Irish Soda Bread

It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day and while I am not an ounce Irish I still enjoy Irish Soda Bread as much as the next girl. I have never been one for the green beer and bagels or for the ridiculousness that occurs on this holiday but I do look forward to this yummy baked good every year.

I went to college in Boston – with the lovely ladies I talked about in this post I shared many delicious baked goods. On Newbury Street (a picturesque shopping destination) there is a restaurant called Stephanie’s on Newbury. This is the type of place that you would go when your parents were in town – because it is not exactly college student budget friendly. It’s a cozy restaurant and one of my favorite parts about dining there is the soda bread that you get in the bread basket. They also serve the recipe with the bread on a small card. I love when people openly share recipes – I am obviously a fan of sharing recipes as evidenced by this blog and always feel that my special recipes shouldn’t be kept secret but shared for anyone who wants to enjoy. I also strongly believe that when different people follow the same recipe the food is never the same.

I stashed this little recipe card a long time ago and have been happily enjoying this soda bread in March ever since. At Stephanie’s they serve the bread in little rolls which could easily be made instead of the loaf that I chose to make.

Before baking

Stephanie’s on Newbury Irish Soda Bread: (makes one loaf)

4 cups flour

1 stick butter (1/4 cup) – cold

3/4 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1 3/4 cups buttermilk

3/4 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

In a large bowl mix together the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it is crumbly and the consistency of cornmeal.

In a separate bowl whisk together buttermilk and egg. Add the wet ingredients to the dry until all of the liquid is incorporated but not smooth. Add the raisins into the dough and shape together into a loaf. Cut an x into the top of the loaf (or mini loaves) and bake on a baking sheet for 45-50 minutes.

Enjoy your soda bread and have a happy St. Patties Day!

Book Club Baking: Red Velvet Cake Balls

We weren't always all on the same page but we definitely agreed on cream cheese frosting

In college I had five awesome roommates – I can thank the freshman year housing lottery for some amazing bonds that remain incredibly strong today. We shared many things over our college years including clothes, books, and stories but most importantly we all shared a love of cream cheese frosting. If we were allowed we would have put it on anything! While digging through my inbox for today’s recipe I remembered the last time I shared my red velvet recipe and I stumbled across an e-mail chain with these girls from the weeks following our graduation that left me half crying and half laughing and mostly missing the dining room table in our apartment senior year (a place where lots of cream cheese frosting was consumed).

Fast forward to today and the reason that I was making red velvet cake balls in the first place – book club! It’s probably important to add that 4 out of 6 of the girls pictured above are book club members, the other two don’t reside in NYC otherwise they would be! Tonight book club is getting together to discuss our February book (we run a standard 1-2 weeks behind the rest of the world). In honor of Valentine’s Day our theme for the month was love and we read The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan. I felt it only fitting to provide some red velvet treats to fuel our love themed discussion, plus promising red velvet cake balls is a sure fire way to get the book club to show up regardless of whether they got around to reading the book this month.

The batter is supposed to be this red (and this is after adding the buttermilk and dry ingredients).

When I first shared this recipe with one of today’s featured girls I got a panicked phone call mid cake balomg that the batter was shockingly red – after much assuring that this was normal she continued baking but not before staining her hands (be careful the dye can take a while to come off!)

Red Velvet Cake Balls – cake recipe adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes

Cake Recipe:

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 tbsp Dutch process cocoa powder (I don’t usually say this but for this recipe I use the good stuff)

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp red gel dye (more if you are using liquid food coloring)

1 cup buttermilk

2 tsp white distilled vinegar

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees – prepare two 9 inch cake pans by spraying with cooking  oil.

In the bowl of an electric mixer beat together sugar and vegetable oil until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time mixing and scraping down the bowl in between additions. Add the food coloring and vanilla and mix together.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt in a bowl. Add the flour and buttermilk in alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture while the mixture is on low.

In a separate bowl mix together vinegar and baking soda and let foam. Add to the mixing bowl and mix into batter for 10 seconds. Pour batter into cake pans and bake in the oven 20-30 minutes until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting: 

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)

8 oz of room temperature cream cheese (important that it is soft)

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Cream together the cream cheese and butter than add the sugar and vanilla. If too soft add more sugar if too dry add cream cheese or butter dependent on flavor.

