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Thursday, March 18, 2010

St Patrick's Day

So yesterday was St Patty's day.. It was a great excuse for me to do some really good cooking. In a few places I've mentioned the menu and had a bunch of people asking me for the recipes and/or amazed at how labor intensive it sounded. Here's the secret.. it's not as hard or as impressive as it sounds.. hehehe
it was all really quite simple and pretty easy. So, to show just how easy it is to cook a nice "proper" Irish meal for St Patty's day, I'm posting the whole lot, step by step.

First, a proper Irish Soda Bread... Now, if all you've ever had is the stuff they sell in the stores this time of year, with the raisins and whatnot.. then you've never really had proper soda bread. Your typical Irish peasant didn't have raisins and yeast, and wasn't going to waste good eggs on bread what doesn't need em...
Proper Irish Soda bread is very simple. If you can make baking powder biscuits (heck if you can make the "add water" kind of biscuits) then you can make this.

4 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
14 ounces of buttermilk

In a large bowl combine all of your dry ingredients. Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough. (I do all if this in my mixer. Bosch or Kitchenaid with the dough hook, but wouldn't be too hard to do by hand.) Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead just enough to form a round, flat shape.
You can put this in a round greased cake pan, a large cookie sheet or stone. I have stones, so I use them for just about everything.
Cut a cross on the top of the dough (to let the fairies out)
Bake at 425 for about 45 minutes depending on your oven. It is suggested that the bread be covered for the first 30 minutes, but that is optional.
When the bread is done it will have a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.

There are recipes out there that will give you measurements if you absolutely must have them, and there are many variations. Most of my cooking is done freestyle unless measurements are absolutely necessary, so this is what I did for last night's batch. (made about 4-6 servings)

4-5 potatoes, russets are best for this, or another mealy type. do not use waxy ones, they don't mash up proper.
1 bunch Kale
1 large dollop butter
handful of dried green onions
Fresh ground pepper
dash of salt

Ok, peal and chop potatoes into large chunks. I leave about half the peals on, but that is personal preference. Put into a large pot of water with a dash of salt and boil until potatoes are soft.
When potatoes are nearly done, set a second pot to boiling and add kale. You can also steam this if you prefer. DO NOT OVERCOOK. You just want to soften the leaves and get them to turn a nice vibrant green color. Drain kale and remove the large stem from the center of each leaf. Chop kale and set aside.
Drain potatoes and return to pot over low heat. Add dollop of butter and a little milk and/or buttermilk. (I like the extra flavor the buttermilk gives) Mash the potatoes to the consistency you like. Add in a handful of green onions (I used dehydrated cuz I had them - and yes, i did that myself too, again, not hard, and handy up here when you can't always get fresh stuff.. if you have fresh green onions available, use em! just chop finely) and freshly ground black pepper and fold in the kale.

Slow Cooker Pot Roast

For this I did use a brisket cut, but feel free to use whatever cut you prefer or is on sale that week. Tough cuts are fine because they will have a long time to cook at low heat which will soften them up.

1 roast
1-2 turnips
6-8 carrots
1/4 onion
1 can low sodium reduced fat beef broth
pepper corns
green onions
bell pepper
garlic *

2 days in advance, place your roast in a large, sealable bowl or large bag along with the broth. I added the green onions and mushrooms to this as well. In my case, both were dried and powdered, but fresh would work just as well. this would also be a good time to add garlic, which I will admit, I completely forgot about this time.
Seal this all up and let marinate in the fridge for about 2 days.

Day of:

Place the roast and all the stuff from the bag into your slow cooker. Clean and chop your turnips and carrots into nice big chunks and add them as well. Add in your onion, bell peppers, more mushrooms if you like. Season with whole peppercorns.
Turn your slow cooker on low and leave for the day. If you haven't got all day you can cook on high. It will still take several hours, but will be worth it.
About an hour or so before it is done, Loosely chop some cabbage and add on top of roast. This doesn't take long to cook.

If you don't have a slow cooker, you can do all of this in a roaster in your oven (though I wouldn't recommend leaving the house for too long with the oven on...)
Just turn your oven down to about 250 and let it do it's thing. Times will vary depending on your oven, piece of meat, etc.

There ya go.. That wasn't too hard now was it? I know.. "Isn't corned beef traditional?" ok, yes it has become so, but a good pot roast with turnips and carrots was just as common, and because of some health concerns, I can't be having with all the vast amounts of salt in a proper corned beef, so this is my compromise.. If members of your household decide they don't like colcannon.. (I only make it when hubby's not home as he can't stand it.. weeds ruining perfectly good potatoes and all..) then skip that and just add some small potatoes (or cut up some large ones) to the roasted veggies.. though in that case I would say that you'd be better off with the waxy type instead of the mealy.. waxy (such as red or gold taties) hold together better for that sort of thing...

there ya go.. next year you can impress all your friends and relatives...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


