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.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Favorite Fall-Apart Tender, Slow-Roast Pork and Cole Slaw

"Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, than so is the ballet."
~Julia Child
I've made this a few times, using differing methods, but this is my favorite, by miles.  Many people make pulled pork in the crock pot with a bottle of barbeque sauce, and I like it (you can hardly ruin pulled pork!), but I LOVE this particular preparation.  I first had it this way at a restaurant in Tampa, Florida called Marlin Darlin's.  After that experience I only ever wanted my pulled pork done in the oven so you get those dark ends.  Slow cooking the rubbed roast in the oven allows for an amazing crust to form.    That's my favorite part and it cannot be duplicated in a crock pot. You may think it would dry it out, but in my experience, it hasn't at all.  You can FINISH it in the crock pot, or heat up the leftovers in there with some extra barbecue sauce, but starting it in the oven is imperative to creating that wonderful dark, spicy, crust.  This is great served on a bun with cole slaw and pickles, or plated with a side of Cuban black beans and Sriracha sauce on the side, JUST like I had it at Marlin Darlin's.  Ah, I love recreating a memorable meal at home!

The barbecue sauce was originally from my sister-in-law, Noreen.  Given to me many years ago, it has become the most beloved home-made barbecue sauce of our family.  Over the years I've tweaked it here and there, but minimally, and the taste is true to the original.

The cole slaw recipe is from my mother and is the one I grew up on.  The Mister and I are addicted to it and make it at least once a week, often topping a plate-full with a piece of fish for a low-carb meal.  It keeps great for 3 days.

My Favorite Fall-Apart Tender, Slow-Roast Pork and Cole Slaw
Serves 6-8
An Irish Mother original recipe

Dry Rub:
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons sea salt
1 4-5 pound pork shoulder

My Favorite Barbecue Sauce:
2/3 cup vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoons onion powder
1/4 cup butter
1  cup ketchup
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
dash cayenne pepper

Cole Slaw: 
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon celery seed

4 cups shredded cabbage (I cut by hand)
3/4 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup sliced green onion (or diced red onion)
1/2 cup diced green pepper

It is best to apply the rub the night before and let the roast sit (refrigerated) overnight, but it will still come out good if you apply it up to one hour before you cook it.

In a small bowl, stir together all rub ingredients.  
Apply rub very liberally all over roast, massaging in as much of it as you can.  
Allow roast to come to room temperature for a half hour.  Place on a roasting pan and bake in a 300 degree (F) oven for about 7 hours, basting occasionally, until it is fall-apart tender (usually when it reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees.)

NOTE:  At this point you have a lot of leeway.  I have started it in the morning in the oven for 6 hours to form a crust and then transferred it to a crock-pot with a small amount (about one-fourth) of the barbecue sauce to keep it warm until dinner time (even for several hours).  You could also choose to slow roast it at 275 degrees overnight, pull it, store it and heat it up later when you get home from work.  It's very versatile and you can easily adapt the recipe to what works for your lifestyle.  Gotta love that!

While the pork is roasting, make the barbecue sauce:
In a medium saucepan, combine the listed ingredients and bring to a simmer, stirring now and then for about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the cole slaw dressing ingredients, cover and refrigerate so the flavors can marry for at least an hour.

When the pork is done, transfer to a platter, cover with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes.  While the pork is still warm, you need to "pull" the meat.  
Using two forks, pull hunks of meat off the roast and shred them with the forks, discarding fat and bones.   Put the shredded pork into a crockpot, pour half of the barbecue sauce over, stir together and keep warm on a low setting until you're ready for dinner. 

To make cole slaw:
In a large bowl, mix together the shredded green cabbage, carrot, onion and pepper.  Toss with the dressing you made earlier.

Serve the pulled pork on a sturdy bun with cole slaw on top, or on the side.  Hope you enjoy this as much as we do!!!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Shaved Asparagus and White Bean Salad

"Keep bees and grow asparagus, watch the tides and and listen to the wind instead of the politicians.  Make up your own stories and believe them if you want to live the good life."
~Miriam Waddington
Driving Home: Poems New and Selected; Advice to the Young

This is the first recipe I'm sharing originally found on Pinterest.  It was linked to Clean Eating and you can check it out there.   It looked so fresh and inviting.  Apologies for the impromptu photo that does not do it justice!   The lighting is less than ideal, and I completely forgot to add the toasted walnuts, but you know how it goes when you're in the middle of hosting a party!  It was a side dish for Easter dinner yesterday and everyone enjoyed it.

Despite that, I have mixed feelings about sharing this recipe.  It was pretty.  It was healthful.  Everyone liked it.  But it was also a bit persnickety, and I see more than a few pitfalls that any given reader may come up against if they decide to try it.   If I post a recipe here, it's because I got excited about it and want to share it to be easily duplicated in your home for the enjoyment of you and YOUR family.  That said, YES, we loved this and will make it again!  BUT, be duly warned, shaving asparagus is a fussy business.  

