Tag Archives: dried fruit

They’re Magically Delicious

19 Mar

My husband recently learned the meaning of his last name is “World Ruler.”  This certainly did not help with the I’m-100%-Irish-I-have-no-impurities jokes.  But being that Thursday was the day that every Irishman cheers at dawn and every wannabe Irishman puts on a green shirt and drinks beer as if that will magically change their DNA, I celebrated Rob’s origin and lineage as he was figuratively crowned World Ruler – if just for the day. 🙂

I am a fan of St. Patrick’s Day, and yes, thanks for our Nana, my sister and I do have some Irish in us.  Growing up, our mom would surprise us on many fun holidays (and still does!) with treaties; humble and memorable, those treats would be waiting for us when we woke up in the morning, whether it was Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, or any other day with cause for a celebration.  During my teen years I would even take longer than normal in the morning before coming downstairs, prolonging the anticipation of seeing what Mom had planned (weird, teenage mentality).  But there was always one staple on St. Patrick’s Day that was made so special for us, that it hardly lasted through the day: Lucky Charms.

We only had Lucky Charms on St. Patrick’s Day.  It was a solid tradition that having the sugary, fake-marshmallowy breakfast food on any other day was simply out of the question.  In college, I remember the giant row of all-you-can-eat tubs of cereals in the cafeterias, Lucky Charms being one that was almost always empty.  But I was strong and stuck true to tradition and went with a more suitable option: Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Anywho, being lucky enough to marry an Irishman, he was happy to carry on the St. Paddy’s Day breakfast treat tradition (though he’s still pressing why the cereal is limited to just St. Patrick’s Day – there are heart marshmallows, those are for Valentines Day!  There are pots of gold, those are for pay-day!).

So Wednesday evening, like a couple of silly kids we bounded into the grocery store and I flew right passed the cereal isle, causing Rob to have to physically point me in the right direction.

“Where is it?  Where is it?”  It was kind of ridiculous that two late-twenty-somethings were borderline frantic over finding a cereal.

“Oh no!  They’re sold out!”  Rob’s whine preempted my shoulders to hunch.  “I’m sorry, babe.”

As we started walking away, our eyes were caught by a glimmer of green, sitting proudly on the bottom shelf.  The colorful, sugary tastes came to our mouths and my memories came flooding back , with only one tiny difference standing out.

“I don’t remember these being whole grain,” Rob went to put down the initially chosen box to pick up one that was not quite as healthy, when we realized they all had the small, but noticeable,”Whole Grain!!” label stamped on, hiding the over-sized pictures of many-a-marshmallow.  So all this time, my mom was giving us a somewhat healthy grain cereal covered up by the addictive addition of colorful shapes of sugar.  Go, Mom!

Rob picked up the biggest box they had (large enough to probably pass as a warehouse box).

“No.  No, we are not getting that box.  We do not need pounds of this cereal.”  I was adamant.  After all, if something like Lucky Charms is in the house, I will most likely – no, I just will – eat it.  I took the box from him, and bent down to put it back.  At which point, Rob also bends down, grabs another gigantor box, knocks into me knocking other boxes onto the floor, takes his loot and runs.  Literally.  A 26-year old man (a Coast Guard Pilot, mind you), arms clutching a heart-attack sized box of cereal to his chest, running down the isle in the grocery store.  The 5-year old in him took over and got away!  Well, I guess Lucky Charms will do that to you.

I put the fallen boxes back, and Rob reluctantly succumbed to the smaller box and we completely enjoyed our cereal treat Thursday morning.

We also had the regular Irish fare for dinner – corned beef and cabbage (it’s the only day of the year I will actually boil meat), steak fries, and Irish Soda Bread.  When Rob and I were dating long-distance, I would send him Irish Soda Bread and mint jelly on his World Ruler Day, and I’ve changed the recipe somewhat since then, the more and more I learn about making bread.  Soda Bread does not use any yeast, but rises in the oven with egg and cold butter, and has that distinctive baking soda tang, cut nicely by a bit of sugar and dried fruit.  Topped with a dollop of salted Irish butter, and you’ve got yourself a perfect breakfast, snack, or desert, perfect with a strong cup of coffee.

By our standards, you’ll have to wait another 353 days to get Lucky Charms, but try out the soda bread.  It might just bring out your inner-Irishman.

Irish Soda Bread (makes 1 round loaf)

  • 4 1/3 c all purpose unbleached flour, plus more for dusting
  • 5 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 c buttermilk (shake it before pouring)
  • 1/2 c soda water
  • 1 c dried currants, cranberries, or raisins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a stand mixer, pour in flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda, and mix to combine.  Using your hands, break up the chunks of butter in the flour mixture until they look like small peas.  Add in the egg slowly, while keeping the mixer on low.  When incorporated, add in the buttermilk, and then the soda water.  Mix well to combine, and then fold in the dried fruit of your choice (NOTE: dust the fruit a bit of flour, so when they are incorporated into the dough, they don’t sink to the bottom).  The dough should be a bit wet, but shapeable.