This is a hard post. Our sweet little Pepe has passed.
Pepe was the first dog that Tom and I got after we were married. I was having a hard time dealing with the initial stages of infertility and desperately wanted a little pommeranian to absorb some of that. Would have settled for another small breed, but I got lucky and we got connected with a breeder who had one she was eager to "offload." Pepe had some problems when we got her, but we didn't care. The woman we got her from was not entirely upfront about her age or her medical condition, and getting her papers after the fact was like pulling teeth. (She had said she'd get us copies of vet records as well, but then later claimed that she never took her to the vet so there were no papers...) Anyway, we picked her up on 18 August 2003. We met her previous owner in a parking lot where she shoved her through her car window to us and told us that if there were any problems just call and she'd keep her in her garage in a cage for the winter. We vowed right then and there that there was no way "Baby," as she was called then, was going back unless there was a large pile of dead bodies over our dead bodies.
We brought her home and got a good look at her. She was scrawny, nearly hairless and covered in sores and raw patches of skin. Once we got the papers (eventually, several months later) we discovered that she was 3 years old, this was a good bit older then we'd been told (under a year) but we didn't care. We knew "Baby" was not her name. She didn't respond to it, had not connection with it, and really, it's a terrible name that everyone uses.. It was not for us and not for her.. So we started getting to know her and looking for a good name that she'd respond to.
But while we were doing that, there were other things to be done. At first, she was very wary of being touched. She would freeze up whenever anyone went to pet her. And she had a severe case of separation anxiety. It took us 6 months to deal with that and get her to understand that we were always coming back and she wouldn't be abandoned. She would bark and howl the entire time we were gone if she was left alone. We video taped it once to confirm. But we did get her comfortable with all of that and she went on to become utterly fearless...
But, back to her name. Because of her hairloss and her coloring, and her gradual diva-ness, she reminded us greatly of Pepe from the muppets. We had tried all sorts of names, trying to find something she would respond to right away. Pepe was the first name she took to, and it suited her perfectly, so she had her name. And she lived up to it.. She would also respond, later, to silly variations on it, but she was our little queen of the universe..
So next step was the Vet... We took her in soon after we got her to have her looked at. She was healthy except for her skin problems which could have been due to a number of things, some could be very bad, some could be easily dealt with. They ran some tests, all of which came back normal and said that they wanted us to try changing her foods as it could be as simple as an allergy, otherwise there were some more tests they'd run, but they wanted to try this first as it was easier and cheaper. Turns out it was a food allergy and once we got her on a simple Fish based diet, she started healing right up and eventually got all fluffy again. It took about a year and a half for her to really look like a "normal" pommie again, but she did.. we have the pictures to prove it!
She would occasionally have other flair ups and loose some of her hair again if she'd get treats or meds that had other animal proteins in them, but we tried to avoid those as much as we could. (which is hard, btw.. she couldn't have any animal protein that wasn't fish based.. and so many dog foods and treats, and don't get me started on the meds... have some component of chicken or beef in them...)
we have so many little stories about her from over the years. She was with us for 6 and a half years, and she was our darling.. she loved yogurt cups (before we knew what her food allergy was anyway, afterwards she wasn't allowed them..) and running off with the feather duster. She would go up to anyone on the street and demand that they fawn over her. She wasn't afraid of wheelchairs or canes or anything, she was perfectly safe around the youngest of children.. if she'd been able to pass the obedience part of the testing we'd have had her licensed as a therapy dog and been doing hospital and nursing home visits. She'd have been perfect and would have loved it to no end. She was the first of the dogs to get a voice.. Tom does it perfectly, slightly high pitched and spoiled, not too bright. She would tell us of her exploits in killing "antelopes" (small bugs) and the time she crawled into Tom's lunchbag trying toget to his sandwich, but couldn't chew through the plastic bag. She once hoarded a whole bag of halloween candy under the computer desk, but again, couldn't get through the plastic, so it was all safe. She loved to be under beds and would somehow manage to surround herself with a fortress of shoes.
She was more then just a dog, she was our baby. We used to joke that someday she'd grow up to be a "real girl," kinda like Pinocchio.

Sunday morning, I'd overslept (stupid daylight savings...) and was running late for church, but before I could worry about that I had to get Pepe's food ready.. She'd lost most of her teeth in the last few months and was now on wet food and was on heart pills as well, so first priority in the mornings is getting her fed and medicated (then worry about getting me fed and medicated..) the last few days she hadn't been eating much and I thought she had a cold or something and we were going to be going to the vet this week anyway, so didn't worry too much about it. Sunday, as I was trying to get her to eat, she appeared to have a small stroke. She seemed to recover a bit, but was still tired and confused. So I heal her for a little bit to help her calm down then put her in her basket to rest. I was concerned, and decided that Church was just going to be a miss that day in case she had another episode. Within the next hour, she was gone.
I have not handled it well. It has hit me very hard and I am still a bit of a mess now two days later. She was my baby and now she's gone.
I've put together a little photo album for her online and am linking to it here hope that works :)
I'm still trying to adjust to the changes in my morning and nightly routines now that I don't have her meds to see to. And the other dogs are still a bit subdued as well, we're all waiting for Pepe to come back. They've all tried out the basket, "her" basket, for short periods of time, but, so far, no one has claimed it yet. We will see if anyone does. It's the same basket Rocky had and passed away in as well a few years ago.
anyway, i'd better get off the computer and go do something before I start getting too maudlin, but i just needed to get this tribute page up while I could. She was loved, spoiled entirely rotten, and will be missed for a very long time.