Holidays · Recipes

Buttery Irish Beer Bread

I still have memories of the fresh-baked bread a neighbor used to make when I was a kid. That smell wafting over the summer air when we were outside playing … mmm, I can just about taste it.  If, like me, you’ve always aspired to be the kind of person who makes homemade bread, but you lack the time, skills, fresh yeast or patience to mind rising and kneading strategies, then have I got the recipe for YOU. And just in time for St. Patty’s Day! Classic Irish Beer Bread is so simple, lends itself well to customization, and — most importantly — is delicious. With a soft buttery crust and chewy, warm center, it’s just begging to be dipped into soup or served alongside a hearty stew. This will make you feel like a master bread baker in no time.

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So the cool thing about beer bread is that the carbonation actually helps to leaven the bread, because the same yeast that makes bread rise makes beer alcoholic. Most of the alcohol will bake off while this bread is in the oven, and you’ll be left with a fluffy loaf seasoned with whatever type and flavor of beer you’ve chosen. If you use a nice IPA, as I did here, you’ll get a fantastic hoppy bite at the end. If you choose something more malty or mild, you’ll get that flavor coming through in the final product, too.

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The most mouth-watering part of this bread is the melted butter you drizzle on top before baking. Try adding more or less than what I call for, to see how you like it.

Buttery Irish Beer Bread

INGREDIENTS

  • 12 oz. (1.5 Cups) beer (can substitute non-alcoholic beer, soft drink or sparkling fruit juice, such as sparkling pear or apple cider).
  • 3 Cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 TBSP baking powder
  • 3 TSP sugar
  • 2 TBSP butter, melted

You can substitute another sweetener, such as honey, in place of sugar if you prefer. It will change the taste of the bread, but that’s what’s fun about this recipe! It’s endlessly personalize-able.


DIRECTIONS

Preheat your oven to 350F and lightly butter a glass (or metal) loaf pan, or use non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder) and pour in the beer you’ve selected. Mix until just combined, taking care not to overdo it.

Pour the mixture into your loaf pan and drizzle with the melted butter. Bake for 45-50 minutes if using a metal pan, and 50-55 for a glass pan, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool the bread in the pan for 5 minutes then remove to a plate. Serve warm or cool.

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The baking powder makes for a fluffier, less dense bread, but you can omit if necessary or if you don’t have any on hand. All you really need for successful beer bread is beer, sugar and flour. From there, it’s all about tailoring to your taste.

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There are so many ways to make this your own. A few ideas:

  • Instead of beer, use a cup of water and a 1/2 cup of salsa. Add in a dash of chili powder and a half cup of sharp cheddar cheese and bake as usual.
  • Add some mustard to the bread mix before baking, or serve the finished bread with a good grainy mustard.
  • Pick a blueberry beer and fold in fresh or frozen berries of your choice.
  • Use sparkling apple cider instead of beer, and add in a palm full of chopped nuts (such as pecans or walnuts), a half cup of chopped apple and a dash of cinnamon.
  • Try the special flavors of a micro brew or go light with a wheat beer; conversely, try a stout like Guinness and see how drastically it changes the tone and texture.

IMG_0078I hope you try this and enjoy it. Let me know how it comes out! And Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, when everyone gets to be Irish. 🍀

 

 

Grow Your Own Way · Recipes

Ladies and gentlemen, we have tomatoes! (+ caprese salad)

After all that midnight watering, Mark’s garden is peaking right now, with basil, eggplant, and — most excitingly — tomatoes simply bursting all of a sudden!

and they are irresistible, just like someone else we know…

 

“mommy, a-mate-o’s!”Must be the new gardener we brought on board.

 Abundant tomatoes = caprese every night!

and, because I’m being so good by having salad, buttered bread alongside.

 

My mind was blown when I realized that supermarkets now sell pre-sliced fresh mozzarella balls (!!) which cuts the prep time for this salad down to almost nothing.

To assemble: layer sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil (whole leafs or shredded; it’s just a matter of how you like it) in a plate and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then season lightly with pepper and salt. Want to get a tad fancier? Make a balsamic reduction by simmering the vinegar in a pan with some honey for about ten minutes until it turns syrupy. A good rule of thumb is 4:1 balsamic and honey to make a tasty reduction, so for example you could use 1 cup vinegar with 1/4 cup honey and have some left over. Or, you can just buy balsamic reduction 🙂 This salad is served as a main dish for lunch in Italy or as a starter at dinner, not as a side as we usually serve salads in America. Some recipes omit the balsamic altogether, keeping only the olive oil, and some add only pepper, not salt. Its colors are meant to evoke the Italian flag and you can find this on the menu almost everywhere in Italy, because it’s so filling and healthy. As with most fresh recipes, the better ingredients you can find (freshly cracked pepper, good olive oil, heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella), the tastier this will be.