To create the cake balls combine two cups of frosting with crumbled cake in a big bowl. Make sure that the cake and frosting are completely combine then roll into balls. This recipe made a lot more cake balls than anticipated (about four dozen) I think next time I would consider halving the recipe but I tested freezing some of the cake/frosting mix- I will let you know if it works.

Let cake balls set for at least an hour on a cookie sheet in the freezer then dip into melted dipping chocolate or candy coating. Follow candy coating instructions dependent on the product that you use!

Enjoy and be careful these can be addicting!

NYC Vegetarian Festival

Walking into the festival - it was pretty busy so I didn't get the best pictures of the event

Yesterday I ventured to the NYC vegetarian festival to sample different vegetarian and vegan goods with a veggie friend of mine. About 15 years ago I gave up red meat and pork. I never really liked the taste of meat and I never looked back. I continue to eat chicken and turkey and I absolutely love fish. Given my diet I have always been curious about making vegetarian meals and incorporating protein into my diet to make sure I am fully replacing what I don’t eat.

My first experiences with tofu were as a camper at a sleep-away camp in Maine. The camp hippie run and the cook was amazing. At every meal there was a vegetarian and vegan option (not your typical salad bar option either real meals). I had never had the chance to eat tofu that was properly prepared and I gobbled it up. I looked forward to eating those vegetarian meals all year long and I can safely say I ate better than most sleep-away campers during the summer months. It was years before I started to make my own quality veggie meals and even longer before I started to make my own tofu that actually tasted good.

So when I heard the Vegetarian Festival was going to be in town this weekend I was excited! To add another level to my vegetable friendly diet, I developed lactose intolerance a couple of years ago and am always interested in learning about new dairy free products.

check out all that peanut butter - yum!

It was a lot of fun and I had some very tasty goodies – including my favorite treat of the day some vegan marshmallows. As someone who loves to bake I always find it interesting to see what substitutes are used to make cookies, brownies, etc vegan. My friend and I couldn’t help but find it strange that we didn’t see a vegetable the entire time we were there! There were a few tables that we didn’t make it to because of the lines like a smoothie station and vegan sushi bar, I would imagine they had some vegetables there. It seemed off to me that there weren’t more stands featuring fresh produce or resources to access these goods.

Do you have a favorite vegetarian meal or product?

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

As you know from this post I have a very chubby cat that eats pumpkin to curb her appetite. As a result I am left with a surplus of pumpkin! I baked with it, cooked with it and frankly am getting a little sick of the stuff. My lovely friend and Registered Dietician, Alex (check her out she is awesome) suggested I try incorporating pumpkin into my breakfast. I have been very happy with the results and I can only imagine that all the fiber in the pumpkin is doing its work to keep me feeling fuller longer as it is for my cat.

Like all delicious baked goods I love pumpkin pie. Of course I cannot eat it regularly because I would be as chubby as my kitty but this oatmeal has all the same flavors without the fat and sugar. Hope you enjoy (ps pumpkin is also great in greek or plain yogurt with spices too!)

This would also be a great time to note I love cows if you couldn't tell from the fine breakfast china!

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal:

1/4 cup Steel Cut Oats

1 cup water

1 tablespoon pumpkin

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

tiny pinch of ground cloves

(brown sugar or pure maple syrup if you like your oatmeal sweet)

I like to make my oatmeal the night before so its good and fluffy and cooks quickly the next morning. I start by boiling a cup of water and dropping the oatmeal in as soon as its boiling. Cover the pot and turn off the water immediately let the oats soak overnight.

In the morning turn the water on low heat and bring to a simmer. Let the oats simmer for about ten minutes until most of the water is evaporated (I usually let this happen while I am getting ready). Transfer to a bowl once the oatmeal is the consistency you like and add in the spices. I also like to add a sliced banana and some raisins to make my oatmeal a little heartier.

