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Two Takes on Irish Soda Bread


Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

Never made bread before? Give Irish soda bread a try. It really is that easy. And it really is Irish.

With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, it’s also a natural.

Soda bread is baked in “countless cottages around Ireland,” writes Hugo Arnold in “Avoca Café Cookbook,” an indispensable souvenir I picked up on a trip to Ireland years ago and have sworn by ever since.

“Simple and cheap to make, with easily obtainable ingredients, it fed hungry farmers and their families for years,” Arnold says. “Today it is as popular as ever, as honest simplicity appealing in an age when food seems to get ever more complicated.”

For a simple variation, try adding raisins. They give the bread a little added sweetness, which makes it a perfect addition for breakfast. And as Arnold points out, it takes so little to put it together that you could serve it hot out of the oven.

Soda Bread

Add the buttermilk slowly.

Add the buttermilk slowly.

1 pound flour
1 level teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
14 ounces buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Mix the flour, baking soda, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Gradually mix in the buttermilk to give a moist dough. Place in a greased loaf pan and bake for 30 minutes, until the loaf sounds hollow when turned out of the tin and tapped underneath. Place on a wire rack to cool.

Makes 1 loaf.

From “Avoca Café Cookbook”

Fruit Soda Bread

1 pound flour
1 level teaspoon baking soda
1 ounce sugar
Pinch of salt
1 ounce raisins
14 ounces buttermilk

Tap the bottom to see if the bread is done.

Tap the bottom to see if the bread is done.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Dried fruit gives soda bread extra flavor.

Dried fruit gives soda bread extra flavor.

Mix the flour, soda, sugar, salt and raisins in a bowl. Then slowly add the buttermilk and mix well to form a dough. Shape it into a mound, place in a greased loaf pan and bake for 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 325 degrees and continue baking for 25 more minutes.

The loaf should sound hollow when you turn it out of the pan and tap the bottom; if in doubt, turn it upside down and bake for a further 10 minutes. (If you’ve greased your bread pan well, this is easy to do.) Leave the loaf on a wire rack to cool.

Editor’s note: Because you are cooking this bread at a lower temperature than in the recipe above, the crust of the bread will be noticeably lighter.

Makes 1 loaf.

From “Avoca Café Cookbook” by Hugo Arnold with Leylie Hayes

 

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Carrot and Courgette Salad


Carrot and Courgette Salad

Never heard of a courgette? Don’t worry. It’s the French word for zucchini, and it’s used in several countries across Europe, where it is preferred to the Italian term.

This recipe comes from Ireland’s Avoca Cafe, where the emphasis is on freshness and full flavor. So, use organic carrots, young zucchini that are not fat with water. Also, use your food processor to grate both of them, and this salad comes together in minutes.

Do not overdress the salad. Instead, let it sit for 30 minutes before serving and stir it once or twice. You may find yourself adding a touch more salt when you serve it, just to give it added flavor.

Carrot and Courgette Salad

5 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
5 young zucchini, coarsely grated
A bunch of cilantro, chopped (reserve a sprig for garnish)
4 tablespoons French dressing (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon roasted pumpkin seeds or pepitas
1 scant teaspoon poppy seeds
Zest of 2 oranges, divided use
Juice of 1 orange
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Put the grated carrots and zucchini in a bowl and mix with the cilantro, dressing, seeds, most of the orange zest and orange juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let set 30 minutes for the flavors to come together, stirring once or twice.

Just before serving, garnish with the remaining orange zest and reserved sprig of cilantro.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Adapted from “Avoca Cafe Cookbook” by Hugo Arnold with Leylie Hayes

French Dressing

1 cup sunflower oil
1 cup olive oil
1 cup peanut oil
1 cup red wine vinegar
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons grainy mustard
2 scant teaspoons honey, or less, to taste

Place oils, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, mustard and honey in a bowl, and whisk until emulsified. This can be stored in a bottle and shake vigorously before using. It will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Makes about 2 1/4 cups.