On the one hand, you can make this salad 4-6 hours ahead (and it doesn't suffer at all), which is fantastically convenient for company dinners.  The recipe needs 2 full pounds of asparagus.  There is quite a bit of waste amounting to about 50% (I hate that).  You can turn these scraps into asparagus soup if you like (but I don't).  Choose young, medium stalks.  The tiny stalks will break, and the big fat ones will be woody on the outside.  The medium ones will render about 4 shavings per.  NEXT, you must have a sharp peeler.  I have two.  An old one that I love for peeling potatoes that is easy to use and makes thick peels, and a newer, sharper one that makes paper thin peels, but sometimes clogs.  The old peeler was useless. The stalks basically broke at almost every attempt.  The sharp one worked  beautifully, but I had to stop and unclog it occasionally.  I'm just putting it all out there for you because I don't want anyone to get frustrated and start cursing me!!

The recipe called for lemon and orange juices, olive oil, salt and pepper.  I prepared the shavings early and tossed them with this, so the citrus would help preserve the fresh bright green color of the asparagus.  Before I served it though, I made a small amount of vinaigrette to toss it with and everyone liked that.  Orange zest was called for, but not my preference, so I used a shredded carrot to give the pop of orange color.  
I'll give you the recipe the way it worked for me, but you can access the original by clicking the link above!

Shaved Asparagus and White Bean Salad
A recipe by Clean Eating
Serves 6-8

2 bunches fresh, young, medium asparagus stalks (about 2 pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup slivered fresh basil (cut and added at last minute)
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Dressing that I added:
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced

Lay asparagus on a cutting board and hold at thick end.  Using a sharp vegetable peeler, shave asparagus from thick to thin end, right thru floret, making long ribbons.
Place ribbons in a large bowl and discard ends (there will be about a pound of waste).
Drizzle one tablespoon olive oil, the lemon and orange juices over, and toss to coat.  At this point, you may store the asparagus covered, in the fridge for  4-6 hours.  Add beans, onions, carrot, basil and nuts at the last minute.

Whisk vinaigrette ingredients together, pour over all and toss together.  Withhold a few nuts and cheese shavings to sprinkle over plated salad.  Enjoy!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Spring Onion Tart with Puff Pastry Crust

"We would load up the yellow Cutlass Supreme station wagon and pick blackberries during blackberry season, or spring onions during spring onion season.  For us, food was part of the fabric of our day."
~Mario Batali

Sharing recipes that cause excitement around here is the reason I started this blog. You might be thinking, "spring onion tart - ho hum." Not so fast.  This is something I've thought about and been meaning to try for years.  When I served it to The Mister last night, after taking a bite, he exclaimed (with his mouth half-full, btw) "I am the luckiest man alive!"  (He is so much fun to cook for.) High praise for the humble onion tart.  It's just one of those things.  Sometimes simple is best.  

The smell of the onions slowly cooking with fresh thyme....oh really primes the appetite.  Even if you're not a fan of raw onion, you might like this.  The slow cooking takes the bite out and leaves you a creamy, savory filling.   It's good warm or at room temperature, and although we had it as part of a light dinner served with soup and salad, you could shape it as a rectangle on a cookie sheet, cut the tart into small squares and it would make a nice appetizer that would be elegant dressed up with a pinch of microgreens on each square.  I'm considering this for Easter.

I've seen enough onion tarts over the years to know the basic fillings and variations.  For mine, I started with 1/4 of  my favorite Fanny Farmer base quiche binder, and then added the spring onion filling. The puff pastry was a no-brainer for it's ease of preparation and the crispy, buttery results.  
Cooks notes: Pre-baking of the crust is important, so that it's crispy.  That really makes it. If you skip that step the bottom will be soggy and it may become misshapen as it bakes.  Take care to cook the onions very slowly on low.  You're goal is not to brown them, but to soften and very slightly caramelize them.  Adding the garlic at the very end is important because you just want to warm it up and bring out the fragrance.  If it browns it will be bitter.  Fresh thyme is best, but if you have to use dried, use very little, just a pinch, because the dried is much stronger and you don't want it to overpower.

Spring Onion Tart with Puff Pastry Crust
Serves 4

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed (I prefer Pepperidge Farm)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced (Vidalia are best, but white is fine)
2 bunches spring onions (scallions) about 12-14
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 egg
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese (good stuff, not pre-shredded, bagged)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter tart pan.  Roll thawed sheet of  puff pastry to stretch it a bit to fit your tart pan, if necessary.  Pinch pastry up the sides of pan.  Cut away any pasty that overhangs.  Poke bottom of crust with a fork.  Cut a piece of foil or parchment paper that is bigger than your pan.   Lay this over the puff pastry crust, allowing plenty of overhang.   Fill with baking weights, dried beans or rice to weigh it down.  Bake for 25-30 mins.  Remove weights and cool.