Fantastico! Happy eating!

Recipes

I made Caesar Salad the night before, and it came out OK!

I also made a new version of my usual Caesar dressing that added mayo and omitted anchovies, which is even further outside my comfort zone than potentially soggy salad — but I digress before I’ve even begun.

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Last night, Mark and a few other Boston-based artists were performing at an outdoor concert sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce. Wanting to prepare ahead and not to eat takeout junk one more time, I decided to make a hearty Caesar Salad with Baked Salmon the night before. So, after putting Georgia to bed, I got down to business cooking fish, chopping greens and oven-roasting bread for croutons, then packaged it all up to grab n’ go the next day. The results were surprisingly excellent! Here’s what I did.

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Make-Ahead Caesar Salad

Ingredients: one sourdough bread ball, two salmon fillets, two romaine hearts, two garlic gloves, 1 TBSP white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 lemon, grated Parmesan to taste. Makes two dinner-sized portions.

The key is to do all the prep but save the mixing until 5 minutes before you need to leave. Then, to assemble, you just toss grated Parmesan in the bottom of the bowl, add the salmon and the croutons on top, pour over the dressing, and squeeze the two lemon halves over top. Toss with your hands, and dig in! 

Prep the Lettuce: Wash, dry and rough chop two heads of romaine. Set aside in a stainless steel bowl that will keep the greens colder and fresher in the fridge overnight. I like Ikea’s compact salad spinner and stainless mixing/serving bowl, and this lettuce knife which are both easy to store in a small kitchen, to make quick work of this often-onerous aspect to preparing fresh salad. To store, seal with plastic wrap and place in the fridge.

Make the croutons: Pre-heat the oven to 350. Tear up a ball of sourdough bread by hand and place on a baking sheet with olive oil, salt and pepper; toss to coat. Cook for 12 minutes, stirring halfway through. (In the past, I’ve just used English muffins or whatever old bread I had lying around to make croutons. Sourdough seemed very hard to me, but it actually works great once you cook it with olive oil! This was one idea gleaned from Blue Apron that I’ll be using over and over). Let cool and set aside in a plastic or glass storage container.

Cook the salmon: Dry off two salmon fillets, season with salt and pepper, and cook in a non-stick pan on medium-high heat with olive oil, starting skin-side down, for 8 minutes, then flip and cook another 4 minutes longer, adjusting to your level of desired doneness. Remove from the heat let cool then place in a storage container. Before storing, use a fork to flake into pieces and toss the skin.

Make the dressing: Mince two garlic cloves into a tablespoon of white wine (or other) vinegar. Zest one lemon’s peel into the mixture; slice the lemon into quarters and juice two of them into the dressing, reserving the others to squeeze over the salad just before you’re actually about to eat it. Stir in a quarter cup of mayonnaise and season with a bit of salt and pepper. This makes enough dressing for the two romaine heads, plus a little extra. I don’t love my Caesar swimming in dressing, but you can tailor to your preferences.

I stored each component in a plastic bag or glass storage dish, then assembled the salad in between coming home from work and going to the concert.

Possibly the biggest surprise of all was that Georgia tried it, ate some lettuce and croutons, but then said “mo’ fish??” And proceeded to steal all my salmon! 

Overall, this took very little time to prep the night before, and gave me a to-go dinner perfect for eating on the grass with my gal while listening to daddy sing. I’ll definitely do this again.

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The concert itself was also really fun. Mark did a great job and lots of his family were able to come. And there were balloons!
IMG_1257As my mother-in-law said, summer in America at its finest.
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Have a wonderful weekend everyone! We have a family reunion tomorrow and then it’s a Mommy and G day Sunday while Daddy works on the Freedom Trail. Our plans include church, checking out the new splash pad in town, and probably having a tea party. Summer is going by so fast!

CSA 2011 · Recipes · Tips and Tricks

HOW-TO: Roast pumpkin & make pumpkin bread from scratch

Maybe, like me, you still have a few pumpkins left from a CSA that ended at Thanksgiving. Intimidated by cooking them? Don’t be. I’ll show you step-by-step how to cut and cook pumpkins, preserve the puree, toast the seeds, and make fresh pumpkin bread that blows away anything you’ve made using canned pumpkin pie filling.

