Monday, March 21, 2011

"The Ballymaloe Cookbook" & "Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club" - Potato and Fresh Herb Soup and Irish Soda Bread

Date I made these recipes: March 20, 2011

The Ballymaloe Cookbook
by Myrtle Allen
Published by: Gill and Macmillan
ISBN: 0-7171-1339-6; © 1977, 1984, 1987
Recipe: Potato and Fresh Herb Soup – p. 17

Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club by Kim Ode
Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press
ISBN: 10: 0-87351-567-6
Recipe: Irish Soda Bread – p. 85 (recipe submitted by Karen Vogel, a bread club member)

You can thank chef (and Food Network star) Bobby Flay for the fact that I cooked a belated ode to St. Patrick’s Day.

As per usual, I was up late at night, minding my own beeswax and Bobby came on with a show titled “Bobby’s Ireland.” Well that’s succinct!

One of the places Bobby visited was Ballymaloe which I gathered was a cooking school. But that name sounded familiar to me for reasons other than the cooking school so I went to my cookbook shelves to investigate. And sure and begorrah, people, I had a Ballymaloe cookbook just waiting for me! It’s like the heavens opened up and St. Patrick just pointed to the damned thing. Thanks, Paddy!

My version is by Myrtle Allen who may or may not be related to Darina Allen who currently runs the cooking school. Google and Wikipedia are usually so good about telling me these things but not this time around.

Anyway…nothing really hit me in this cookbook (certainly not lamb, a meat I loathe) until I went back to the beginning and found the soup recipe. Since potatoes are to Ireland what pasta is to Italians, I thought that would be a fine dish for a blustery day. The only issue I have with the recipe is that I could not find a definition for “creamy milk” (What the hell, Google?!) so I used whole milk. And all was well with the world.

And that completes the main course portion of our program.

As to bread, I am not a bread person but my dad and my brother and my husband (and really, most men I know) are. And since my dad just passed away, I reviewed the bread book several times over to see about making something that dad would have liked and I found some…but they all contained yeast. I don’t do yeast. The times I used yeast, my bread became a doorstop it was that hard.

But for all you yeast-phobic cooks out there, I am happy to report that Irish Soda Bread does NOT feature yeast and therefore passes my culinary test and what the heck—it’s even Irish. What better accompaniment could there be to (Irish) potato soup than Irish Soda Bread? The gods had spoken! (That being said, one of these days I’m going to put on my big girl undies and just make the Bittersweet Chocolate – Ginger Bread (with yeast) already! Page 138 if you are interested)

In the interest of fair disclosure, I should tell you that while I have had the pleasure to meet and greet many a cookbook author in my day, I also know personally Kim Ode, author of Baking with the St. Paul Bread Company. In fact, it’s kind of hard to miss knowing Kim seeing how she plays trombone in my community band (Calhoun-Isles Community Band – and could, if she wanted to, smack me upside the head with her trombone slide as she sits right behind me. I am pleased to announce that she has not yet done so, tempting as it may be for her.

Besides being an accomplished musician and our band’s librarian (Marian), Kim writes for the local newspaper, (Minneapolis) StarTribune. When I first started reading her byline, she had a column about odds and bits (for 10) of Minnesota life but then she switched to writing for the Taste section. And somewhere along the line she started breaking bread. I am in awe.

So when Kim’s book came out and I told her about my yeast-phobia, she threw her arm around me and said “Let me tell you about yeast.” She even told me I could call her with questions. Believe me, I thought about that but who wants to get a call from me on a Sunday afternoon saying “Help me! Help me! There’s yeast in my kitchen and I don’t know what to do?!”

And this is why I chickened out and made non-yeast bread. So sue me. But dang it all, it was pretty good. And it was huge. So huge that I cut the bread into four large chunks to ensure that the middle was cooked – that kind of huge. (Added bonus: Irish Soda Bread toast!!) My husband is in hog heaven and I’m pretty chuffed that I managed to bake a bread (yeast or no yeast) that I don’t have to use on a door and that was (magically) delicious!

And there you have it—St. Patrick’s Day (with a few extra days thrown in for luck) 2011! We now return to our March (Madness) programming, already in progress…..

Potato and Fresh Herb Soup – serves approximately 7 (not unless you are feeding leprechauns!)

