Monday, March 16, 2015

Irish Tea Cake


So in honor of Saint Patrick's Day, Sister, Brother, Sister-in-Law and I gathered at Sister and Mom’s house to feast on ham and cabbage.  Sister made it in the crock pot and it was quite delicious but Brother was getting all riled up because Sister kept taking the lid off of the crock.  

He claims each time you remove the lid, it adds an hour to the cook time.

That sounds like malarky to me.

Anyway, Brother's assignment was to bring bread and my assignment was to bring dessert and beer.  I chose Guinness Blonde -- my new favorite -- and Killians Red....keeping with the Irish theme.  I also made Irish Tea Cake.

Made with Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter — made from Irish cows that graze on the green pastures of small family farms — and a wee bit of steeped Barry’s Irish Tea, this cake is delicious. Packed with wholesome and simple ingredients and similar in texture to a pound cake, it's not too sweet and perfect with a cup of tea.  Great for a late morning or mid afternoon
snack.

The easy recipe calls for adding a bit more milk if the batter is too stiff.  That's when I added the steeped tea and it gave the cake a wonderful, flaxen hue.  One review suggested poking holes in the cake and drizzling some Irish cream on top!  Now, that’ll get you tapping!

I made my version in a springform pan and cut a circle of parchment so the bottom would not stick...a must! Next time, I'll serve with fresh berries and cream!! I'll have to make one for Himself and let him confirm its Irish authenticity!  

Irish Tea Cake
Adapted from: allrecipes.com

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/8 cup of steeped Irish Tea
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar for dusting

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch round pan. I used a springform pan lined with parchment disc on the bottom.

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing until fully incorporated; stir in the vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir into the batter alternately with the milk. Add the tea.  If the batter is too stiff, a bit more milk or tea can be added (maybe even some Irish Whiskey). Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack, then turn out onto a serving plate. Dust with confectioners' sugar when cool.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Chicken with Mushrooms, Sautéed Greens and Cheese

The winter of 2015 has been bone-chilling cold in the northeast….I don’t want to say “was bone-chilling cold” for fear I’ll jinx the whole region into another frigid weather pattern!  

Then everyone will be mad at me.  

During my morning walks to the train, I had to double up on gloves quite a few times…. my Irish woolen mittens over my trusty black leather Michael Kors gloves.  And, so glad I now have a collection of fabulous hats!  I love hats but I never really owned any that were snazzy, only functional…then I discovered a millinery style that works for me!  

A vintage type of hat, reminiscent of the the 40-50’s.

Each hat has a story….
This was my first acquisition, bought at an outdoor market in Italy...I think Lucca.

This little felted number was purchased in Ireland…an Aran wool shop.  I love the subtle bow on the side.

When I was in Paris this past November, this Jackie-inspired pillbox whispered “take me home, please” and of course I said okay!

This kubonka number was lovingly made by a friend with furniture fabric samples (very creative), so it’s most treasured.  It's very flattering and I receive many compliments when I wear it...I take great joy in saying it was made by a friend. You can visit her Facebook Page here.

And my most recent addition, bought for 50% off at a little shop in Swarthmore.

There were some beautiful floral bonnets at the Philadelphia Flower Show and this little flapper style was my favorite.

The theme of The Flower Show was “The Movies” and there were nods to several flicks but my favorite exhibit was the “Parent Trap” cabin.  How cool is this….

Hearty food also helped us to survive the winter of our discontent and A. made a delicious dish last week.  Again, this was her own creation and it was totally delicious.  She has a knack for blending flavors that work…amazing.

Chicken with Mushrooms, Sautéed Greens and Cheese
By: A.