Pour out the dough onto a lined baking sheet (you may need to dust a bit with flour) and shape into a round loaf.  Using a sharp knife, make an X in the top of the dough.

Bake until bread is golden brown and crusty on top.  The bread should sound hollow when you tap it on the bottom.

** Try topping a toasted piece of Soda Bread with a poached egg, a touch of sea salt, and generous pepper.  You will thank yourself.  🙂


Honor Thinking

22 Feb

Isn’t February just flying by?  It feels like just yesterday that Rob and I were sitting down to our fabulous Valentines Day dinner, rather than over a week ago.  I kind of wish it was just yesterday – we had the most amazing meal: Marinated Flank Steak, perfectly grilled (despite the pouring rain and 30+ mph wind gusts – our garage smelled like a steakhouse, but it was well worth the smell and safety hazard), sweet potato soufflé, roasted asparagus with hollandaise sauce, 36-hour fermented rosemary and citrus Fougasse bread, and finally a chocolate sponge cake with pinot-marionberry sauce.  Needless to say, we were weak at the knees, and not just for each other.

We had to get in as much quality time together as possible as Rob has had a funky schedule lately, and my week was filled with a trip to Portland.  Wednesday morning, six other teachers and I drove up to attend  a national Mathematics Leadership Conference put on by the Teacher Development Group.  It was simply an honor to be asked to go, as it was geared towards teaching us how to teach teachers to become better teachers.  The week was filled with fabulous research, mathematical practices and developments, and the over-arching mentality and high expectation to honor thinking.  By Saturday night, my brain was full… and so was my stomach.

We were fed like royalty!  Giant dinners, beautiful lunches, all you can eat (and I did) breakfasts, and a dessert table that was always at the ready with any pastry, cake, cookie, or puff a heart could desire.  There was so much food, and so much sitting, then more food – I started to hope that my brain’s energy was capable of burning calories.

Alas, algebraically proving a linear function did not quite accomplish the same results as a 5-mile run.  So on top of sleeping most of Sunday, I planed for a major detox.

In a few of my entries, I’ve mentioned my former vegetarian days and have fond memories of cooking many meatless meals.  Vegetarian cooking is what made me a cook – figuring out flavorful alternatives to protein and animal fat was a welcomed challenge, and I was always delighted when those enjoying my food would have the oh-my-gosh-there’s-no-meat-in-this-dish epiphany with only a few bites left on the plate (just ask my Irish mother-in-law).  But such that it was, after many years, pork belly (bacon, pancetta, etc.) brought me back to the omnivore world.

So this past Sunday morning, still sleepily in my PJs, I had to honor the thinking of my past and go back to enjoying my vegetarian days.  Wanting to really detox, I decided to nix dairy and limit bread as well, leaving my compilation of vegetarian recipes more veganized.  Carrot in hand, I knew I soon would be feeling cleansed, at least until a Bacon Butty sang my name.

With Tuesday rolling on through, so far, so good.  Even my meat-loving hubby has taken on the detox challenge (beer is mostly yeast, barley, and water, right?).  The last few days has provided us with a flurry of delicious fruit and vegetable smoothies, two rounds of leek broth that never got the opportunity to see the inside of the fridge,and experiments with Tahini paste.  But the most amazing dish so far has been a simple chard salad with a finger-licking roasted garlic dressing.  The hot bite of garlic just plain gives in to the long intense oven heat, leaving the cloves so sweet, caramelized, and wonderfully mushy.  Mushy garlic = yum.  Not exactly an equation for a linear function, but the answer to an insanely healthy vegan salad.

And tonight’s meal was another unbelievable flavor sensation… Chinese Peanut Lettuce Wraps.  Should detoxing really be this much fun?!

Raw Mushroom & Swiss Chard Salad (serves 4)

  • 5-7 stalks of large swiss chard leaves, washed, ripped off the stem and julienned into small “ribbons”
  • 1/4 c dried cherries, roughly chopped
  • 2 c crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

  • 1 head of garlic, sliced in half
  • 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp Agave nectar
  • 3/4 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • about 1 tsp water
  • s&p

To make the vinaigrette, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Take the sliced head of garlic, and create a package, lightly folding aluminum foil around the garlic.  Reopen and add the water and a bit of s&p.  Lightly close the package, place on a sheet tray, and roast for about 30 minutes, until garlic is slightly browned and mushy (a pairing knife can be inserted into a clove and pulled out without resistance).

Once cooled enough to handle, squeeze the garlic cloves out of their paper into a bowl.  Add the rosemary, white balsamic vinegar, agave nectar, and mix to incorporate.  Slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil, whisking all the while.  Taste for seasoning.

Pour the dressing into a salad bowl, and assemble the salad ingredients in the same bowl.  Toss to incorporate.  Taste for seasoning.

Enjoy with some crusty buttered bread, or spiced croutons!