How to Roast Fresh Pumpkin

Frozen puree will last several months, so it should get you through the winter packed into freezer-safe containers or even Ziploc bags with the air pressed out.

You can also put up pumpkin puree for long-term storage, but it requires a pressure canner, not a hot water bath for safety reasons. The same goes for winter squash. Both MUST be cubed & cooked before being canned. Here are some great instructions.

But first things first. Before you can make pumpkin bread, you need to make pumpkin puree … and to do that, you need to learn how to cut & hull a pumpkin.The easiest way to slice a pumpkin is to make sure you have a sharp knife and a sturdy surface to work on. A serrated knife, like this one, works best — if you use a very sharp knife and slip, you could really hurt yourself. Cut the pumpkin in half using a sawing motion, then set aside the two halves.

Using a melon baller, scoop out the seeds into a small bowl. Save these, because you’re going to use them later to make savory roasted pumpkin seeds.

I used to think that cooking pumpkins always involved the oven, but turns out that’s not true at all — in fact, it uses less energy to fire up your microwave. (I also used to think you had to peel pumpkins and winter squash to cook them, but thankfully, you DON’T!) Place the pumpkin halves face up in a glass dish and fill with a couple inches of water. Cover and heat on high for 10 minutes; repeat until soft and mushy, usually two or three times depending on the strength of your microwave. You can usually get a good couple of cups of puree out of a small pumpkin.

Once the pumpkins are done, let cool briefly and then simply use a spoon to scoop the flesh away from the soft skins. You can either discard the skins or — like I do — eat them right off the bat!

If you are freezing your pumpkin, just scoop it into freezer-safe containers (you don’t need to mash it), then label and store. Whenever you want to use it, simply defrost in the fridge or warm in the microwave.

Note: If you prefer not to use a microwave or don’t have one, you can cook pumpkin on the stove top or in the oven. Just cook the pumpkin halves in a steamer on the stove top for about 10 minutes, or bake in the oven (this takes the longest) by placing the pumpkin plus several cups of water in a covered oven-proof dish. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour at 350, until a fork-poke shows they’re soft. With both of these methods, the skins should fall right away when they’re done.

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SAVORY ROASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS

Now that your pumpkin is cooked and stored, it’s time to turn those seeds into a healthful snack. Pumpkins (and their seeds) are considered super foods, packed with antioxidants and high in fiber and protein, making them a powerhouse for vegetarians especially.

First, wash the seeds well, separating the stringy material and guck from the seeds. I used my hands at first and then gave them a thorough final rinse in a colander before setting them out on paper towels to dry (you can speed this along with a hair dryer if you want!) It’s critical that they’re not soggy when they go into the oven.

Preheat the oven to 275 and spread the seeds out on a cookie sheet. To season, toss with vegetable oil or butter and any combination of seasonings you like: classic sea salt, something spicy like cayenne & thyme, or sweet such as cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice, or ginger for a kick, or garlic powder & Worcestershire sauce … or my favorite, good old Trader Joe’s 21-Seasoning Salute, which is a salt-free spice blend.

Heat for 10 to 20 minutes, watching them, and stirring here and there. You can eat them hot or cold and they’ll make a great snack on the go for a few days.

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Pumpkin Bread Recipe

Dry Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups of flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

Wet Ingredients

  • 1 cup oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups pumpkin (or 1 can pumpkin pie filling)

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Sift flour and mix in remaining dry ingredients.
  • Combine wet ingredients.
  • Add dry mixture to wet mixture.
  • Grease/spray loaf pans.
  • Bake for 1 hour; it may need an hour and 15.
  • Loaves are done when a toothpick into the center comes out clean.
Courtesy: Simply Recipes. I literally forgot to take a picture of mine before it was gone. Oops!

Other fun uses for pureed pumpkin:

  • Stir 1/2 cup of into pancake batter; add walnuts for pumpkin-nut pancakes
  • Using the recipe above, turn pumpkin batter into waffles instead; or, use the finished bread to make pumpkin french toast
  • Blend 1/4 cup pumpkin puree with cream cheese and cinnamon; spread on a bagel
  • Stir pumpkin puree into your morning oatmeal; top with brown sugar
  • Make homemade pumpkin gnocchi
  • Make vegan pumpkin tiramisu a la Chef Chloe
  • Stir pumpkin puree into risotto just before it’s done cooking
  • Freeze the puree in an ice tray to make cubes ready for smoothies, like this one

Do you have other ideas? Send them my way in the comments!