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This Irish Soda Bread recipe comes to me from friend Molly Sinnett, who answered my Facebook plea for an authentic loaf. Something passed down from an Irish Granny would have been ideal, and she totally delivered!

This is a complete departure from the soda bread I picked up last weekend in Carroll Gardens (Caputo’s Bake Shop, those are most definitely eggs in your dough…I’ll be back for your hot cross buns though!).

I was wary of using margarine in the recipe, with its hydrogenated oil; but, I didn’t exactly want to substitute butter when her recipe specifically says “don’t use butter!” So, I went with a stick of Smart Balance and crossed my fingers.

The secret to this loaf has to be the soured buttermilk–the crumb is perfectly tender and reminds me of a colossal scone. And I absolutely love scones. So very excited for a thick slice for breakfast tomorrow with my Irish Breakfast tea. Happy St. Pat’s everyone!

Granny’s Irish Soda Bread

(Thanks Molly!)

  •  5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  •  1 rounded tsp baking soda
  •  1 rounded tsp baking powder
  •  1 cup sugar
  •  1 stick margarine, sliced into 8 Tbsps (I used Smart Balance)
  •  6-8 ounces raisins (or more if you desire)
  •  1 1/2 cups sour buttermilk (to sour add 1 tsp white vinegar and let sit at room temp 1/2 hour)
  1. Mix together first 4 ingredients. Using a pastry cutter, blend the margarine into the flour and sugar mix. Add raisins.
  2. Create a well, pour in the buttermilk and stir. Use hands to fully incorporate wet and dry ingredients.
  3. Divide dough into 2 round loaves. Set in center of cake pans that have been greased and floured.  Cut an X into the top of each loaf and bake at 375 degrees for 45-50 minutes.

Alce Nero Yogurt & Honey Cookies

You’re going to want an organic Yogurt & Honey Cookie from Italian company Alce Nero:

http://www.amazon.com/Alce-Nero-Organic-Cookies-350-Gram/dp/B004E92UDI/ref=sr_1_1?s=grocery&ie=UTF8&qid=1326304555&sr=1-1

I know parents can be cautious about introducing cookies & other sweets to their toddler, but I think I’ve found one parent & tot can share together. I grab these crunchy Italian versions of shortbread from our neighborhood Italian shop, Brancaccio’s. The ingredient list is short, identifiable & organic: wheat flour, brown sugar, extra virgin olive oil, yogurt, honey, baking soda/powder, salt.

One cookie has just over 1g (1/4 tsp) of sugar, equivalent to a child’s serving of Cheerios (here kid, have a snack that won’t spill all over the floor, stroller, Mom’s bag…). The label describes them as “delicious and light, ideal for a healthy breakfast.” Cookies for breakfast, I love the Italians.

Alce Nero also makes a whole grain Farro and a Kamut chocolate chip cookie that I’ll try next, when available. Seriously, good luck finding these. I included a link for purchase on Amazon, but they are on short supply. Apparently, Mario Batali sells this brand at his palatial food court, Eataly; but, word has it that his large orders leave a scant amount for smaller city shops. If anyone spots these in the borough of Brooklyn, give me a shout!

I'll take that cookie now!

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Pickled herring, egg salad and bad posture: 2012 is sure shaping up to be “Year of the Granny.” Since the new year, I’ve shared Shelsky’s pickled herring with my folks, made several batches of egg salad, and have resolved to go to bed in the 10pm range. I’m also up before dawn every day, so I’m earning that granny badge!

2011 took it out of me. I spent most of last year hunched over…my little person, the stove, strollers, my blackberry. I put all my energies into stay-at-home mothering with very little relief in the form of grandparents, babysitters or vacations (sometimes I’d convince myself that cooking without a toddler underfoot was very much like a vacation). Which brings me to tight budgets and living over a thousand miles from your family=really tough. But single-income economics was, and continues to be, a fun game of strategy for my husband and I. When you succeed at living simply it is a bit exhilarating. We really should run a weekend seminar on the ins and outs of stretching the dollar in this not-so-cheap city.