Cut root end of scallions off, then slice from the white end, about 2/3 a way up the green part.  Discard the last 1/3 of the green part.  Set aside half of the greenest part of the sliced scallions.  The rest, place with your sliced onions.

In a large preferably nonstick saucepan, melt butter together with the olive oil on low-medium heat.  Add the sliced onions and scallions (except for the green ones you set aside).  Add salt, pepper and thyme.  Allow them to come to a very low simmer, stirring occasionally, and cook for about 15-20 minutes until they are very soft, and even slightly caramelized, but not browned.  Add garlic and cook for about 3 minutes more, stirring.  Set aside until mostly cooled off.  

In a medium bowl, whisk egg, stir in cream and shredded Swiss cheese.  Stir in the cooled cooked onion mixture and pour into the cooled crust, spreading evenly.  Sprinkle the reserved green part of the scallions evenly over the filling and press them down lightly.  Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the filling.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until filling is set and golden.  Cool for 5 minutes.  Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Spinach Fettucine with Avocado Pesto

"As long as there's pasta and Chinese food in the world, I'm ok."
~Michael Chang
Soooo, I had a lonely old avocado a few weeks ago. Seriously hating to waste anything,  my thoughts began turning of something to do with it OTHER than make guacamole (as much as I love guac).  Then I recalled seeing an avocado pasta sauce on the blog "One Perfect Bite."  This was my inspiration.  Mary's avocado sauce is different, so head over there and check it out.  I decided to make the base of my favorite basil-almond pesto, loosen it with hot pasta water and whir in the avocado and Parmesan at the last minute before tossing with the hot pasta.  

 The dish leaves you feeling like you just had something rich and sinful, when in actuality it is a darn good and healthy meal.  Did you know that avocados provide nearly 20 essential nutrients, including potassium, B-vitamins, vitamin E, folic acid, and fiber?  Avocado  only has 100 calories per 1/4 cup, compared to 408 of the same amount of butter, but it gives the dish that same rich creamy texture that butter would, giving the sauce a really luxurious, silky feel to the palate.  I kept the sauce pretty sturdy and used it liberally, so it clings thickly to the pasta.   For success, you need to use a nice ripe avocado that, when cut, looks like the one above.  Choose one with dark flesh that gives a little when you press with your fingers.

Cooks notes:  Be sure to measure and set aside the hot pasta water before you drain the pasta.  I like to take it about 2 minutes before the pasta is done so the sauce can be hot and finished and ready to toss with the pasta immediately after it is strained.  Adding the Parmesan with avocado at the last moment is important so the cheese does not melt and clump.  I used a food processor to make this, but it can be done in a blender, if necessary.

Spinach Fettuccine with Avocado Pesto
Serves 4

1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds, lightly browned
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 ripe avocado
1 cup boiling hot pasta cooking water
1 pound spinach fettuccine
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, start water for pasta.  In the meantime, make the pesto.  Pulse the first three ingredients in a food processor until combined.  With processor on, slowly add olive oil.  About two minutes before you need to drain the pasta, remove one cup of the boiling water.  Turn processor on and slowly add 1/2 of the reserved pasta water.  Add Parmesan and avocado and process until smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add as much of the remaining pasta water as you need to loosen up the sauce enough.   It should be thick enough to loosely mound.
Drain pasta.  Do not rinse, and toss it immediately with the sauce.
Serve immediately with additional Parmesan for sprinkling.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Smoked Mozzarella Fonduta

"A corpse is meat gone bad.  Well and what's cheese?  Corpse of milk."
~James Joyce
Hi Friends!  Did you think I died?  Yes, I've been away for a few weeks.  Had a nice visiting trip to Florida with the Mister; was then exhausted from said trip and had trouble getting back into the groove (I know, I know - BOO HOO).  Thanks for not abandoning me!  I have a great recipe for you, and I mean GREAT! It was a hit with everyone that tasted it.  No surprise though, who doesn't like ooey-gooey cheese?  It's super-easy, is done in 15 minutes, and you are going to LOVE IT!
This gem was discovered at last May.  Posted there by Stefanie Wilson from Trenton GA, it is a knock-off of the popular Olive Garden appetizer.  I changed a couple of things.  The recipe says to serve it with 1/4 slices of Italian bread that have been crisped in the oven.  You can do this if you like, but I made garlic bread by slicing ciabatta rolls in half, spreading them lightly with homemade garlic butter, and grilling them lightly in a medium-hot skillet (YUM).  I also added fresh basil to the recipe and substituted it for the parsley garnish as well, and we all really loved it. Using fresh herbs is key as they come through brightly without overpowering the subtle smokiness of the cheese.
My girl :-)
Instead of serving it as an appetizer, I cut the recipe in half, spread it in four small ramekins and served it as part of a light meal with a chicken and broccoli slaw salad.  Unorthodox, I know, but decidedly fantastic and surprisingly light.  We'll be doing this again SOON.  Like next week.
Added to Justapinch by Stefanie Wilson
Serves 8