4 tablespoons butter (55g/2 oz)
1 cup peeled diced onions (110g/4 oz)
1 cup peeled diced scallions (110g/4 oz)
3 cups peeled diced potatoes (425g/15 oz)
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly-ground pepper
Sprig of any 3 of the following: parsley, thyme, rosemary, lovage (1/2 leaf), bay-leaf (1/2 leaf) (This time Google pulled through: lovage is a leafy plant that, from what I gather, does not grow here in North America.)
5 cups stock (1.2 liters/2 pt)
1 cup creamy milk (see my note above: I used whole milk) (250 ml/8 fl oz)

Toss the potatoes and onions in hot butter and then sweat them on a gentle heat for 10 minutes, as in the Basic Soup recipe. (Not reprinted here). Add stock and herbs and cook until soft. Remove tough herb stalks. Puree the soup, taste and adjust seasoning. Thin with creamy milk. (Ann’s Note: this last direction was a puzzler. The soup wasn’t that thick to begin with and “creamy milk” suggests it is to be used as a thickening agent, not a thinking agent. But what do I know?!)

Irish Soda Bread – makes one large loaf. (The author points out that this bread is not the sweeter and softer version many of you are used to. I thought it was great)

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup old-fashioned oatmeal
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk
Extra butter to grease your hands so the dough won’t stick (this not in the original instructions!)

Preheat oven to 375. In a medium bowl mix whole wheat and all-purpose flour, oatmeal, salt and soda. In a small bowl mix together eggs and buttermilk. Add to flour mixture, and mix well. This dough will be very heavy (and sticky). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead just to make sure that all flour is moistened. Shape into a round, and place on a greased baking sheet. Press additional oatmeal into top. With a sharp knife slash an X across loaf. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes.

Ann’s Note: I baked it for 45 minutes, then took a small piece out of the top and found it to be too moist. I put it back in for another 10 minutes then cut the bread into chunks and then put it back into the oven for about another 10 minutes. Perfect! But let me just say that prior to this, I was once again thinking that I was not meant to be a bread baker. I can only imagine what would have happened had I tried to make yeast bread!!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Bitchin' In The Kitchen: The PMS Survival Cookbook" - Tuna Casserole

Date I made this recipe: March 6, 2010

Bitchin’ In The Kitchen: The PMS Survival Cookbook by Jennifer Evans and Fritzi Horstman
Published by: Kensington Books
ISBN: 1-57566-165-9
Recipe: Tuna Casserole – p. 115

You know, my late mother had a great sense of humor but when she gave me this cookbook a few years ago, I have to tell you I had a ‘scratch-your head” moment. Let’s just say since PMS was off the table, this led me to believe she might have been commenting on my….assertive personality from the “Bitchin’ In the Kitchen" reference. Or not – one never knew with her. I’m going to go with the fact that I think she wanted to contribute to my cookbook collection and thought I would be amused by this. And I was…once I got over my initial “What are you trying to say?" irritation!

For those of you in a burning hurry to cook and without regard to what you stuff in your face, this is the book for you. This book contained everything from Jell-O to a vodka martini (I prefer gin) to sweet to salty, to a combo of the two. It is the perfect cookbook, PMS or no PMS!

Since I was missing my mom, I decided to make the tuna casserole. Mind you, my mother never made tuna casserole and in fact, didn’t make too many casseroles at all, but there’s no reason I couldn’t get behind one of life’s favorite food groups. You’ve got your tuna, your cream of mushroom soup, your noodles and if you really want to get crazy, your peas. Let’s just say I got crazy.

The only thing I would switch is that I think I would have preferred potato chips on top instead of the breadcrumbs. In fact I know I would have preferred it but too late now. That didn’t mean I didn’t attempt to eat the whole thing it’s just that potato chips just make a casserole you know what I’m saying?

Okay, now off you go – start bitchin’ in that kitchen!

