My Motto

May the muffin rise to greet you, may your friends be always at your door, and until we meet again, warm a single-malt in the palm of your hand and make something homemade for someone you love.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Baked Stuffed Poached Pears with Gorgonzola, Dried Cranberries and Pecans

"There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

This recipe is the marriage of two by Ina Garten.  I've always loved blue cheese, but the Mister has just in recent months developed a taste for it, freeing me to try things I've passed over for years.  For the previous 23 years he would only tolerate it if it hitched a ride on a buffalo wing.
These pears present so beautifully as a salad.   For a light luncheon, it would be as lovely as healthful.  I don't think I'd go through the trouble for an ordinary or weeknight meal though.  It would be easier just to toss a salad with chopped pear, cranberries nuts and blue cheese, but it gets aces for presentation and I would definitely recommend it as a company dish.

Baked Stuffed Poached Pears with Gorgonzola, Dried Cranberries and Pecans
Serves 4
Adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten

2 pears, either Bosc or Anjou
1/2 fresh lemon, juiced
1 1/2 cups white or port wine
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 whole star anise (optional)
1 lemon peel
1/2 cup Gorgonzola cheese
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup roughly chopped roasted pecans

1/2 cup poaching liquid
1/4 cup walnut or canola oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Toast  your pecans lightly at this time.  It shouldn't take more than 5 minutes.
Peel pears, coring seed area and leaving stems intact and slicing rounded "bottom" off so they won't roll around in the baking dish.  Place in a shallow baking dish just big enough to hold them.
Pour lemon juice all over the pears and coat all sides.  In a small bowl, mix cheese, berries and nuts. Stuff each of the 4 pear halves using all of this mixture.  In a small bowl, stir together the wine, sugar, star anise and lemon peel.  Pour this mixture over the pears.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Spoon or baste some of the poaching juices over the pears once during baking.

Remove from oven.  In a small bowl, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients.  Divide head of lettuce equally between 4 plates.  Place one stuffed pear on each and drizzle vinaigrette over.  Serve immediately.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Blueberry Pie with Wheat Crust...Health Food Disguised as Dessert

"A boy doesn't have to go to war to be a hero; he can say he doesn't like pie when he sees there isn't enough to go around."
~ E.W. Howe
The Mister wanted me to call this "Friggin Awesome Blueberry Pie" but I opted to tout it's healthful qualities instead.  Maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better since he and I polished it off by ourselves in 3 days.  And this was a big ten-inch pie.  In case you don't have a pie plate that big, at the end of the recipe I included the ingredient list for the more standard 9-inch plate.   If you are averse to the filling running, just refrigerate the pie.  The above photo was shot while it was still warm and juicy.  When cold, it holds it's shape very nicely without being gummy and the blueberries still burst with juice.  Between the antioxidant qualities of the berries and the enriched crust, this is a pie you don't have to feel guilty about.
I've been experimenting with adding more whole grain flours to my recipes and this one was no exception.  The resulting crust was really delicious.  The wheat pastry flour didn't weigh it was flaky and tender as always with a great flavor.  Remember your New Year's resolution to eat healthier?  Here you go.  Glad to help ;-)

Blueberry Pie with Wheat Crust
Makes one 10-inch pie

6 cups fresh blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter

Wheat Pastry Crust
for a 10-inch pie

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups wheat PASTRY flour
1 mounded tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup cold butter (or Crisco)
7-9 tablespoons ice water  (humidity and altitude affect how much water the dough will need to come together)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  See above ingredient list for Wheat Pastry Crust.  Mix flours, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  With a pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.  Sprinkle with ice water, one tablespoon at a time, while tossing the mixture up from the bottom of the bowl with a fork.  With your hands, gather the dough to form a ball; divide in half.  Sprinkle your working surface with flour.  Pat one of the halves into a disk.  Place on floured working surface and roll out with a floured rolling pin until it is at least 12 inches in diameter.  Line pie plate with dough, letting excess hang over edge.
Place second half of dough in the fridge.  In a large bowl, toss berries with flour, sugar and lemon juice.  Pour onto bottom crust.  Dot with butter.  Roll out second half of dough and cover the pie.  Using scissors, trim crusts together, just outside of rim of pie plate.  Turn under the edge and crimp it.  Cut four slits to vent steam.  Brush top with milk and sprinkle liberally with granulated sugar.  Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake for 25 - 35 minutes longer.  Makes one 10-inch pie.