1 pkg Italian bread, sliced into 1/4 slices
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon [fresh thyme], chopped
[1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped]
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups shredded smoked mozzarella or smoked provolone
3 cups shredded mozzarella (NOT smoked and not low-fat)
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
3 tablespoons grated Romano (I used twice as much Parm, since I didn't have Romano)
1 small tomato, diced
[extra fresh basil, chopped]
NOTE: this recipe calls for one of the two main cheeses to be smoked and one to be regular.

1.Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Arrange sliced Italian bread flat on a baking sheet and cover with foil.  Set aside.

2. Combine sour cream, thyme, basil, red pepper, cayenne pepper and cheeses in a large , bowl and blend thoroughly.  If serving family style, spray an 8x10 inch casserole dish with Pam, then use a spatula to transfer the mixture.  For individual servings, spray eight individual heat-resistant serving bowls, such as ramekins or custard cups with Pam and fill each with 1/2 cup of mixture.  Spread cheese mixture to create an even surface.

3.  Place individual bowls on a baking sheet.  Place in oven at center position.  After five minutes, place baking sheet, still covered, on top rack in oven.  Bake for an additional 7 minutes.  Remove bread and fonduta from oven, and garnish with diced tomatoes and basil.  Arrange bread slices around bowl and serve immediately.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Levain Bakery Inspired Chocolate-Chocolate Mint Cookies

"Don't wreck a sublime chocolate experience by feeling guilty."
~Lora Brody
For years I could not remember the name of the bakery these cookies came from.  We referred to them as those "big, fat cookies."  Anyone who's had them knows what I'm talking about; the absurdly large, mounded cookies from Levain Bakery in NYC.  If you want to blow someone's doors off, then have some shipped for a special occasion.  They are pricey, but worth it....remember, they are BIG cookies, so 6-8 cookies go WAY further than you would imagine.
The Mister's cousin used to reside in the Big Apple and would bring a box of these to the annual get-together at his maternal grandmother's lakeside cottage.  These are no ordinary cookies.  They're slightly cakey, indulgent and amazing.  Must be, if I'm still thinking about them and it's probably been at least 5 years since I've had one!  When that bakery box was opened at the picnic, we swarmed at it like bees on honey.  Most of us could not finish a whole cookie.  Instead, we broke them up and shared pieces and flavors in-between moans.
I found basically the same recipe at the blogs Annie's Eats and Love From the Oven.  When I mentioned to my daughter that I was going to make these, she emphatically suggested that I chop up and use Ande's Candies instead of chocolate chips. 
Thank you Audrey!  That really put them over the top.  The Mister declared them "the best chocolate cookies, EVER!"   Audrey gave me the "OMG these are too good" look (she and I don't always need to speak to communicate, haha.)  Reactions like that make cooking for them really fun!
If you're not into mint, feel free to use semi-sweet chocolate chips instead, like the originals.  While I was making these I had already left the butter out to soften, out of habit.  The recipe calls for cold butter, but I started with creamed softened butter and they came out great.  I used a 1/3 cup measure as a scoop and preferred them "free form" rather than molded like a patty.  Have a great couple weeks and enjoy St. Patrick's Day, folks.  Doubtful I'll get another post up before then as we're heading to Florida to do a little visiting and a lot of eating and lollygagging around (my two favorite sports.)  Cheers!
Levain Bakery Inspired Chocolate-Chocolate Mint Cookies
Makes 12 big fat cookies :)

1 cup (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cubed
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (or chopped Ande's Candies)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar.  Beat together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Blend in the eggs one at a time, scraping down bowl as needed.  Blend in the cocoa powder.  Measure flour into a medium sized bowl.  Add the salt and baking powder and stir until combined.  Add to other ingredients in electric mixing bowl and beat until thoroughly combined.  Be sure to get to the very bottom of the bowl.  Beat in chocolate chips (or Ande's Candies.)  Batter will be very stiff.

