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Friday, June 18, 2021

IRISH WHEATEN BREAD

 One of my all time favorite meals from our Mother/Daughter trip to Ireland was a bowl of seafood chowder and Irish brown bread, or Irish wheaten bread.  It was such a simple meal, but it was so tasty! Below is a picture of that wonderful meal.  

We had many wonderful Irish breads during our travels, this one being one of my favorites.  So, it's become my mission to try to replicate this bread.  It's been a series of trials and errors with recipes, shapes, and loaf pans.  The last recipe has a very good flavor, but I'm still not quite happy with the "loft".  

There are several challenges.  First, our ingredients are different than those in Ireland.  Second, our loaf pans are not the same dimensions (you can see the shape in the picture above.  Their pans are longer and narrower), Thirdly, I'm baking this at high altitude versus sea level. 

Let me take you through all three rounds I've gone through so far.  Hopefully, my efforts will streamline things for you.  I'll also share the recipe that I believe I'll be sticking with while I continue to work on the size/shape of my loafs.

If you do some browsing, you will find a lot of recipes out there.  This one, as I mentioned is a brown soda bread or wheaten bread.  The classic soda bread has just a few ingredients, and does not include yeast.  The leavening comes from buttermilk and baking soda.  The best thing, it doesn't invole any kneading either. 

My first attempt was classic in the ingredients, and also in the round shape.  I even put the cross on the top (look that up, it's a fun story).  You know the Winter Olympics event that takes place on the ice, called Curling?, it uses a broom and has this disc (also known as the rock or stone) that slides down the ice? Well, that's what this baby reminded me of.  It had a decent flavor, but was very dry and the outer crust was rough and fell apart when I cut into it.

For my second attempt, I chose a different recipe.  I found this cute male chef from Ireland on You Tube and used his recipe.  He also used loaf pans.  (the recipe yields two loaves) 
It has a few other ingredients which gives the bread an even better flavor, like a bit of brown sugar and golden syrup (or what we know as honey....isn't that adorable?).                                                               As you can see from the pictures, the slices aren't very tall.                 
My third attempt was to use the same recipe, but I purchased a smaller loaf pan.  I did get the same hearty flavor and a little better lift.   So, I feel like I'm on the right track.  I'm going to continue to work with the size of the loaf pans and I may try to increase the volume of the recipe by another 1/2, which should help fill the pans a bit better (there definitely is room for more batter).  In the meantime, I'm going to continue to enjoy what I've made.  I chose to slice the loaves and then freeze them so I can just grab a slice (or two) and re-heat them in the microwave as I please.   Don't forget to add some butter, and a little bit of golden syrup on top.                                                                                                         

Below is the recipe from Chef Adrian that I recommend.  I did not make any high altitude adjustments, since I believe the height of the loaf comes down to the pans.  The bread is otherwise hearty and moist as is. 

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups plus 1 Tbsp. wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 ½ cup buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. melted butter
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. quick oats 

DIRECTIONS:

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray or grease two loaf pans (8½ x 4 ½).  Sift the flours, soda and salt into a bowl.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the buttermilk, brown sugar, melted butter and honey.

Using a spatula (or clean hands), mix gently and quickly until you have achieved a nice dropping consistency.  The mixture should bind together without being sloppy.  Don't overwork. 

Divide the mixture equally between the loaf tins and sprinkle with the oats.  Most homes don't have an oven that can half steam and half bake.  So bake these on the top shelf for 45-50 minutes with a tray of water in the bottom of the oven to create some steam.  (This added technique of steaming, I feel made a huge difference from the first recipe.  My loaves were done in 40 minutes)

Check halfway through that the loaves aren't browning too much.  If they are, reduce the temperature or move the loaves down a shelf.  When cooked, tip out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.  

I am willing to admit, I may never hit the mark on this bread, since the reason this meal tasted so fabulous could be based upon the magical nature of this vacation. 

After all, I was in Ireland with my daughter.  I was walking in the footsteps of my Mom's ancestors. We had just left the Cliffs of Moher where we were almost blown into the Atlantic and a cold rain had started.  We were damp and windblown and tired when we arrived at the lodge.  We went down to their dining room (it was mid-day and we hadn't had any lunch) and this meal absolutely hit the spot! 

In order to replicate this bread to a T.....it may come down to another trip to Ireland!  There is a whole section of Ireland that we didn't get to on our first adventure.  Maybe a little Scotland and Northern Ireland this time around.

Monday, June 14, 2021

SHRIMP FAJITAS

 I've always been a fajita fan....both the traditional beef or chicken variety.  But, when I ran across a shrimp fajita recipe, I knew I had to give it a try.

Not only does this have a great flavor, but it really is super simple to pull it together. 


INGREDIENTS: 

2 tsp. chili powder
½ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. smoked paprika
¼ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. onion powder 
2 Tbsp. cilantro
2 cups sliced pepper (yellow, green, red, or combination)
1 onion thinly sliced
1 lb. large shrimp (peeled, deveined, tails off)
1 Tbsp. oil
lime wedges
flour tortilla
assorted fajita toppings of your choice

DIRECTIONS:

Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat.  Add the onions and peppers, and cook stirring occasionally until they're tender and charred on the edges.  Add salt and pepper.