Ingredients for Chicken
6-8 Boneless chicken thighs
2 Tablespoons of Herbs de Provence
Salt and pepper
1-2 shallots, sliced
Olive Oil
8 oz sliced mushrooms, any variety will do but the earthy shitake and cremini work nicely
1 Tablespoon of butter
1 Tablespoon flour
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 heavy cream
Grated fontina, gruyere and parmesan cheese, about 2 cups total
8 oz of Pappardelle
Parsley for garnish

Directions
Season the chicken with salt, pepper and the Herbs de provence. Slice the shallots and sauté in a bit of olive oil. Add boneless chicken thighs and brown on both sides. Remove the shallots and chicken to the baking dish and wipe out the pan. Add a little more olive oil and a tablespoon of butter and sauté the sliced mushrooms until they release their liquid.   When the mixture begins to evaporate, add a tablespoon of flour and cook that for a bit, about 2-3 minutes. Once everything is well distributed, add the chicken broth and the heavy cream, cook until thickened then pour over the chicken. Cover with the grated cheeses and bake for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

Ingredients for Greens
2 bunches of Swiss chard (any hearty green will work)
Olive Oil
3 cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the garlic in the olive oil and when aromatic, add the chard and cook down until tender.

To Assemble
Cook the pappardelle and place in a serving dish and with a few pats of butter.  Spoon the baked chicken mixture on top, sprinkle with parsley and serve.  Serve the greens on the side.   Our host thought about layering the sautéed chard on top of the pappardelle and then the chicken mixture and I think that would been lovely too.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Healthy Morning Muffins

Way back in the early 80’s (it seems so long ago!), I worked for a company that was headquartered at 8th and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia.  One of the things I liked most about working there -- besides the fact that Best Friend worked there too -- was the little coffee house up the street, Hadwens, that sold the most delicious freshly-baked muffins.   If requested, they would cut the muffin in half, toast it, slather it with butter and wrap it in foil to stay warm during the remainder of your journey to work.  I used to get a Morning Glory Muffin, ordered just that way and I often think about how much I enjoyed that muffin.

I hope I’m not the only one who reminisces about food in a misty-eyed sort of way.

Although the Whole Foods Morning Glory Muffin is quite good, I've never been able to find a veggie-packed muffin quite as good as the one freshly baked in that little coffee shop.

Until Martha saved the day.

This is why I love Martha.  It's like she's in my head, commandeering my thoughts. 

I nearly peed my pants when I saw this recipe for Healthy Morning Muffins.  

Of course, I made them but I made some modifications….I used some whole wheat plus the all-purpose flour, less brown sugar and added some honey,  only two cups of carrots, added one cup of zucchini, just one banana (only because I wanted the other flavors to shine through and sometimes bananas are so needy) and I decreased the raisins to 1/2 cup.

Healthy Morning Muffins
Adapted from: Martha Bakes

INGREDIENTS
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, divided
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 cup wheat flour
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 cup golden raisins
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large eggs
2/3 cup skim milk
2 cups shredded carrots (about 6 carrots)
1 cup shredded zucchini
1 medium ripe banana, mashed
DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with 10 paper liners.  In a large bowl, whisk together flours, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt until there are no lumps. Stir in 1 3/4 cups oats and raisins. Add oil, eggs, milk, honey, carrots, zucchini, and banana, and stir until blended, being careful to not overmix.

Fill each muffin cup with 3/4 cup batter. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup oats over muffins. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Serve muffins warm or at room temperature.

These muffins are delicious…the olive oil and honey give them an organic, earthy flavor balanced nicely by the sweet carrots and zucchini.  There is a hint of banana and that’s the way I like it…not too overpowering.  This recipe takes does not quite take me back to the early 80’s and Hadwens, but it’s pretty close…especially if I toast the muffin and slather it with butter.  I’ll keep tweaking until I achieve nostalgic perfection.

Thanks for the memory, Martha.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Baked Tile Fish with Green Tahini and Pomegranate Seeds

Way back in 2013 our dinner crew was all about the Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi cookbooks — Plenty and Ottelenghi and we each bought their highly lauded third cookbook Jerusalem, published in the Fall of 2012.  We took turns making tasty and unusual meals from its beautifully illustrated pages.  As time went on we temporarily re-shelved the books (that introduced cooks worldwide to a panoply of unusual spices such as za’atar, fenugreek and nigella seeds) and consulted other reliable culinary resources. But on Wednesday, M returned to the Middle-East masters and made Baked Tile Fish with Tahini Sauce and Pomegranate Seeds from their second book, Ottolenghi.