Using a 1/3 cup measure scoop rounded blobs of dough onto cookie sheets, spacing 2 inches apart.  I got exactly 12 cookie and baked 6 on each cookie sheet.  Bake about 14-15 minutes.  Less if you make them smaller.  They should look slightly underdone when removed from the oven.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dublin Coddle

"Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy."
~William Butler Yeats

I love the name of this dish.  It sounds like a snuggle with an Irish hunk, like that guy from P.S., I Love You; Gerard something-or-other.
Yah, him
I did some research and the recipe I came up with is a conglomerate of suggestions and tweaks, but was closest to one found on, even though the author lifted the description word for word from a European Cuisines post.  
Coddle is traditionally associated with Dublin and dates back at least to the eighteenth century.  It was apparently a favorite of Jonathan Swift, Sean O'Casey and is mentioned in the works of James Joyce.  Considered comfort food and a convenience dish, it is also inexpensive, easy to make, and can be left on a low stove or warming in the oven for a quite a while without suffering too much.  Sounds like the precurser to crock-pot cooking!  
It is important to use the very best pork sausage you can get your hands on.  It was suggested that good American breakfast sausage could be used, but I opted for my favorite local pork sausage, Orsini's Sweet Fennel Garlic Italian sausage.  I used hard sparkling cider (Cortland apple) from a local orchard.  The bottle has been in the fridge since the fall and this was a great excuse to pop the cork!
While researching the recipe, I noticed a remark left by a reader  suggested to add a packet of chicken noodle soup mix,  that in addition to the flavor it adds,  the noodles would help thicken the broth.  That made sense to me and since I had some handy, I tossed it in there.  Maybe not eighteenth century authentic, but we all agreed we liked the dish that way.  The broth did in fact thicken up and it plated nicely.  We loved it and I see plenty of Dublin Coddle in our future.  After all, it starts with bacon and ends with hard cider - what's not to love?  Sláinte!

Sources: A Little Irish Cookbook, Appletree, 1986
Wikipedia and European Cuisines websites.

Dublin Coddle
Adapted from a recipe on
Serves 4

1/2 pound bacon
1 pound good quality pork sausage (I used sweet Italian sausage)
2 large onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
4 large potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1 packet Lipton chicken noodle soup mix 
1 small bunch fresh herbs, tied together with string (I used thyme and parsley)
Black pepper
1 bottle hard cider (some for the pot, some for you)
Fresh parsley for garnish
Special equipment:  I large heavy pot with a tight fitting lid

Brown bacon until crisp.  Place in cooking pot.  Brown sausages in bacon fat.  Add to cooking pot.  Sprinkle packet of soup mix over meats.  Add two cups water.  Soften sliced onions in the bacon fat and a minute or two before they're done, add the garlic and stir around.  Add to cooking pot layering carrots next and then  potatoes.  Add the bundle of herbs and push down into the middle.  Add hard cider just to reach the potatoes (should only be another cup or two).  Sprinkle potatoes with freshly ground black pepper. Cover tightly and bring JUST to a simmer then turn heat down.  It should not boil.  Cook on low like this for 2-3 hours.  Half an hour before you want to eat, check and make sure the carrots are done.  If they aren't, raise the heat a bit until they are cooked through.  By now, broth should have thickened enough that you can serve this on a plate.  Taste broth right before serving and add salt or pepper, if needed.  Great served with Irish soda bread or spotted dog.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lime Mousse Cake (No-Bake)

"Have it jest as you've a mind to, but I've proved it time on time; if you want to change her nature, you have got to give her lime."
~Rudyard Kipling
This was our dessert of choice for Valentine's Day.  Traditionally, I would make chocolate mousse or red velvet cake, but we wanted something lighter this year.  Besides, the Mister and I have Florida on the brain since we head down there next month, and I've just plain been looking for an excuse to make this dessert.  The recipe is from Epicurious 2006, and was described as having originated at a restaurant called Addie's, of Rockville, Maryland.  It's a fantastic dessert for entertaining since it should be made a day (or two!) ahead, freeing up your time to focus on the main meal during party day.  
Since then I've made changes to lighten it up a bit and tailor it to our palates.  We all prefer our citrus on the tart side with the fruit flavor really shining through, and it took doubling the lime juice to achieve that in this recipe.  The texture is light and fluffy, providing a nice treat without weighing you down. A great way to end a special meal.  It was a hit at our dinner party last night. 
Lime Mousse Cake
Serves 12

2 cups ground gingersnap cookies (about 38 small cookies)
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons melted butter

3/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice or key lime juice 
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (Knox)
2 cups chilled whipping cream
9 ounces good-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt), chopped or chips
2 packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons grated lime peel
2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar

For the crust
Grind cookies in a food processor.  Add sugar and melted butter and process, pulsing, until clumps form.  Press into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan.