Baked Eggplant

pre-baking

Last week I made some ratatouille. I was inspired because while taking stock of my refrigerator I realized I had all the ingredients but the eggplant. When I went to the store to get the final necessity to make my dish all they had were massive eggplants. Even though I only needed half that was fine – when life give you eggplants what else can you do but make more things. This weekend as I was cleaning out the freezer I found a Tupperware full of tomato sauce. Clearly I did a total freezer overhaul this weekend. Not only did I discover the sauce, I used some bananas I found to make these muffins. This was all to make room for some new soup. Don’t worry too much the freezer is completely full once again. Left with half of a giant eggplant and a container of tomato sauce I decided baked eggplant it was. I didn’t really want to fry anything and I guess I was in the mood to get in touch with my Italian roots this week.

This dish was perfect for the grey weather we have been having. Its hearty and warm without being too heavy.

Baked Eggplant:

Thank you to Lidia’s Italy for the delicious recipe inspiration.

Half of a giant eggplant (sorry I am really bad about estimating pounds etc) I would equate this to one medium sized eggplant.

2 cups of chunky tomato sauce (my sauce has roasted red peppers in it which added flavor) if not you could add these to the dish

1/2 cup black olives chopped small

2 tablespoons fresh basil chopped

2/3 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Slice the eggplant into crosswise pieces about a 1/2 inch in width. My eggplant was already halved so I ended up with semi-circles instead of rounds this turned out to work better for overlapping in the baking dish anyway. Sweat the eggplant by salting both side of each pieces and placing in a colander in the sink. Weight down the eggplant by placing a bowl or plate of the vegetables and putting cans on top. Allow to drain for about 30-45 minutes then rinse and pat dry.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Stir together the olives tomato sauce and basil. In a square baking dish spread about 3/4 of a cup of sauce to cover the bottom. Layer half of the eggplant over the sauce – I had to overlap to get it all to fit. Spread about half of the remaining tomato sauce over the eggplant layer and then sprinkle half of the cheese over the sauce. Repeat this process to create the second layer.

Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil – arch the tin foil if necessary so that it does not touch the cheese. Bake for 45 minutes then uncover and continue baking for an additional 10-15 minutes. The sauce and cheese should be bubbly and golden brown on top. Let the eggplant rest for 20 minutes out of the oven then serve. This dish was very tasty warm but reheated well too.

Pasta Fagioli

As I mentioned yesterday, I spent Sunday in the kitchen getting ready for a crazy week. My school’s location does not offer much in the way of lunch options so I am forced to plan ahead. Between some evening events at work and early morning workouts it is not rare for me to pack a full three meals worth of food into my handy lunch bag. My sister think’s it is completely dorky that I carry this around with me but my lunch bag is crucial and I don’t care what she says I love it. This brand also seems to be a favorite among the teachers, when you look into the faculty room fridge my bag is never lonely.

My office is quite chilly so my favorite make ahead lunch is without a question soup. Its a great way to warm up midday and it holds really well in transit. I make big batches of soup every couple of weekends throughout the winter and freeze them into smaller portions for lunch. I try and make a few different soups at a time so I don’t have to eat the same thing all week long and keep a nice rotation going. Today I worked some Pasta Fagioli into the mix. Yum! I will be staying nice and warm today with my soup hope you are enjoying your lunch too.

Pasta Fagioli Soup:

Adapted from Rachel Ray

2 tbspn olive oil

1 tsp dried rosemary

1 tsp dried thyme

2 dried bayleaves

1 medium onion chopped

1 medium carrot chopped

2 small ribs of celery, chopped

4 cloves of garlic

salt and pepper to taste

1 (16 oz) can cannelini beans

1 (16 oz) can red kidney beans

1 cup canned crushed tomatoes

2 cups water

1 quart chicken stock

1 1/2 cups pasta (ditalini or whatever you have in the cabinet today it was bowties)

Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened then add the carrots, celery, herbs and garlic and continue to cook for another five minutes or so. Add salt, pepper, the beans, tomato sauce, water and stock. Allow the soup to come to simmer for 15 minutes or so. Bring the soup to a boil and then add the pasta, cook until al dente – timing dependent on the pasta. This soup in my opinion is better the next day after the flavors have a had a chance to mix and it freezes great!