Combine all the seasonings in a small bowl.  Add the shrimp to the skillet and sprinkle the seasoning mixture over while cooking.   Stir well, to coat the peppers and onions with the seasoning.  Cook covered for 4-5 minutes, until the shrimp are pink and opague.  Sprinkle the cilantro and a bit of lime over the top before serving.  

Serve with tortillas and lime wedges.  Don't forget fajita toppings like sour cream, shredded cheese, and avocado.

Enjoy!

recipe c/o: www.dinneratthezoo.com

Monday, May 31, 2021

BLUEBERRY BUTTERMILK BREAKFAST CAKE

 I have a number of different blueberry recipes on this blog, and they're all yummy in their own right.  This one ranks near the top due to the intense blueberry flavor, and how quickly you can pull it all together. 


INGREDIENTS:

½ cup (8 Tbsp) room temperature unsalted butter
zest from 1 large lemon
*1 cup sugar (set aside 1 Tbsp. for sprinkling)
1 egg, room temp
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour (set aside ¼ cup to toss with the blueberries)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 cups fresh blueberries
½ cup buttermilk

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Using a stand mixer or hand-held mixer, cream the butter with the lemon zest along with the 1 cup (minus the 1 Tbsp. of sugar) until light and fluffy. 

Add the egg and vanuilla and beat until combined.  Meanwhile, toss the blueberries with ¼ cup flour, then whisk together the remaining flour, baking powder and salt.  

Add half the flour mixture to the batter, and stir with spatula to incorporate.  Add all of the buttermilk.  Stir.  Add remaining flour, and stir until flour is absorbed.  Fold in the blueberries ( leave excess flour from the blueberry bowl behind). 

Spray a 8 or 9 inch square baking pan with non-stick spray.  Cut a parchment paper sling and press down into the sprayed pan.  Spread the batter into the pan.  Sprinkle the batter with the remaining sugar.  Bake for 35-45 minutes.  A 9-inch pan should be done closer to 35 minutes, an 8-inch pan usually needs 40-45 minutes.  Check with a toothpick for doneness.   Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

*NOTE:  I had decorative sugar crystals in my pantry, so I opted to use those on the top of my cake versus the granulated sugar.  Also living in high altitude I always use King Arthur's Hungarian flour in my baking.....this recipe as is, works great....no adjustments needed.


Enjoy!

recipe c/o:  www.alexandracooks.com

Friday, May 21, 2021

BACKYARD XERISCAPING

Back in 2018, we began an effort to remove some of our lawn and do some serious xeriscaping.  What prompted the project was a couple of things.....first, since moving into our house in 2015, we began to see many issues develop due to the poor job the landscapers had done in putting in our yard.  I won't go into all the nasty details, but year over year more and more issues were uncovered.  Clearly, any prep they had done to the soil, as well as any topsoil they may have added seemed to be minimal if any.  This was causing us huge issues with large brown spots and the use of lots of water to try to keep a green lawn.  Neither of which were acceptable.  Secondly, we really just had way too much lawn, especially in the backyard.  With only the two of us, there was no need and our water bill was was too high!  Third, for those of us who have lived in Colorado for a long time, the summers are getting hotter and hotter and drier and drier, so it was evident this was only going to get worse.

Step 1.....remove the lawn nearest the patio and add in lots of rock, ornamental grasses and drought resistant plants.  This particular area was downright stupid due to the serious incline.  So trying to mow it was a joke.  Being that this was such a huge undertaking, we contracted someone to help us out.  Below was the finished project as of 2018.                      Step 2.....I decided my vision for this area was really more of a "dry river bed" and this wasn't quite what I had in mind.  So, in the fall of 2020, I took to adding additional edging and moved a whole lot of rock out while also adding in some mulch to sculpt it into something more appealing.  It's fun seeing how much the plants grew in just two years time!                                       Step 3....eliminate the large section of grass between our two maples that looks just awful.  Every summer by about late July this section is totally brown.  It was such an eyesore.  So, why not xeriscape another chunk and add in another garden to enjoy?  Below is a picture of that area of the lawn that we just couldn't keep green.  Last fall, we removed a large circle of lawn knowing that we'd tackle it come this spring.  Over the last couple weeks, I got her finished.    The pictures show the progress along the way.                                                      
                                                                                                                     
Now just like with Step 1, the plants look a little scrawny, but give it just a couple years and this should look fantastic!  The feather reed grasses will be about 3x their current size, and the other perennials will have also filled out.  The perimeter rock is "recycled", meaning it was what I had removed from the other section last fall when I added in the mulch areas.  I'd like to add in some boulders (not quite as big as those in the upper garden) and we also want to add in plenty of bulbs this fall for some spring color.   Will there be a Step 4?  Who knows.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

WALTZ LENGTH VEIL

 I love when a bride contacts me through my Etsy shop requesting a special order.  In this case, I had a bride who loved one of my waltz length veils, but needed some customization.  First, she needed it in ivory, and secondly she wondered how the lace appliques would work with her gown.   