For filling:
Place lime juice in a bowl.  Sprinkle gelatin over to soften.  Bring 1/2 cup cream to simmer in a heavy medium saucepan.  Remove from heat.  Add white chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.  Stir in gelatin mixture.  Cool slightly.  Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese, granulated sugar and lime peel in a large bowl to blend.  Slowly beat white chocolate mixture into cream cheese mixture.  Using clean, dry beaters, beat remaining 1 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream with 2 tablespoons of confectioner's sugar.  Fold into white chocolate mixture.  Pour filling into prepared crust.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  (Can be prepared up to two days ahead.  Keep refrigerated.)  Release pan sides and transfer to a cake platter and serve.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Spotted Dog AKA Fruited Irish Soda Bread

"No matter where the name comes from, this is an old-fashioned recipe that stands the test of time."
~Serious Eats
Being two generations removed from my native Irish relatives, I can hardly call myself an expert on Irish food, but from what I gather, much of what America refers to as Irish soda bread is actually called spotted dog in Ireland.  The only difference being the fruit.  You can read more about the origin of the name here (look at last paragraph).
This is my favorite version of the beloved bread.  Very simple to throw together, it can upgrade even the most humble of meals.  Whatever you name it, you'll claim it delicious!  It is best eaten warm out of the oven and slathered with fresh butter, but even the leftovers (if you have any!) are divine toasted and buttered or spread with marmalade.
My favorite version of the bread was adapted from a recipe originally published in Better Homes and Gardens as currant-orange Irish soda bread.  

Spotted Dog
Serves 6

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
the zested peel from two oranges (about 2 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup raisins
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup buttermilk

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a large cookie sheet and set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and orange zest.  Cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in raisins.  Make a well in the center of the mixture.

2.  In a small mixing bowl combine the egg and buttermilk.  Add all at once to the flour mixture.  Stir just until moistened.

3.  On a lightly floured surface, gently knead to form a dough.  A few turns, just until it comes together (only 4-5 times).  Shape into a 7-inch round loaf.  Transfer dough to prepared cookie sheet.  With a sharp knife, make two slashes across the center of the loaf to form and X, going all the way to the edge.  Bake 30 minutes or until golden.  Serve warm.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Irish Beef and Guinness Stew

"One Cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well"
~Virginia Woolf

It's that time again!  I love this time of year when I can highlight some good Irish recipes.  This wonderfully simple, yet delicious stew is a great company meal for Saint Patrick's Day if corned beef isn't your thing.  This was one of the choices at the recent wedding rehearsal dinner of my son, Curtis.  It was by far the most popular choice. 
Guinness gravy is so flavorful.  Any time I cook savory dishes with beer, I always use a bit of mustard, as I find the combination irresistible, and it does not disappoint here.  The beer contributes to tenderizing the beef and adds a depth of flavors with it's malty and tangy notes and the mustard adds a spicy sharpness that you can't quite put your finger on.  My daughter claims it is the best stew she's ever had.  As it is meant to be served over mashed potatoes or champ (mashed potatoes and scallions), there are no potatoes cooked in it.  You can if you must, but I strongly suggest you try it the traditional way first!  

Irish Beef and Guinness Stew
Adapted from a Guinness Recipe

2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 1/2 cups Guinness stout
1 cup beef stock
4 large carrots, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme
fresh parsley for garnish

Place beef cubes in a bowl and massage on 1 tablespoon of the oil.  In another bowl, stir together the  flour, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and paprika.    Dredge beef in this flour mixture until every side of all the beef pieces are coated and there is no loose flour in the bowl.  

Heat remaining oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Cook the beef in a single layer.  If, due to the size of your pot, you need to do this in batches, take the time.  The beef will steam instead of brown if you pile it all on top of itself.  Browning it properly is the key to a good stew.  After all the beef is browned, make sure it is all in the pot (if you did it in batches) and add the garlic and onions.  Stir in for a minute or two (without letting the garlic brown).  Add tomato paste, beer and beef broth and thyme.  Add carrots, bay leaf, mustard and Worcestershire.  Cover and cook for 3 1/2-4  hours at 325 degrees F until beef is tender.  During second half of cooking check liquid level a couple times and add a little more beer or broth if too much has evaporated.  If you like, you can make mashed potatoes ahead of time, place in a buttered casserole dish, cover with foil and keep warm in the oven with the stew during the last 20 minutes of it's cooking.
Right before serving, remove the bay leaf, taste the gravy and add more salt and pepper, if needed.

Place a generous dollop of mashed potatoes or champ in a bowl, ladle stew over and sprinkle with parsley.  

