Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Irish Flavorites!

My husband and I just returned from 2 glorious weeks in the west of Ireland in a little village called Spiddal. We own a guest house there which is rented throughout the year. In October, we make an annual pilgrimage to do repairs, yardwork, big clean, spiff up, etc. It is truly a labor of love and this year we only had one day of rain in 14! Quite unusual for Ireland in October. Our kitchen window overlooks the ocean. Here is a shot of the sun setting over Galway Bay.
I do a lot of cooking and baking in IRE. It is rare for us to go out to eat, although there are some wonderful restaurants in the area. Cooking in Spiddal is challenging as I have no recipe books, very few utensils or measuring cups, baking dishes...it's a pretty stripped down kitchen and you never quite know how things will turn out, but that is half the fun! I'm going to start with some oat cookie/ cakes that were delicious and almost seemed healthy!

I am calling these cookie/cakes as they were thicker than cookies
and nearly had the consistency of a cake; almost like a scone.
The apples (and butter!) kept them nice and moist.
1 cup coarse whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups oats
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 sticks softened Irish butter (I love Irish butter!)
1 cup raisons
2 small apples, cut in pieces
1 cup sugar
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. This is another tricky detail as my oven in Spiddal is calibrated in numbers from 1 to 9 rather than degrees, but the conversions are not that hard to figure out. On my oven 350 degrees is between 4 and 5. Here is a standard conversion chart:
275°F = 140°C = gas mark 1
300°F = 150°C = gas mark 2
325°F = 165°C = gas mark 3
350°F = 180°C = gas mark 4
375°F = 190°C = gas mark 5
400°F = 200°C = gas mark 6
425°F = 220°C = gas mark 7
450°F = 230°C = gas mark 8
475°F = 240°C = gas mark 9

Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the raisons and apple to the dry ingredients--the flour mixture coats the raisons and apples so when mixed with wet ingredients they don't clump up. In a separate bowl cream together softened butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat after each addition. Mix the creamed butter mixture into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly until just held together. Drop by heaping tablespoon on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes. Let them cool a few minutes before removing from pan and then place them on a rack to cool completely. These were great with a pot of tea!

I was watching a cooking show one night and saw an interesting recipe for potatoes. In Ireland potatoes are ubiquitous and often served several different ways at a meal: boiled, mashed, and fried. This recipe is a little different and went well with steamed carrots we had just dug from Sarah's garden mixed with frozen peas and lamb chops from Mr. Feeney, our local butcher.
16 new, small white potatoes, scrubbed, left whole with skins on
2 cloves peeled, but whole garlic
Big sprig of rosemary
4 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup grated cheddar (I used a nice local Irish cheddar, but any cheddar will work.)
4 Tbsp. chopped Herbs-chives, parsley, sage, additional rosemary, thyme--your choice

Cover potatoes with salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender. Drain. Discard rosemary. Chop garlic and smash potatoes and garlic with a large fork or potato masher. Do not mash completely; leave them a little chunky. Add 4 Tbsp. butter, 1/2 cup grated cheddar, salt/pepper, and herbs of choice. I used the above herbs. They recommended tarragon and parsley on the show which sounds great, but I didn't have any tarragon growing. Put the potatoes in a shallow baking dish (you may want to dot with a bit more butter and sprinkling of cheese)  and reheat until very hot, about 15-20 minutes. Very simple, but the herbs and cheddar are a nice twist. Now on to...more potatoes!