Just in case you don't have a 10-inch pie plate, here is the ingredient list to make a 9-inch pie:

4 cups blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 heaping tablespoon flour
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter

Wheat Pastry Crust:
for a 9-inch pie

1 cup flour
1 cup wheat PASTRY flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cold butter (or Crisco)
5 - 6 tablespoons ice water

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Tip for Grilled Swordfish

"It has always been my private conviction that any man that puts his intelligence up against a fish and loses had it coming."
~John Steinbeck
This is just a suggestion, not a recipe.   Right now is a great time to find fresh swordfish.  If you're lucky enough to get your hands on some, try this before you grill it, to ensure it stays really moist and tasty.
Mix 1/3 cup mayonnaise with 3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Massage this on all sides of the swordfish fillets before you grill it.  My brother-in-law prepared it for us this way 20 years ago and now it's the only way we like it.  Thought it was worth sharing.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Old Fashioned Buttermilk Chocolate Cake

"All you need is love.  But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt."
~Charles M. Schulz
Last week while we were at the lake, I was craving this cake.  Keep in mind, I have at least 50 cookbooks, tons of food magazines and if you include access to the internet, the ability to find thousands of chocolate cake recipes.  But THIS is the one I go back to the most.  Beside the fact that it is impossibly moist and has that old fashioned dense crumb that cannot be duplicated by a box mix, it is just as easy,  requiring only a wooden spoon to whip it together.  

The recipe has a dual origin.  You see, one of my oldest and closest friends, Marlene, and my sister-in-law, Joy, share a grandmother.  They are cousins and grew up next door to each other (the world really is small and getting smaller).  This recipe is hers.  Gram Carlson's buttermilk chocolate cake.  I scribbled it down nearly 20 years ago and it's so used and stained now I can barely read it.
There's something about it.  So moist, yet not too rich.  Fluffy frosting that is not overly sweet.  Flavored lightly with cocoa, it has almost a mocha taste, reminding me of the chocolate frosting my own grandmother used to make.  Sometimes simple really is best, and a recipe that stands the test of time is worth noting.  This has been a family favorite for years.  Hope you get a chance to try it.  As for me, it was the first thing I baked when we got back from  the lake.  The craving wouldn't quit.  Consider yourself warned.

Gram Carlson's Buttermilk Chocolate Cake
One 13x9 inch cake

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) of butter
4 tablespoons cocoa (I use a rounded 1/4 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk 
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup water


4 tablespoons butter, softened
4 tablespoons Crisco (shortening)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup cocoa
1 box confectioner's sugar (10x sugar - 1 lb box)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 13 x 9 inch pan.  In a large mixing bowl, measure flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup water, 2 sticks of butter and 4 tablespoons of cocoa, just til butter melts.  Let cool slightly.  Add wet ingredients to dry, stirring together.  Whisk in 2 eggs, buttermilk and vanilla.  Pour into prepared pan.  Batter will be wet.  Bake for 30 mins.

For frosting:  In a large bowl, beat together butter, Crisco and vanilla.  A handheld electric mixture works best, but you could do it with a spoon.  Beat in cocoa, then powdered sugar.  Add two tablespoons milk, then beat in one tablespoon at a time until it reaches a nice spreading consistency where it will hold peaks. 
Spread onto completely cooled cake. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Best Gift Ever: My Blog Made into a Cookbook!

"A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
~Margaret Mead

The past couple of weeks have been quite eventful.  Please forgive my blog-neglect!  The prodigal son returned from Uganda.  We went to our annual vacation at the lake.  Same son got engaged.  Yes, you read correctly.  The young man popped the question.
It's a joyful and exciting time!