Crock-Pot method:

Brown beef as described above, then deglaze pan with beer and broth.   Add all ingredients to your crock pot.  Cook on low for 8-10 hours.  Towards end of cooking check liquid level.  Add more if needed.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Homemade Nutter Butters

"There's nothing better than good sex.  But bad sex?  A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is better than bad sex."
~ Billy Joel
Sorry, but that quote just made me laugh.  We all love our peanut butter way too much for it to be compared to bad sex though.  That's just not right.  My son Curtis loved peanut butter so much that every day of his first  twelve years of school he had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch.  No jelly,  just peanut butter.  Every. Single. Day.  As for me, I crave a peanut butter and jelly on a toasted bagel about once a week.  And when the craving hits, I'd pretty much turn down lobster thermidor for a good bagel, perfectly toasted with Skippy peanut butter all melted and dripping.  But I digress.  We're talking cookies here.  Homemade Nutter-butters.  I started with a recipe from All Recipes, combined it with my peanut butter cookie recipe,  and tweaked it here and there til I reached peanut butter nirvana.
My daughter got home from school just as I was finishing them up.  She grabbed one.  
I said "let me know how you like them."  
She mumbled "I'll text you" as she trotted upstairs to her room.  
(Yes, she and I text each other while we're in the same house, and sometimes even chat on Facebook.  Don't judge me.  It's better than yelling through the house.)
This was the text I received: "Holy crap way better than real nutter butters." 
Nuff said.  

Homemade Nutter Butters

1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl, cream together 1/2 cup butter, 1 cup peanut butter, white sugar, brown sugar and vanilla.  Add egg and beat well.  In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and beat well.  Add oatmeal and stir.

Drop by teaspoons onto cookie sheet, and press each mound down with a fork to form 1/4 inch thick.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until the cookies are light brown.

To make filling: Cream the confectioner's sugar with 1/2 cup peanut butter and the cream.  Add a little more cream if needed for good spreading consistency.  It should be on the thick side.  Spread filling onto half of the cooled cookies, then top with the half to form sandwiches.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Italian Meatball Soup with Tortellini and Kale

"Good manners: The noise you don't make when you're eating soup." 
~ Bennett Cerf, Humorist (1898-1971)
Here is one of my favorite soups.  I could eat it for days and not tire of it.  The light broth is just a perfect vehicle for heavier elements, like meatballs and tortellini (YUM!).  There are plenty of hearty Italian soup recipes that have tomatoes in them,  but what makes this soup interesting, is that it doesn't.  Once you have the meatballs done it comes together very quickly and doesn't require a long simmer, making it a nice workday choice.  I made it the other night as a light dinner so we could have Banana Cream Pie as a side dish, I mean...erm...dessert.

Do what I do, and next time you find yourself making meatballs for a spaghetti dinner, increase the recipe a bit (make sure you start with fresh, not previously frozen meat) and then roll 3/4 pound worth of smaller meatballs.  Bake them on a cookie sheet for a 20-30 mins (depending on size), cool, place in a Ziploc bag and throw them in the freezer.  Then, when you feel like making this soup, it's cake!  

Italian Meatball Soup with Tortellini and Kale
A recipe by The Irish Mother

1 1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 slices white bread
1 small onion, peeled
3 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
12 ounces ground meat, either all beef, or a combination of beef, pork and veal.
garlic powder and onion powder (for dusting meatballs before baking)

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small onions, peeled and diced
2 small carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks celery, preferably with leaves attached
1 clove garlic
6 cups chicken stock
1 cup fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 small zucchini
3 ounces chopped kale

1. For the meatballs: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mince the cheese, bread and onion in a food processor.  Add the milk, salt, egg and the meat.  Mix just until combined.  Roll into small meatballs.  Should make about 20.  Place meatballs on a cookie sheet and dust all over with garlic powder and onion powder.  Bake for 20 minutes.

2. For the soup:  Heat the olive oil to med-high in a large heavy stockpot.  Add the onion, celery and carrot and cook for 5 minutes, stirring so they don't burn.  Add garlic and stir for one minute, until fragrant.  Immediately add chicken stock, seasonings, zucchini and kale.  Taste broth and add salt and pepper, if needed.  Simmer 15 minutes.  Add meatballs and tortellini and simmer 15 minutes or until heated through.
This soup can be made up to 3 days in advance and reheated.  Add more chicken stock or water if needed.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Banana Cream Pie with Bourbon Caramel Sauce

"The fine arts are 5 in number, namely: painting, sculpture, poetry, music and architecture, the principle branch of the latter being pastry"
 ~ Antonin Careme (1783-1833)
We used to visit my maternal grandmother once a year in Binghamton.   She never failed to have a homemade banana cream pie in the fridge.  At that time I thought that cold, creamy pie was just about the best thing ever to cross my palate.

During my high school years I used to make one every couple of weeks and would get ticked if I went to buy bananas and none of them were ripe enough.  In that regard, you do need to think ahead to be sure your bananas are ripe and sweet.  You could also make the pasty cream a day or two ahead to spread out the work involved.
The new issue of Bon Appetit, coupled with the bunch of ripe bananas on my counter were the catalyst for launching into this pie project.   The February issue of BA has a recipe for banana cream pie with salty bourbon caramel.  I used elements of the recipe, but did not follow it completely.  Theirs used a peanut shortbread crust, but that didn't appeal to me, my preference being a buttery graham cracker crust.  