This is an old fashioned Irish traditional way to serve potatoes and as with almost every recipe has variations. I like to make it simple with cream and lots of butter mixed into the mashed potato and steamed cabbage. It can also be made with steamed kale, green onions, regular onions or leeks. This time I did add some leeks because they are in season and I had a ton of them on hand. As I said we just raided Sarah's garden so the root veg were plentiful. In Hungary, my Mom's homeland, there is a dish called Kaposzta's Kocka Galooshka, which is a cabbage and noodle dish. Very similar, but here in IRE the potatoes replace the noodles...of course!
10-12 potatoes, peeled and rough chopped
1/2 cabbage cut into big chunks; don't skimp on the cabbage. If it is small, use the whole head.
1 leek cut into thin slices, white part only
1/4 cup cream or milk
2 Tbsp. salt
5 Tbsp. butter
Salt/Pepper to taste
Place peeled and cubed potatoes in a pot. Cover with water and add 1 Tbsp. salt and bring to boil and cook until fork tender; about 15 minutes. Drain well in colander. In same pot add cabbage and leeks. Cover with water; add 1 Tbsp. salt. Bring to boil and cook until tender; about 10 minutes. Drain. Mash potatoes in a glass pyrex type bowl or dish. Add cabbage and leeks. Stir in 5 Tbsp. butter and 1/4 cup cream or more if potatoes are not creamy making them really rich and delicious. This can be made ahead of time and reheated. Leftover colcannon also makes great potato pancakes in the morning or if you just want to fry the cakes without going to the fuss of adding egg and flour they hold together nicely; probably because of so much butter!
Just a quick word about PARSNIPS. They are not either mine or my husband's favorite veg, but since we had so many freshly dug I decided to make a whipped parsnip dish with butter and cream. I am calling it PARSNIP CREAM. To make: peel parsnips and cut into cubes. Cover with salted water. Bring to boil. Drain well in colander. Whip (this was not easy as I don't have a mixer, but whipped by hand with a fork) until creamy. Add butter, a little cream and salt and pepper. Again, very simple, but delicious. They also made wonderful cakes the next morning for breakfast. Just drop a heaping tablespoon in olive oil and form the cake with the spatula and your fingers. Cook until brown and turn and brown the other side. I served these parsnip cakes topped with Irish smoked salmon and poached eggs with white pudding which is the oppositie of black pudding; kind of like a spicy sausage, but contains no pigs blood as does black pudding.

I think the most exciting thing I made in Ireland this year was a roasted duck. They were on sale at the market for 9 Euros and I couldn't resist. I asked the  butcher what kind of duck it was and he said FREE RANGE...that didn't give me much information, but I have never cooked a duck anyway so didn't have much to go on. It was absolutely delicious, but my technique was imperfect. Here is the roasted duck which was yummy, but the flaw was not completely rendering the fat under the skin.

I have since done some research and am going to try this again at home and let you know how it goes. The 2 biggest errors were: #1. I cooked at high heat and I believe the recommended method is long, slow heat; and #2 (and I KNEW this!!) I did not score the skin. Oh well, as I always say, the fun is in the doing and it won't always be perfect, although I must say that the orange sauce I made for this plump duckling was scrumptuous so you'll be hearing about that soon. After our first duck dinner, I cooked the duck two different ways: Duck Risotto (out of this world!) and a rich root vegetable soup made with duck stock. Not to mention the duck made about 2 cups of duck fat which was used in all sorts of ways for flavoring and frying.

Until next time, this is Cindrina (that's my Irish chef name) saying goodbye from Spiddal, County Galway.



P.S. Thanks again to all of you who have been following my quest for the position of Chief World Explorer for Jauntaroo. For those of you who do not know, I did not make the final five. Your support meant the world to me and I had a blast along the way!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Umbrian Lentils and more...!

I bought these beautiful Umbrian Lentils at my favorite gourmet store...HomeGoods!  Lentils are so versatile and work well with many different flavors, spices, herbs, pork, bacon or shellfish, like shrimp. This is how I made mine...

1 package Umbrian lentils-1 lb. (or any type of lentils; the Umbrian just made it a little more special.)
2 cups double rich chicken* stock to cover lentils
4 Italian sausages out of their casing
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 stick celery, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
Bouquet Garni (I used parsley, a sprig of rosemary and lots of thyme)
Salt/Pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan. Add sausage and chunk it into pieces with a wooden spoon. As it starts to brown, add garlic, onion and cook for about 5 minutes on medium high heat. Add carrots, celery and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the lentils and cover with chicken broth. Toss in the herbs. Reduce heat, cover and cook until lentils are tender; about 30 minutes. Add more water or chicken stock if the lentils start to dry out. Season with salt and pepper.

* Store bought chicken stock is perfectly OK to use, but I prefer to make my own and generally have a quart or two on hand in the freezer. To make double rich chicken stock, simply re-cook chicken stock with more chicken bones, herbs, mirepoix, etc. using the original chicken stock as the base for cooking all over again. Makes the stock super rich and yummy!