We had the pleasure of meeting the parents of the Bride-to-Be when they joined us at the lake for a few days and I was suprised when her mom presented me with one of the most thoughtful gifts I've ever received.
My blog made into a cookbook! 
This unexpected gift floored me and I LOVED it!  It is hardcover, includes the color photos from the blog and is organised into categories.   Tastebook, I learned, was the tool that helped make the task a little easier.  I wanted to share this with you because I'm certain many of you have family recipe collections you would probably love to organize in such a beautiful way.  I know how I felt when this was handed to me. My daughter immediately said "I want a copy!"  I've already used it a couple of times.  So much easier than having my laptop in the kitchen.  It's a useful treasure, but most of all I'll never forget the gesture of friendship and thoughtfulness with which it was compiled and given.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

One Dough - Two Ways: Rosemary Focaccia and Pizza Crust

"All sorrows are less with bread."
~Miguel de Cervantes (Spanish author 1547-1616)

Almost exactly a year ago when I started The Irish Mother,  this was my fourth post, back when I wasn't even including photos and only had about 3 followers.  This bread is such a treat I felt it was worth revisiting because I recently discovered I also like it better than my usual pizza dough!  The dough is tender and easy to pat out into a crust, whereas I used to have to wrestle with my previous pizza dough.  The dough is quick and easy and depending on the timing of your day can handle a second rising, but is just as good without it.  It is best served straight from the oven, with some seasoned olive oil for dipping.  I sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese and hot pepper flakes and minced garlic or garlic powder in a shallow bowl, then pour a little balsamic and olive oil over it.
Since there are generally only two or three of us eating dinner much of the time, I would make a half size focaccia,
This focaccia was made with half the dough
 then either pat the rest of the dough in a pan, cover it with oiled plastic wrap and store it in the fridge for tomorrow's focaccia, or put it in a covered oiled bowl in the fridge to use as pizza dough the next day.  You can take the dough out after 24 hours and it has risen perfectly, ready for baking another fresh focaccia or patting out into a thin pizza crust that will fill a cookie sheet.  In the interest of healthier eating, last week I tried switching out one cup of the flour for whole wheat flour.  The Mister and I both definitely agreed the focaccia with just white flour was better, BUT the wheat pizza crust was fantastic.  Next time I'll try making the bread with some wheat pastry flour and see how that goes.  On a hot day (and we've had plenty!) this bread, some dipping oil and a salad are all that's needed for a satisfying dinner.

Fresh Rosemary Focaccia Bread
(makes one 15x10x1 inch flatbread, two 10x6x1 inch breads or two 12-inch pizza crusts.)

1 2/3 cups warm water (no hotter than 115 degrees, or it will kill the yeast)
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
5 cups flour, plus additional for kneading
1/4 cup, plus 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt (or kosher salt)
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese 

Stir together warm water, yeast, and sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes, to proof the yeast.  If it doesn't foam, throw out and use a fresher packet of yeast, or make sure your water wasn't too hot. 

Add flour, 1/4 cup oil, and regular salt and beat with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to pull away from sides of bowl.

Put 1/4 cup of flour on your kneading surface (a cutting board or granite counter).  Make a circle of flour and dump the dough on it.  Sprinkle some more flour on dough.  Knead  for a few minutes.  Here's how, in case you never made bread before:  Just take the heel of your hand, push it into the dough, remove your hand and fold the dough in half.  Give the dough a quarter turn away from you and repeat.

Generously oil your baking sheet and press dough evenly into the pan.  Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise until double in bulk, about an hour.

Place oven rack in the middle position and preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Stir together rosemary and remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a small bowl.  Make shallow indentations all over the dough with the handle of the wooden spoon.  Brush the dough with the olive oil and rosemary mixture, using all of it (will pool in indentations).   Sprinkle sea salt and parmesan evenly over the dough.

Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.