Although the original recipe calls for sea bass, M substituted tile fish.  Tile fish is a delicious
and firm white fish that resembles sea bass in appearance but is similar in taste and texture to lobster, most likely because of their diet of crab, shrimp and sea urchins.  Found in deep Atlantic waters from Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Mexico, tile fish are bottom feeders with strong teeth and colorful markings.  They do not school, but rather congregate in pods and can grow to up to 50 pounds, although those that go to market are typically under 10 pounds.  When buying tile fish, look for firm, tight, translucent flesh and a lovely beachy smell. 

Since my aquatic expertise does not extend beyond proficiently placing a beach umbrella in the sand and maybe building a castle, I turned to www.foodreference.com for the skinny on tile fish….I learn a lot writing these posts and I hope you do too!

Oh how I can’t wait for summer!!!  It’s snowing as I write this!

Tahini Sauce — made with sesame-based tahini paste so popular in the Middle East — sounds intimidating but it is very easy to make…just six simple ingredients and the finished sauce harmonizes nicely with roasted meats, fish and vegetables.  Add it to sandwiches as a tangy substitute for mayonnaise or mustard or toss with some pasta with spinach or arugula….that would be tasty indeed!

Baked Tile Fish with Green Tahini and Pomegranate Seeds
From:  Ottolenghi, The Cookbook

Fish Ingredients
4 Tile Fish filets
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 recipe of Green Tahini Sauce (below)
2 Tablespoons of coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Grated zest of one lemon
Course sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 lemon wedges for serving

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with maxed paper.  Season the fish with plenty of salt and pepper and lit it, skin down, on the pan.  Drizzle with the olive oil and then bake for 7 minutes (M had to bake for a little longer).  The fish should be firm and bounce back when poked.  

Place the fish on a serving plate and spoon the Tahini Sauce generously on top.  Garnish with chopped parsley, pomegranate seeds and lemon zest.  Place lemon wedges around the fish and serve.

Tahini Sauce Ingredients
2/3 cup of Tahini paste
2/3 cup of water
5 Tablespoons of lemon juice
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

In a small bowl, thoroughly whisk together the tahini, water, lemon juice, garlic and salt until creamy smooth; if too thick, add a bit more water.  Taste and adjust the salt if needed.  Using a blender or food processor, process together all ingredients except parsley, until smooth.  Add more water if needed.  Add the parsley and process again for a second or two.   



This meal was absolutely delicious. The natural nuttiness of the tahini is an excellent compliment to the fish and the lemon, parsley, and pomegranate seeds add alluring color and appealing texture.    M. served with couscous and each of us promptly saturated the tiny grains with the tahini sauce. We had a lovely bottle of wine and the creamiest tapioca pudding for dessert.  Life is good.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lasagna with Spicy Roasted Cauliflower

Before I share an incredible recipe, let me first tell you a story.

As I write this, I’ve been without an internet connection or cable TV for a week. When I first discovered the issue, I tried the unplug-wait 30 seconds-replug thing — twice.  Then I called Comcast and chose the automated option to “send a refresh signal to my modem” pretty confident that would do the trick.  

I was wrong.

So I had to do the thing most of us absolutely dread…call Customer Service.  

The automated attendant told me my wait time was “less than four minutes.”  That information was helpful.

And true.

So Nancy gets on the line and I explain my predicament. She informs me that the reason none of the usual tricks worked is that my modem is outdated and I need a new one. She launched right into “you have three choices….” This is what happened next:

Me: “Hold it, before you give me my three choices, why didn’t Comcast inform me prior to loosing service that I needed a new modem?’’  
Nancy:  (Seriously, this is what she said!) “We don’t have your email address on file.”  
Me: (After I composed myself) “Really?! Do you realize how incredibly ridiculous that sounds….my personal e-mail account is through Comcast!”
Nancy:  “You have three choices.”
At that point I realized resistance was futile and I chose the “send me the modem self-set-up kit” option.  Well, between two daughters, a future son-in-law and me, that didn’t work either and now I have to wait for a technician scheduled to come at 3:00 on Sunday.