Sunday Baking: Banana Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins

A while back I talked about what happens when I fail to cook in advance of a busy week. Today I got ahead of the game and spent my Sunday in the kitchen cooking up a storm – more on this later in the week! While I was making room in my freezer for the newly cooked goods I came across some frozen bananas. Baking bananas in every form is one of my absolute favorite activities. The first recipe I ever created was my BaNina Bread and anyone who has known me for longer than a week has probably been treated to this delight. I could make it with my eyes closed and with one hand tied behind my back – and it still would come out great. I promise I will post this recipe in the near future but today I was in the mood for something different.

Given the joy that over ripe bananas bring to me and my electric mixer I have trained my friends and family well. They all know when bananas start to go bad you don’t toss them you put them in the freezer. I then find them on days like today and spend time baking them up into goodies. While banana bread is awesome (and apparently I missed Banana Bread Day this week) I wanted something a little more on the go, and a little less sweet for this week. I often go to the gym early in the morning before work and then bring my breakfast and coffee to enjoy at my desk post workout. These little treats make those moments all the more fun – and I of course share with co-workers.

Delicious! Do you taste your batter before baking? I always do.

Mini Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Makes 3-4 dozen mini muffins

1/2 cup of butter

1 cup of sugar

1 egg

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

3 ripe bananas

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Prepare a mini muffin pan by greasing the pan or placing in tin liners.

With an electric mixer cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy beat in the egg until fully combined.

In a separate bowl place the bananas and the vanilla they should be ripe enough that you can mash them with a fork. Add this mixture to the mixer and stir together until combined.

In a third bowl mix together the dry ingredients and stir into the batter. Add the chocolate chips and stir until combined. Drop about a tablespoon full into each muffin cup (each cup should be about two thirds full).

Bake 10-15 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Turn the rack halfway through cooking since they are mini muffins they will cook at different speeds in the front and back of the oven. These could easily be made into full sized muffins just adjust the cooking time (and you may need to adjust the temperature to 350 degrees).

Happy Margarita Day

So I have been informed that today is National Margarita Day..I have also discovered there is an entire website devoted to this holiday featuring a video with a muppet. Does life get any better? This website has officially combined three of my favorite things: margaritas, the muppets and guacamole (because it isn’t a margarita if you don’t have it with some guac). Add some chocolate and you would definitely have an award winning combo.

So of course I decided this special day should be honored, with some recipes. Everyone has a specific way they prefer their margaritas. When it comes to this delicious drink, I am a purist. I prefer the traditional (not flavored) on the rocks with salt. If it isn’t done this way it’s not a margarita in my book. I also don’t like my drinks sweet and they have to be strong! Strangely a shot of tequilla was the first alcohol I ever had – it was and still is a family favorite. While I may not be able to handle shots of tequila the same way I definitely enjoy Margarita Monday or margaritas on any day of the week!

Margarita’s My Way: makes a shaker full – perfect for sharing with friends

Shake together one cup of tequila (the good stuff not the cheap liquor or you are just asking for the hangover),  one cup of lime juice, one quarter cup cointreau (triple sec if you don’t have cointreau).

Use a slice of lime to moisten the rim of your glass before dipping it into salt on a plate.

Guacamole: since you can’t have a margarita without guacamole

I credit this recipe to the Barefoot Contessa one of my favorite go-to’s for basics

4 ripe avocados

1 small red onion (chopped)

1 garlic clove minced

1 plum tomato (seeded and chopped)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

a few dashes of tabasco

Chop the onion and put it into a small bowl with the garlic. Cut the avocados in half and scoop the insides into the bowl. Immediately add the lemon juice, this will help stop the avocados from turning brown. Using a sharp knife slice the avocados in the bowl. Keep running the knife through the avocados until they are the consistency you like. I prefer my guacamole a little chunky. Add the tomatoes, hot sauce, salt and pepper and enjoy!

Happy Margarita day I hereby declare tomorrow National Hangover Day!

Fat Cat Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Meet Twizz - it is no surprise that her favorite activity is sleeping

I have a very fat cat. Twizz has been on a diet now for about a year and has lost 1 pound! This may not sound like an accomplishment but I guess its like the human version of losing 10 pounds. Recently she started howling in the middle of the night. Worried that she was hurt or something was wrong I hauled her to the vet (not an easy task). Turns out there was nothing wrong, she just doesn’t like her diet and is using the time between midnight and 2am to express her disgust with diet foods. While I don’t entirely blame her, I would get pretty bored if I had to eat the same bland low carb mush every day, I am beginning to understand what it must be like to have a child who won’t sleep through the night. The vet armed me with different techniques to try and determined to sleep through the night without having an 18 pound cat stand on my chest and cry, I am ready to try them all!