Not Just for the Holidays

26 Jan

Back in high school, way back when, I had a boyfriend that was often a main figure at our dinner table.  He acted as an older brother to my sister, Jenn, messing around with her like any good brother would do.  I specifically remember one instance where they were throwing a nerf ball back and forth in the house, and my mom happened to come in between a pass, thus receiving a clean shot right to the behind.  “Nice block!” Zach exclaimed leaving my mom open-mouthed and laughing at his reaction to hitting her in the butt with the ball.

But aside from the memories of the older bro role to my sister, the many, many football games, and the giggling effects of a silly high school romance, I remember our Hors d’oeuvre Dinners.  OMG, Zach loved them.  Anytime I told him that my family was having hors d’oeuvres for dinner, we would hear his old, rusty El Camino pull up the drive within minutes.

Even without Zach’s enthusiasm, I knew how fun hors d’oeuvres were – or “deserves” as Jenn called them.  Growing up hors d’oeuvres meant pigs in a blanket, fresh veg, nuts, hot crab dip, Ruffles chips, shrimp cocktail, and the ever-special A&W Cream Soda (when I become of-age, that cream soda seemed to get a bit stronger and was served in a martini glass… not quite sure what happened there).  Sometimes the food items would vary and change a bit but there were always the expected, and appreciated, staples to nosh on.

The best things about the Hors d’oeuvres Dinner were that 1) my mom was only cooking for a matter of minutes (thus able to enjoy in the fun), and 2) it meant we got to eat with little plates and fancy cocktail napkins crowded over the living room coffee table, usually during a great football/basketball game, movie, or previously agreed upon TV show.  Simply put, hors d’oeuvres for dinner was a treat, one we never took for granted.

Although now, I’ve put my own twist on the meal.  Rob picked up the love of the tradition in the first creamy dip into guacamole and first flaky bite of a pig in a blanket (both of which, surprisingly, he had never tasted before meeting me).  Keeping true to tradition, we always have our staples: nuts, good cheese, and sliced red peppers.  But I’ve started mixing it up a bit with doing things like spicing up the nuts, adding my BBQ spice to popcorn, making rustic crackers, boozing up olives, and marinating dried fruit.  We have even given degrees of intensity to our Hors D’oeuvres Dinners by labeling them as a “good spread” or a “European Dinner” (the latter is a lighter meal, consisting of a bread, some fruit, and usually some cheese with wine). A few days ago, I even jazzed up Rob’s favorite hors d’oeuvres staple – pigs in a blanket – by taking some sweet veal sausage (seen in the pictures to the right), wraping it in a mustard and caramelized onion dressed puff pastry, kind of like a sausage en croute.  But as far as I’m concerned, he can keep all the little piggies and their flakey outerware – my new fave, hands down, are my boozy olives.

Let’s go back to that martini that sneakily replaced my innocent cream soda.  Unarguably, the best thing about a martini is that last green olive left in the bottom point of the glass, perfectly balanced and macerated in the last sip of smooth, and by that time salty, vodka (I prefer vodka martinis over gin – Scandinavian, remember?).  That olive just sits there, waiting to be stabbed by the accompanying colorful plastic sword toothpick, and then devoured.  Seriously, is your mouth watering yet?

Well, with the pressure of the mathematical education of small people held in my hands, a Tuesday night isn’t exactly my ideal time for enjoying a martini.  But then, like a giant pimento slapping me across the face, I found the loophole!  I can still enjoy the olive without the drink!  So, I poured some vodka, lime juice, olive juice, and a few red pepper flakes into a dish, popped the concoction into the fridge, and awaited the tasty treat to work it’s marinating magic.

Two hours later, I had hit the jackpot.  The spicy, boozy, briny, tangy jackpot.  Let me just say, martini olives are not just for the holidays anymore!  But martini and hors d’oeuvres lovers beware: only indulge in a few (it would be a shame to get tipsy off of olives, though I can see why one may be tempted).

Though we have, and always will have, our Hors d’oeuvres Dinner staples and go-tos, it has been a blast coming up with new tastes that give us an indulgence during the week.  Rob and I still carry on the tradition of eating with small plates, fancy napkins, and sitting in front of a good flick, but we are still continually adding more to the menu.  Especially mid-week, when we feel we deserve it…. hey, maybe that’s how Jenn came up with the “deserves” phrase.  (Or maybe it really just was the speech impediment.)


Boozy Olives (inspired by a recipe in Canal House Cooking Vol. 3, and the enjoyment of eating the last olive out of my martini glass).

  • 1/2 c green, pimento stuffed olives
  • 1/2 c vodka
  • 1 tsp olive juice
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Mix all ingredients together, and place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.  Serve with a bit of the marinating liquid (and, of course, the little sword toothpicks).

Marinated Figs

  • 1 c dried black mission figs
  • 1/2 c white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 c champagne
  • 1 bay leaf

Add all ingredients to a small saucepan.  Bring to a quick boil, and then simmer on low for 15-20 minutes, letting the liquid reduce until syrupy.  Let cool (can sit at room temperature for hours), and serve with the marinating liquid.  And a fancy cocktail napkin.

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