 This is a hearty, fall meal good on its own or serve with steamed veg or a side salad for a perfect casual supper. It's great with a full-bodied red wine, too.

Next, is the soup course I made for Chickie's Birthday Bash...The ginger and orange flavors blend perfectly to give the Squash Bisque a spicy, bright flavor! The soup can be made in the morning of your dinner party or even the night before.


1 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for roasting squash
1 Tbsp. butter
1 large butternut squash (about 2 lbs.) seeded and cut into chunks
3 large carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. peeled and minced fresh ginger root (about a 1 inch piece)
2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
Zest from 1 orange
1 tsp. dried ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
Pepper to taste
Freshly chopped parsley for garnish

I finished my soup with a yogurt/maple, spiced topping by adding about 1/4 cup maple syrup to 1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt. Mix in 1/4 tsp. of cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp. dried ginger and a little salt. Play with the flavors until it's as sweet or spicy as you like.

Preheat oven to 385 degrees. Put the butter squash skin side up on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper and roast in oven until very tender; about 30-40 minutes. Let cool completely and then peel off the skin. This makes the peeling very easy. Set aside. Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 Tbsp. butter over medium heat in a large sauce or soup pot. Add carrots, onion, and fresh ginger and cook for about 5 minutes until lightly browned. Add stock and orange zest, dried ginger, nutmeg. Cook until carrots are tender and then add the squash and cook for another 15 minutes. Let it cool. Puree soup in a blender or food processor until smooth and creamy. Cover and put in refrigerator until ready to re-heat and serve.

The main course for Chickie's birthday dinner was Shrimp and Mushroom Risotto (to find recipe go to my main blog page, top left, Search for Recipe box), steamed asparagus and roasted red pepper with lots of garlic. To roast the red peppers, heat broiler on high. Place whole red peppers on a sheet of foil large enough to wrap the peppers up after they have charred. Place them as close to flame as possible and char all sides until blackened. Wrap in the foil and let cool completely. When they are cool, peel off blackened skin, pull out seeds, stem and membranes and slice into strips. Add as much chopped garlic as you dare and extra virgin olive oil. When ready to serve, heat in a frying pan so the garlic gets a little brown. Serve peppers warm. These peppers keep about a week, but the garlic intensifies as they age.

The first night I met my husband I was roasting peppers in my kitchen in Jamaica Plain. The house was filled with the rich, pungent aroma of roasting peppers. It made a big impression on him...23 years later we're still roasting peppers!

I wrote about Chickie's dessert last time: Double fudge brownies with homemade orange sherbet and chocolate ganache. I had some good feedback from my friend Deb on the ganache. It was way too sweet for her liking. This sauce is incredibly rich and sweet. You might want to start by using just 1 cup of sugar. Taste and add more sugar in increments until it is the sweetness you desire.

I'm closing today with a wonderful green salsa recipe I made recently with fresh tomatillos from Teri's Farmstand. What a treat to have fresh from the garden tomatillos in New England!


1 1/2 lb. tomatillos
3 cloves garlic, roasted with the tomatillos
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup cilantro leaves (also from Teri's!)
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp.+ sugar (adjust to your taste)
2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped (or again, adjust to your heat liking)
1/2 tsp. hot pepper flake (I used cayenne or omit if you don't like it too hot.)
1 tsp. smoked paprika or a smoky Chipotle like Victoria Taylor's Seasonings
1 tsp. salt
I just love the look of these tomatillos ready to roast--so green!
Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos and rinse well. Tomatillos are sticky. Cut the tomatillos in half and place cut side down on a foil lined baking sheet. Add the whole, unpeeled garlic cloves to the baking sheet.  Place under a broiler for 5-7 minutes until lightly browned, but unlike the red peppers you do not want to char them. Place the tomatillos, garlic squeezed out of the skin, lime juice, onions, cilantro, jalapeno peppers, and sugar in a blender or food processor and pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped. Season to taste with salt. Cool in refrigerator. I served with a traditional guacamole and blue corn chips. I think this would also make an awesome sauce with chicken or shrimp or even pork!
As you know I can go on and on about food and cooking. I realize I just blogged a few days ago, but we are leaving for Ireland for 2 weeks so I was craving one more food blog before we go. I will do lots of cooking in IRE so stay tuned for some ideas with a Gaelic twist!
Thank you for your support and votes/likes for the position of Chief World Explorer for Jauntaroo. You can keep voting every day until the end of October!