Adapted from “Avoca Cafe Cookbook” by Hugo Arnold with Leylie Hayes

 

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Christmas Colors This Bright Broccoli, Feta, Hazelnut and Cherry Tomato Salad


Broccoli, Feta, Hazelnut and Cherry Tomato Salad

The red and green of this salad with flecks of white give it a Christmas feeling, but its the freshness of the flavors, from the saltiness of the cheese to the pungent garlic in the dressing make this a winner any time of year.

You might be surprised at how much of the dressing the broccoli absorbs. Though I used a little less than called for, there was no residue at the bottom of the bowl.

One change I would make when making this again: I would halve the tomatoes (I used grape), just so the fruit can also absorb some of that garlicky dressing.

Broccoli, Feta, Hazelnut and Cherry Tomato Salad

4 ounces hazelnuts
14 ounces bite-sized broccoli florets
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled or cut into bite-sized cubes
8 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
7 ounces French dressing (recipe follows)
Pepper, to taste

Toast the hazelnuts in a hot oven, then tip them into a tea towel and rub off the skins. Allow to cool, then put the hazelnuts in a owl with the broccoli, cheese and cherry tomatoes. Gently toss with three-quarters of the dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Salt may not be needed because feta is usually salted.) Determine if more dressing is needed.

Makes 4-6 servings.

From “Avoca Cafe Cookbook” by Hugo Arnold with Leylie Hayes

French Dressing

1 cup sunflower oil
1 cup olive oil
1 cup peanut oil
1 cup red wine vinegar
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons grainy mustard
2 scant teaspoons honey, or less, to taste

Place oils, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, mustard and honey in a bowl, and whisk until emulsified. This can be stored in a bottle and shake vigorously before using. It will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Makes about 2 1/4 cups.

Adapted from “Avoca Cafe Cookbook” by Hugo Arnold with Leylie Hayes

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Fresh Mint Enlivens This New Potato Salad


Potato and Mint Salad

“As classic as they come,” Hugo Arnold and Leylie Hayes write of this potato salad in “Avoca Cafe Cookbook.” “Buy the best potatoes you can and leave the rest to nature. And don’t skimp on the salt. This is not the time to be worrying about over-indulgence; reserve that for the next time you are tempted by a packet of crisps.” (Crisps are potato chips, for those who haven’t been to Ireland recently.)

Do not substitute bottled French dressing for the French dressing listed below.

Potato and Mint Salad

2 pounds small new potatoes
2 tablespoons French dressing (recipe follows)
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
A large bunch of mint, chopped
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

French dressing:
1 cup sunflower oil
1 cup olive oil
1 cup peanut oil
1 cup red wine vinegar
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons grainy mustard
2 generous teaspoons honey

Place the potatoes in a pan of salted water and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until tender, then drain and place in a bowl. Mix with the French dressing and leave to cool. Mix the mayonnaise, yogurt and mint together and pour over the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

To make the French dressing: Place the oils, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, mustard and honey in a jar and emulsify. This can be stored in a bottle and shaken vigorously before using. It will keep in the fridge for several weeks. (Modify the ingredients to your taste and what you have on hand.) Use it on any kind of salad.

Makes 4 salad servings.

From “The Avoca Cafe Cookbook” by Hugo Arnold with Leylie Hayes

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Mushrooms Add Earthy Richness to Soup


A food processor is a big help with chopping the onions and mushrooms to the fine point you want for this soup.

Mixed Mushroom Soup

1 ounce butter
1 pound onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 pounds mixed mushrooms, finely chopped (see note)
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
3 ounces flour
2 pints vegetable or mushroom stock
1 pint whole milk or fat-free half-and-half
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

In a large stockpot, melt the butter over a very low heat, add the onions and cook gently for 10 minutes or until translucent. Raise the heat, add the mushrooms and season well with salt and pepper. Cook for 3 minutes or until the juices start to run, then stir in the flour. Lower the heat and cook, stirring continuously, for about 8 minutes. Combine the stock and milk in a separate pan and bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Gradually add the stock and milk to the mushroom mixture, whisking to avoid lumps. Heat the soup at just below simmering point for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the thyme, check the seasoning and serve.