Still no service.  You can’t make this stuff up.  There's the source of my consternation, right up there.

In other less technical and complicated news…it was my turn to cook this past Wednesday and I made Lasagna with Spicy Roasted Cauliflower.  I love the New York Times.  Not only is it a widely read and respected news publication, it’s also a dependable destination for delicious recipes.  I subscribe to their recipe blast called NYT Cooking and this recipe was one of the jewels shared recently.

I also love spicy food and often wondered why some peppers are spicier than others.  The answer is a little chemical called capsaicin.  The higher the level of capsaicin, the more potent the pepper.  Pepper heat is measured using the Scoville Scale, a method developed in 1912 by the chemist, Wilber Scoville.  The method requires diluteing the capsinoids of different varieties of peppers in water until the spiciness was no longer detected…the higher the dilution required, the hotter the pepper.  A bell pepper rates a “0” on the scale and a habanero rates a 200,000 on the scale, meaning the capsaicin had to be diluted 200,000 times before the heat was unnoticeable.  Recently, more precise methods have been developed to measure heat…ones that don’t rely so much on the fickleness of the human palate.

Capsaicin resides in the pepper’s white membrane and the coating on the seeds, so it’s important to wear gloves when slicing them or your fingers will BURN.  I learned the hard way.

Capsaicin has been used in cancer research and some studies show that it efficiently attacks cancer cells leaving healthy cells unharmed.

Lasagna With Spicy Roasted Cauliflower
By:  NYT Cooking (adapted)

Ingredients
1 ½ pounds cauliflower (market did not have fresh cauliflower so I used two bags of frozen)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade from fresh or canned tomato (I used a good quality jarred sauce…don’t be mad)
7 to 8 ounces no-boil lasagna
12 ounces ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups of grated mozzarella (my addition)
1/4 cup roughly chopped parsley (my addition)
1/4 cup vegetable stock or chicken stock
Pinch of cinnamon
4 ounces (1 cup) freshly grated Parmesan

Directions
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut away the bottom of the cauliflower stem and trim off the leaves. Cut the cauliflower into slices 1/3 inch thick, letting the florets on the edges fall off. Toss all of it, including the bits that have fallen away, with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on the baking sheet in an even layer. Roast for about 15 minutes, stirring and flipping over the big slices after 8 minutes, until the slices are tender when pierced with a paring knife and the small florets are nicely browned. Remove from the oven, toss with the red pepper flakes and set aside. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.

Blend the ricotta cheese, mozzarella, parsley, stock, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Set aside.  Oil a rectangular baking dish and spread a spoonful of tomato sauce over the bottom. Top with a layer of lasagna noodles. Spoon a thin layer of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Top with a layer of cauliflower, then a layer of tomato sauce and a layer of Parmesan. Repeat the layers, ending with a layer of lasagna noodles topped with tomato sauce and Parmesan.

Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and place in the oven. Bake 40 minutes, until the noodles are tender and the mixture is bubbling. Uncover and, if you wish, bake another 10 minutes, until the top begins to brown. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

You can prepare this up to a day in advance, cover with foil and refrigerate until ready to cook.  I just roasted the cauliflower the night before and assembled it right before baking.  For roasting the cauliflower, I did not use the parchment paper but I did let my baking stone get hot in the oven before I added the prepared cauliflower.   The parchment paper does does make clean-up easier and if you want to eliminate some of the olive oil, parchment will keep roasted vegetables from sticking to the pan. 

This recipe is deceptively good….very satisfying with a good balance of flavors.  The roasted cauliflower is naturally sweet, the cinnamon is a savory secret and, of course, the red pepper flakes add the heat!  Do try this for a stick-to-your-ribs-meal!