My nostalgic attachment to this old fashioned dessert dictates not to stray too much from tradition, but their bourbon caramel sauce did launch it into the stratosphere.  I actually considered having pie for dinner, then decided on the more balanced approach of having a light soup dinner so we wouldn't have to feel too guilty about the indulgence.  It was crazy-good!!!

Banana Cream Pie with Bourbon Caramel Sauce
Pastry cream and sauce recipes from Feb '12 issue of Bon Appetit 

Graham Cracker Crust:
2 cups finely crushed graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter

Vanilla Pastry Cream:
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 large egg  yolks
1/4 cup butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped Cream:
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar

Bourbon Caramel Sauce:
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons bourbon, divided
1/2 teaspoon corn syrup
3 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 ripe bananas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly butter a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate.  In a medium bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs with sugar and melted butter.  Reserve 2 tablespoons of crumbs.  Press remaining crumbs into and up sides of the prepared pie plate.  Bake for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool completely.

Vanilla Pastry Cream:  Bring milk and cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan.  Meanwhile,  whisk sugar, cornstarch, flour, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Add egg yolks; whisk until smooth (mixture will be very thick).  Whisking constantly, gradually add milk mixture  to yolk mixture.  Return to saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly,  until thick, 2-3 minutes.  Transfer to a blender with butter and vanilla, Puree until smooth, 1-2 minutes.  Transfer to a medium bowl; press plastic wrap directly onto surface of pastry cream.  Chill until set, at least 2 hours.  DO AHEAD: Can be made up to 2 days ahead.

Bourbon Caramel Sauce:
Stir sugar, 1 tablespoon bourbon, corn syrup and 1 tablespoon water in a medium deep saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves.  Increase heat, bring to a boil without stirring, and cook, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until sugar is deep amber in color, about 6-8 minutes.  Remove from heat, whisk in 1/4 cup cream, butter and salt.  Let cool 5 minutes.  Stir in 1/2 tablespoon bourbon and vanilla.  Keep at room temperature until serving time.  You want to be able to drizzle it from a spoon, so you may need to heat it slightly just before serving if it has thickened too much.
Whipped Cream:  In a deep medium bowl pour 3/4 cup very cold heavy cream, vanilla and 2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar.  Beat with electric beaters set on high until stiff.

Peel and slice bananas.  Spread 1/3 of the cold pastry cream over bottom of crust.  Place half of  the banana slices over pastry cream.  Spread 1/3 of pastry cream over banana layer. Repeat, ending in a layer of pastry cream.  Having the banana slices encased in the cream keeps them from browning.  Spread all of whipped on pie, leaving a little pastry cream showing around the edge.  Sprinkle with some of the reserved graham cracker crumbs.

Drizzle a spoonful of caramel sauce over each slice immediately before serving.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kickin Kale

"Kale is my best friend.  I eat Kale salad.  I put it in my smoothies, kale in my soup.  Kale, kale, kale! I feel like Popeye. I love it!"
~Alanis Morrissette (explaining her kale obsession to Runner's World)
I  know, I know....a big pile of green stuff doesn't photograph as well as say, a cupcake, but HEY!...we got excited about these greens, therefore they qualify for a post.  Besides, they're incredibly good for you and are perfect this time of year when garden fresh veggies are but a faint memory.  We went crazy for them.  After our first experience last week, they were so good we had to have them again, asap.

In our market they sell big bags of pre-washed and chopped kale and collard greens which make it really easy.  I bought the big bag of kale with the thought of making kale chips, but when it was evident that wasn't going to happen, I looked up a recipe to cook them.  Not discovering anything appealing, I decided to cook them like good 'ole southern collard greens.  That means long and slow, and with bacon!  I found the recipe on  The original recipe, although delicious, was WAY too salty, so I've adjusted it.  The huge one pound bag cooks down much more than you would imagine.  I was shocked that the Mister and I polished it all off by ourselves. By the way, just a little tip;  they go great with garlicky mashed potatoes and any hearty meat, and if that meat has gravy, EVEN BETTER!

Kickin Kale
Inspired by a recipe for collard greens found on

1 tablespoon olive
3 slices bacon
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt  (taste towards end of cooking, and add more if needed)
1 teaspoon pepper
3 cups chicken broth
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 pound fresh kale, washed and chopped into 2-inch pieces

Heat oil in a large pot over med-high heat.  Add bacon and cook until crisp.  Remove bacon, crumble and return to pan.  Add onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and stir around just until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add kale and cook until it starts to wilt.
Pour in chicken broth, and add salt, pepper and pepper flakes.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 45-55 minutes until broth is mostly boiled off and greens are tender.  ENJOY!