I bet by now you are wondering what all of this has to do with pumpkin cookies. One of the vet’s suggestions was to feed Twizz one teaspoon of pumpkin before bed at night. Apparently pumpkin is very high in fiber and a teaspoon is supposed to keep her feeling nice and full. Well after a few days of doling out a teaspoon of pumpkin at a time, I began to crave some pumpkin myself. I also began to wonder how long pumpkin lasts in the fridge (when you are only using a teaspoon a day it take a really long time to go through a can). So began my pumpkin baking adventure. Hope you enjoy my pumpkin cookies! I also don’t know if cookies is the right term for these they are very cakey and are a cross between cookies and mini muffins!

At least now I have a treat to eat when I am up feeding the cat in the middle of the night (and don’t be surprised if you see more pumpkin themed posts in the coming weeks.)

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

(makes about 3 dozen cookies)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter – room temperature

2 eggs

2 tsps vanilla

1 cup pumpkin

2 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp cinammon

1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (or chunks)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Using an electric mixer cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time blending in between. Then add the pumpkin and vanilla.

In a separate bowl mix together dry ingredients. Add to to wet ingredients and mix together by hand until blended. Add the chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoon onto a greased cookie sheet. Cook for 8-10 minutes until set, cool on a wire rack.

"More pumpkin please"

Veggie Pasta with Toasted Breadcrumbs

I have been on cooking hiatus for the past few days. Usually when I know I am going to have a busy week I try to cook a bunch of things ahead of time and use my freezer. Due to a debacle with some questionable ground turkey (and a little too much Karaoke on Saturday night) I failed to spend Sunday afternoon making the chili that was supposed to hold me over for the week. So fast forward a few days to this afternoon – I knew I would have enough time to stop at the store on the way home and pick up ingredients and then spend a little time getting reacquainted with my stove. Having lived on the dregs of my fridge for the past few days cobbling together meals from leftovers I wanted something a little heartier tonight and something that would make good leftovers tomorrow.

I took to the web and was intrigued by this pasta toasted breadcrumbs sounded delicious! I made some adjustments for veggie preferences and what was available at the grocery store on the way home and subbed out some of the ingredients for whole grains and was very pleased with the results! The best part about this meal is the whole thing took less than half an hour, after a long week that was a major perk (and yes I realize it’s only Wednesday but one more work day for me this week and then a nice long weekend!)

Veggie Pasta with Toasted Breadcrumbs

Inspired by Big Girls Small Kitchen

Extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

Red pepper flakes

1/2 onion chopped into slivers

1 medium zucchini sliced into discs then quartered

1/3 pound bowtie pasta (I use Barilla Plus its great for those not ready to make the jump to whole wheat but want a little more out of their pasta-its great for those who don’t believe in whole wheat pasta too)

1/2 bag fresh spinach (2-3 handfuls)

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 tsp of thyme

sundried tomatoes

grated parmesan cheese

Start a pot of salted water with olive oil for the pasta. Cook according to directions on the box.

In a frying pan on medium-high heat a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the breadcrumbs and red pepper flakes. My breadcrumbs were already seasoned but if yours aren’t you might want to add some oregano and salt. Coat the breadcrumbs and stir in the pan for about two minutes until crispy.

Transfer the breadcrumbs to a plate in the same pan heat another tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onions and cook for 2-3 minutes then add the zucchini. After onions are translucent and the zucchini has begin to soften a bit add the garlic and cook until browned then add the spinach. Continue cooking until the spinach becomes soft.

Once pasta is cooked, drain and reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the vegetable mixture coat stir together the pasta, vegetables, thyme and lemon juice. Add enough of the reserved water until the pasta is moist to the proper consistency.

Serve garnished with breadcrumbs, chopped sundried tomatoes and paremsan cheese.

On a completely unfood related note – happy birthday to my awesome Dad!