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Chickie's Birthday Bash!

I know I promised to share my recipe for Umbrian Lentils, but in the meantime, two very important things have happened.
#1. This past weekend I made my sister-in-law, Chickie an over-the-top Birthday dinner...and #2. I just found out this afternoon that I am one of the top 50 candidates for the position of Chief World Explorer for Jauntaroo. Umbrian Lentils coming soon...
First, Jauntaroo's Chief World Explorer...out of 3000 candidates, I was selected in the top 100. Thanks for voting for me!! Next assignment was to create a 3 minute webisode about your home-town. From there, Jauntaroo selected 50 candidates to move forward. Next, I ask your help in again viewing and 'LIKING' my 3 minute video to get me into the final 5. We will have about a month to vote. Here is the link. I cannot thank you enough for your support. I am very excited about this opportunity! I'll keep you posted...

Now on to the Birthday Bash! I'm going to start with Chickie's dessert...DOUBLE FUDGE CHOCOLATE BROWNIES with HOMEMADE ORANGE SHERBET and RICH CHOCOLATE SAUCE.

1 stick unsalted butter
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8" baking pan with parchment, leaving overhang on all sides. Spray lightly with cooking spray. Melt butter and chocolate over very low heat. Place the chocolate squares on top of the stick of butter and let it melt and drip into the butter. Stir from time to time until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in sugar. Whisk in eggs, 1 at a time, until combined. Whisk in cocoa and salt (I sifted my cocoa as it had gotten kind of lumpy). Fold in flour until combined.

Pour batter into pan. Bake until set and a toothpick comes out clean-about 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool slightly in pan on a rack-about 15 minutes. Gently lift brownies by parchment out of pan and transfer to a wire rack. Let cool completely. Cut into 9 squares.

These may be the best brownies I have ever eaten; delicious with a delicate crust and moist, rich interior. Very easy to make.

For our Birthday Bash dinner, I made an orange sherbet to go with the brownies. Note the color of the sherbet. No food coloring so it is not bright orange, but very flavorful. Both the sherbet base and brownies can be made in the morning. Churn the sherbet about 2 hours before you want to serve.

1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. finely grated orange zest
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice (I used prepared juice from the store.)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 cups whole milk

In a blender, add sugar, vanilla, orange zest, salt, orange juice and lemon juice. Pulse until the sugar is dissolved, about 30 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and whisk in the milk. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator until very cold, about 2 hours.

Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and proceed according to directions of your ice cream maker. For me, that was about 22-25 minutes of churning.

Transfer the sherbet to a tupperware type container and freeze for 2-3 hours. The longer you freeze, the harder it gets. I thought the consistency best at 2 1/2 hours.

Top this scrumptuos brownie with the orange sherbet and the best chocolate sauce you will ever taste. I first experienced this sublime sauce at a dinner party. It's our neighbor Karen's specialty sauce and is great on just about everything or anything. She has given me a double recipe, but it freezes very well so it makes sense to make a double batch so you always have it on hand. I think what sets it apart is the use of evaporated milk, rather than heavy cream as most ganaches call for.

2 sticks butter
5 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 (14 oz.) cans evaporated milk; 21 oz. all together
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Melt butter, chocolate over low heat stirring occasionally until combined. Add evaporated milk, sugar, and vanilla. Stir until all ingredients are shiny and thoroughly blended.

I am going to close with the full menu and promise I will share the Butternut Bisque, which was super yummy and Umbrian Lentils next time.

Starter:                        Butternut Bisque with Ginger and Orange Zest
Main:                          Shrimp and Mushroom Risotto
Accompaniments:       Steamed Asparagus
                                    Roasted Red Peppers with lots of garlic
Finale:                         Double Fudge Brownies with Orange Sherbet and
                                    Hot Chocolate Ganache

I had so much fun putting this meal together for Chickie. What a fabulous birthday celebration we had. Happy Birthday Chick!

As always, thanks for sharing my passion for cooking.