[amazon-product]095381520X[/amazon-product]Note: This recipe was tested with a mixture of button caps, brown mushrooms and portobellos. I stirred porcini powder, available at specialty supermarkets like Central Market, to enhance the place. I used thin slices of button cap as a garnish.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Adapted from “Avoca Café Cookbook” by Hugo Arnold with Leylie Hayes

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Griffin to Go: Meeting One Goal, Keeping Up With Another


Last summer I made a goal. After seeing the movie “Julie & Julia,” I told myself I was going to cook my way through an entire section of a cookbook. The book I chose was the “Avoca Café Cookbook,” a treasured volume I had picked up in Ireland a few years ago, and the section was on soup. (Click here.)

It took several months and not a lot of discipline on my part, but I’m happy to report that the last new soup has been made and consumed – and it was as good as the best of the lot.

I learned as much about making soup as I learned about one kitchen’s approach to this labor of love. Quite a few of the recipes begin with softening an onion in olive oil, which provides a natural sweetness. A good vegetarian stock is added later and magically, the flavors blend together, changing with each ingredient.

But most of all, the recipes were simple and straightforward, not fussy yet full of flavor. If this is what Ireland treasures, then it shares something wonderful in common with that other “I” country in Europe: Italy. The emphasis is on layering a few fresh ingredients in a manner in which they all complement each other, so you can enjoy the best that nature has to offer.

Recipe: Cauliflower Cheddar Soup

It could be something as comforting as cauliflower and cheddar or something as offbeat as parsnip, rosemary and olives.

Along the way, I revisited some old favorites, such as Courgette and Almond, just to make sure they were as good as I remembered. I also was forced to revisit a few vegetables, such as turnips, that I didn’t care for as a child and have largely avoided as an adult. (I still don’t care for them, but soft baby turnips have a more pleasant flavor than their rock-hard adult cousins.)

Some of the journey was frustrating. I had had a stand of lemongrass in the backyard, but the ugliest of winter freezes took care of that. So I had to buy fresh lemongrass from the market for the Sweet Potato and Lemongrass soup. (I also didn’t have time to visit an Asian market, so I probably paid twice the price for the stalks I needed.)

Recipe: Courgette and Almond Soup

Most of the recipes were vegetarian, a few were even vegan. The lone exception was a Tuscan Bean Soup that required bacon in it. And what an impact that bacon had on the final product! After the first taste of the meat boiled into the broth, I could understand why a few – not all, mind you – of my vegan friends will have the occasional piece of pork. I will remember the richness and depth of flavor it brought to the soup and use that in other ways.

I made the most of these soups during the worst of the winter, when I had a seasonal job. To save money, I would bring a jar of soup each day and pop it in the microwave. The aroma of Potato and Fennel Soup or Aztec Corn would fill the break room and often drew questions from co-workers who wanted to know where I’d bought it.

The last recipe in the section was Mixed Mushroom, which I made with button caps, brown mushrooms and portobellos. Rich and creamy, it was a fine end to a most tasty experiment.

Recipe: Aztec Corn Soup

Another goal I wrote about recently was planting a garden so I could enjoy some freshness from my own backyard.

I’m happy to report that the radishes, lettuces and arugula I planted survived the snow/sleet/slush that fell several days after planting. It’s almost time to thin some of the sprouts, which will make a great addition to a salad.

In the meantime, the potted tomatoes are thriving. I know some friends who have planted theirs in the ground already. I’m not quite ready to do that, but I do have them clustered in near the backdoor so they can get some light.

Recipe: Mixed Mushroom Soup

I also planted a pair of olive trees I picked up at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard. I planted the arbequina, which should survive our freak freezes and bear fruit in a few years. I would appreciate that. The loquat tree I planted eight years ago is only now ready to bear fruit, and I fear I lost some of this year’s potential harvest to the cold.

But that’s the nature of gardening, isn’t it? We never know what nature has in store for us, no matter the goals we set.

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