Tuna Casserole – serving amount not listed but depending on your mood, this could well be a serving for one!
2 cups cooked noodles, egg or fusilli or what’s in the cabinet
1 6-ounce can tuna, drained and flaked
1 can cream of mushroom soup
Optional: 1 cup frozen peas (this may scare some of you)
1 tablespoon butter (for the topping)
3 tablespoons dry bread crumbs (for the topping)

Put the noodles, tuna, soup and peas into a buttered 1 ½-quart casserole dish and bake at 400 for 25 minutes. Top with the topping (or potato chips). To make the topping: in a saucepan, melt the butter and add crumbs, browning them. Sprinkle on top of casserole. Serve it up!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Perfect Cakes" - Blueberry Crumb Cake

Date I made this recipe: March 1, 2011

Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri – author of Cookies Unlimited, Chocolate, and How to Bake
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN: 0-06-019879-6
Recipe: Blueberry Crumb Cake – p. 62

When I was a kid, my mom read to me and my brother from this wonderful story book that has since gone AWOL in my parent’s house. (Drats!) One of the stories was about a little boy who complained to his mom that he was tired of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and wanted something else in his lunchbox. His mother then read off a long (and I mean long) list of sandwich options: egg salad, tuna salad, ham, ham and cheese and on and on and on. And after all that, the kid opted to return to the simplest sandwich of all: peanut butter and jelly.

My husband’s birthday is today, Tuesday, and on Sunday night, I handed him this cookbook and said “See if there’s something in there you like.”

Of course I had several options in mind: anything chocolate would do, most of the layer cakes would do and I was particularly salivating over a Coconut-Raspberry Layer Cake (p. 201) but it was not my birthday and so what I wanted didn’t matter. And so alas, those yummy recipes were left in the dust when he opted for the very simple, very easy Blueberry Crumb Cake.

Thinking back, I should have seen this coming. Andy loves fruit and is especially good at making fruit pies and so like the little boy in the story, he returned to the simplest recipe in the book and there it was. Might I just say that after I got over my disappointment, I was relieved that I didn’t have to spend hours slaving away in the kitchen?

And so I baked this crumb cake using Chilean blueberries (because you sure can’t find them at this time of year in Minnesota…or really anywhere in the continental United States) and had the whole thing ready when he came home from work. And for one second, he really was like a little kid in a candy store: “Oh. I didn’t think you’d make it this quickly.”

Well dude, it is your birthday after all! Of course I had it ready for you. Duh….

Not only is this cake a snap to make but it’s really good. And every day is somebody’s birthday so even if it isn’t yours go ahead and make it anyway. Any excuse for a party….

Blueberry Crumb Cake – about 24 servings

Cake Batter
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups (1 ½ pint baskets) blueberries, rinsed, picked over, and dried

Crumb topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (I did not have the time or inclination to hunt down a fresh nutmeg pod so I went with dried nutmeg and used a little less than ¼ teaspoon)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

One 9 x 13 x2-inch baking pan, lined with buttered foil.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl, mixing well.

In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, beat the butter and sugar with the paddle attachment on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until soft and light. One at a time, beat the eggs, beating until smooth after each addition. (Note: sometimes I just really need to pay more attention to instructions. I saw the command “beat the eggs” and added all the eggs – 2 whole eggs and 2 yolks. And then of course I saw the next command below: “Add the yolks.” I’m happy to report that nothing bad happened. But just so you know, when it says “beat the eggs,” it means “beat just the whole eggs and nothing but the whole eggs.)

Beat in the vanilla.

Decrease the mixer speed to low. Add half the flour mixture, then scrape down the bowl and beater with a rubber spatula. Add the yolks and mix well. Finally, add the remaining flour mixture.

Use a large rubber spatula to give a final stir to the batter, then scrape it into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Scatter the blueberries evenly over the batter (don’t press them in).

To make the crumb topping, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl. Stir in the melted butter and rub to coarse crumbs with your fingers. Scatter the crumbs as evenly as possible over the berries.

Bake for about 40 minutes, until the cake is firm and the crumbs are well colored.

Cool the cake in the pan on a rack then cut into 2-inch squares.

Serving: this is casual food—it can be served on a plate or eaten out of hand.

Storage: keep at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap.

Cherry Crumb Cake: substitute 3 cups (1 ½ pounds) pitted sour cherries for blueberries.

Apricot Crumb Cake: substitute about 16 medium apricots, rinsed, pitted, and quartered, for the blueberries. Arrange the quarters in rows, cut side up, on the batter.

Peach crumb cake: substitute 3 cups peeled, pitted and diced peaches for the blueberries.

Ann’s Note: If you are making this recipe in the winter when fruit is not in season, don’t forget to check the freezer section of your local grocery store!