She sent me a couple pictures of her gown which is a strapless lace overlay with a fit and flare silhouette.  I knew I could find a better match to her gown, so I suggested she let me source some lace appliques with a motif that better matched her gown's motif. 

I found a great match for her gown that has large swirls, as well as some florals and leaves similar to those on the gown itself.  

                          

                        
The first set of appliques begins just below the waist, leaving just the plain cut edge tulle to show off her neckline and shoulders. The set at the center back will hit at about her calf, which has less lace.                        
I'm so pleased with how this came together.  The veil truly looks like it was made for the gown!  I can't wait to get pictures from the bride on her big day!

Sunday, April 11, 2021

ORANGE JUICE CAKE

 I had a friend forward this recipe to me a couple years ago, and simply forgot I had it all this time.   I needed a dessert that would travel well for over an hour in a warm car, so I didn't think my four layer frosted cake option was really the best choice.  Fortunately, I found this recipe in my archives and I opted for this simple bundt cake.  

I have to say, she definitely traveled well....but, better than that, she was super tasty!  A refreshing burst of citrus taste, with a moist crumb.  It was nice and light, not to mention picture perfect!  With the exception of chopping the pistachios the day before, I put it together the morning of our dinner since it was a super easy recipe.   The kitchen smelled like a creamsicle.  

INGREDIENTS:

1 (15oz.) white box cake mix
1 (6oz.) box orange jello mix
1 cup orange juice
3/4 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs

Frosting:
2 Tbsp. OJ
1 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup  chopped pistachio nuts


DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a bundt pan, set aside.

Combine cake mix, orange jello, orange juice, oil, and eggs in a large bowl and mix using an electric mixer until ingredients are well blended. 

Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until cake tester/toothpick comes out clean.  

Remove cake from oven to rest in pan for 5-10 minutes.  Remove the cake from the pan to cool completely on a wire rack.  

Mix powdered sugar, with OJ and beat until smooth.  Drizzle over cooled cake.  Sprinkle with chopped pistachios.  

Enjoy!


Notes:  For us high altitude folk, I added 1 Tbsp. of flour to the batter.  The recipe called for a full cup of pistachios......there was no way, I probaby used 1/2 cup and I think it looked great.  


recipe c/o: www.12tomatoes.com

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

BREAD DUMPLINGS

 I wanted to share a recipe from my Dad's heritage with my daughter and her boyfriend, realizing as she approaches her 30th birthday that I've never made this for her!  So, it was pork, dumplings and cooked cabbage.  A true Czech Sunday dinner for us growing up.  

Dumplings were an important element in many of our dinners, and there were quite a variety (bread, potato and fruit to name a few).  Bread dumplings were my favorite and they taste great with pork gravy drizzled on top.  

As for the pork....Frankly, our pork roasts were never my favorite.  They always seemed really dry.  I tried a stuffed pork loin for my dinner.  It was better, but not great.  The bonus was having lots of additional stuffing as a side....and who doesn't love stuffing?

Finally, the cooked cabbage was a favorite of my Dad.  It's so simple, but so yummy.  It's a head of cabbage shredded and simmered on low for hours with a little bit of water in the bottom of the saucepan, caraway seeds and a dash of sugar.  It cooks down and turns a golden brown after hours on the stovetop (the side nearest the utensils in this photo).                    
  Here's my family's dumpling recipe in case you'd like to give it a try.....
You need a very large pot for the dumplings. After the water begins a rolling boil, they take about 20-30 minutes.  My favorite part of this dinner was watching my Grandmother slice them with a length of thread.  I do the very same thing, since it works like a charm!  Slide it underneath the dumpling, bring the lengths up each side and criss cross them while pulling down.


INGREDIENTS:

2½ cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder 
2 eggs 
½ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
3 slices of bread, cut into cubes (original recipe calls for white bread)


DIRECTIONS:
Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a medium size bowl.  Beat eggs, add to milk. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the milk mixture.  Mix well by hand; using a wooden spoon, or even your hands,

Add the bread cubes once the mixture has come together.  Form either one large or two smaller spheres using a lightly floured surface to bring them together. 

Cook for 20-30 minutes in boiling water.  

In case you're wondering how my daughter enjoyed the meal.  She ate it....I don't really see her requesting it again, but her boyfriend had two full helpings of everything.  I love the way that man enjoys a meal!  It makes all the effort worth it.  And, I will tell you, this is a significant effort.  My husband commented how the prep was much like a full out Thanksgiving dinner.  And, there are a whole lot of dishes/pots/pans to clean up too!  

For me, I enjoyed it....I've realized I'm just not a huge pork roast fan.  It brought back wonderful memories for me and a little heartache as well, since my parents and grandparents have all passed....but it's another reason why I like to share these meals, and the stories I shared at the dinner table.  I want to be sure our family heritage is passed along to the grandkids.