want hubby's margarita recipe?  It's delicious....

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Curse-Free Salmon

This past week was my mother-in-law's 80th birthday, and we wanted to make a special meal for her.  She mentioned a few weeks ago that salmon was her favorite.  Great!  We planned to have salmon, fettuccine Alfredo, and a lovely Caesar salad.

Now for the tough part - we were going to have fourteen people for dinner.  A few filets or steaks are easy to cook in a pan, but we needed a lot of fish.  Grilling - that's never worked out for us.  Usually a few curses are spoken...or yelled.  I need a way to cook a lot of fish with a minimum of crankiness.  According to several sources, you should plan on about six ounces per person.  That's about five and a half pounds.  I bought two big sides of salmon, and then started to stress about how to cook them.

After searching through my cookbooks and several internet recipe sites, I came up with what I hoped would work.  There was no time to practice (and who wants to practice with $40 of fish?!?).  So I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

Last night was the dinner.  It was delicious!  And SOOOOO easy!!!!  I hope you enjoy the salmon!

This recipe will be easier with a thermometer, but you can do it without.
Lemons, sliced
Shallots, sliced
Side of salmon (mine were about 3 lbs each)
Salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 425F.  Lay out two really big pieces of foil long enough to wrap around the fish and crimp tightly.  Butter the bottom of the foil and lay out the salmon.  You can tuck under the end of the filet (you know - that skinny part that will probably overcook otherwise).  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and lay out some slices of lemon and shallots, along with a few sprigs of parsley.  Crimp the foil closed, and then wrap it up with the other piece of foil - just to be sure nothing leaks out.  Carefully slide the packets into the oven (you do NOT want to rip the bottoms!!).

Cook for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the fish and your oven.  Poke through the foil into the fish with your thermometer.  You're looking for about 135F.  If you don't have a thermometer, you can check to see if it's done by seeing if it flakes with a fork.  Don't unwrap it yet!!  Keep it closed up for about five minutes just to let the fish come up to its proper temp (which ends up being around 140F-145F) and to let the juices redistribute (like you would a steak or a turkey).

Open and serve to many "oohs" and "aahs".

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Green Beans

We are so sick of green beans.  I am picking two pounds every two days.  My kids are tired of steamed green beans with butter.  It's simple, but we've eaten it too many times for any of us to care anymore.  I decided to look around for something new - and I found it, but it's not new, it's sort of a combination of two different vegetable cooking methods I use.

Green Beans with Crouton Crunch

1-2 cups of croutons (depends on how much crunch you want!)
Onion, chopped
Beans (about a pound, ends snapped off, or cut into pieces - your call)
Chicken stock or water (about a cup - maybe more)

Crunch up the croutons in a big zip-top bag until they're bread crumb size.  You could use bread crumbs, but they're not as crunchy.  Melt a tablespoon or two of butter in a big skillet.  When it's melted, add the crunched-up croutons and stir constantly until the butter is soaked in and the crumbs are slightly browned.  Put the crumbs in a bowl and wipe out the skillet.  Melt another tablespoon or two of butter in the pan over medium heat, and when it's melted, add the onion and sweat the onion until it starts to turn a little brown.  Add the beans, saute a little bit, until they start to brown.  Add a cup of stock or water, bring to a simmer, then cover and cook until the beans are just about done.  Took me about 5 minutes.  Remove the lid, and let the liquid cook off.  When the pan is just about dry, sprinkle the buttery crumbs over the top and serve.

Simple and yummy!  Although, I think I'll still have to can some beans to keep up with the overflow!!

Friday, August 14, 2015


Yowza, I haven't blogged in a while.  So very sorry about that.  Not like I haven't been cooking or anything.  My family would have a fit if I wasn't!

This summer, my garden overfloweth with cucumbers.  Of course, I now am having a cucumber beetle infestation, but that's okay.  We have been picking 10-15 cukes a DAY.  What do I do with them?  Glad you asked!!

I found a "Claussen Kosher Pickle" copycat recipe online and tweaked it just a bit.  These are very garlicky and pretty salty, but we love them.  If you're more a Vlasic fan, you probably won't like these as much.

These are the seven jars I made
a few days ago...and a couple
jars of leftover brine ready to go!
Cucumbers (of course!)
Sliced onions (1/2 an onion or so??)
One head of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
1 Tbsp mustard seeds (not powdered mustard or mustard you find in the condiment aisle!)
1 bunch of fresh dill (very flexible - just split what you have between your jars)
1 1/2 quarts ice water (that's six cups)
2 cups cider vinegar
1/2 cup salt (I usually use kosher, but this year I used canning salt and used a little more than 1/3 cup)
jars (I like wide-mouth quart size, but you can use whatever you want)

Bring cider vinegar and salt to a boil.  This stinks.  Put on a fan and do not put your nose over it.  Whew!!  While it's coming to a boil, clean your jars (I just wash them) and prepare your cucumbers.  I clean them, slice off the ends, then cut them in half length-wise, then in half again, then half again (so...eighths, right?? I hate public math!).

Stuff the jars very tightly with cucumbers, a few slices onions, and a handful of dill, up to the top, leaving some room for the brine to flow around the cukes.

When the vinegar boils and the salt has dissolved, remove from heat, add the garlic and mustard seeds, stir, then add the ice water.  The original recipe had you boil the water with the vinegar, and pour the resulting brine over the cucumbers, but I found that made the pickles soft.  I like crispy pickles, so I changed it up.

Pour the brine into the jars over the cukes.  Make sure you get a few cloves of garlic and some mustard seeds (usually around a teaspoon) in each jar.  Fill right up to the top, put a lid on it and let it sit on the counter for three days.  Label the top with a permanent marker so you don't forget!  THEN REFRIGERATE!!  They are still edible if you happen to forget, but I think they're much better after only three days.

Enjoy - and we eat the onions and garlic when we finish a jar.  They've become so deliciously pickle-y, even the kids eat 'em!