As for family meals last year…a little blurry since I failed t0 document most of them on this here blog; but, I cooked plenty. It was budget-conscious and heavy on the Trader Joe’s supplements. (fyi, I fell hard for Trader Joes last year. If you don’t understand the appeal of TJ’s, please talk to me. We schlep there and back on the subway like pack mules for a reason. Even though I hate every second of the schlepping part. Their canned smoked trout whipped up with Hellman’s original mayo is some of the best white fish salad I never knew I could make (granny badge earned!)

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I was really, really tired last year. We ate, but hardly slept. Facebook-ing was far easier than blogging, and there was some good stuff on TV (Parenthood, Breaking Bad, Dexter). Cooking for my family was a lot of muscle memory, but I usually found some small joy in each meal. Especially watching my toddler’s face when taking the first bite of a new food. When she liked it, pure joy, and relief. When she did not, and spat out the food, and proceeded to scrape her tongue of any lasting, horrible flavor, it still made me smile.

So 11.5 months to go to fix my slouch, create new recipes, and share the successes here. And if you don’t hear from me for an extended period of time, I sure as hell hope I’m somewhere on vacation.

Ingredients: Bananas

Strawberry and Fresh Mint

38 weeks into pregnancy and the ice cream cravings have finally hit hard. Vanilla Haagen Dazs with smashed Chocolate-Vanilla “Trader” Joe-Joe’s followed a solid week of Dr. Pepper floats.

My birthday dinner at Purple Yam (Ditmas Park, Brooklyn) concluded with Halo-Halo, a Philippine iced desert with sweet beans, palm seed, cocogel, agar agar, coconut sport and jackfruit topped with flan and purple yam ice cream. Wowzers. Forget about 8-ingredient desserts at home. I whipped up the following (pictured) in 5-10 minutes from 1-2 ingredients.

The Banana Ice Cream recipe has been floating around the blogosphere and I was psyched to puree something in the food processor other than my usual hummus. Strawberry and Fresh Mint Pops were an excuse to play with the Zoku Pop maker and experiment with homemade mint simple syrup. Not to mention, you can find teeming quarts of Jersey strawberries, 2 for $10, at most farmer’s markets in the area. And they are just about perfect.

Banana Ice Cream (sans cream)

  • 3-4 very ripe bananas, sliced and frozen in a single layer
  • A food processor
  1. While still frozen, add banana slices to the food processor. Pulse until the bananas clump; using spoon, scrape banana clumps evenly around blade and continue to process until smooth.
  2. Magically, the clumps turn into a creamy, soft-serve-textured icy treat. Scoop and serve.

Strawberry and Fresh Mint Pops

  • 2 cups chilled, or frozen and thawed ripe strawberries
  • 1/4 cup mint simple syrup (recipe below)
  • 2-4 Tbsp cold water
  1. In a blender, add strawberries and syrup and puree. Add water and puree until the mixture is thin enough to be poured into any ice pop molds.
  2. Pour into molds and freeze. Pops frozen in the Zoku are ready to eat in 10 minutes.

Fresh Mint Simple Syrup

(Good for a month in the fridge. Add to iced tea, bourbons, rums, melons and berries with tasty results.)

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 bunch mint–fresh from the farmer’s market is best–rinsed well
  1. Mix sugar and water in small saucepan (2 qt) and heat over med-low while stirring until dissolved. Syrup is ready when it goes from cloudy to clear. Remove from heat.
  2. Rub mint leaves between hands for a few seconds to release minty oils. Add a large handful of mint leaves to the pan of syrup; submerge leaves with spoon and let steep 30-60 minutes.
  3. Remove mint leaves. Transfer syrup to a glass Pyrex measuring cup and let cool. Store in an airtight glass bottle in refrigerator.

Seared Scallops on Polenta with Asparagus

Clockwise from top: The Meatball Shop's Bolognese balls with pesto, braised collard greens, Spicy Pork Meatballs with spicy meat sauce, asparagus over polenta

When I ask friends about weekday dinner menus, I often hear one of three strategies:

  1. Throw some fish or chicken in a pan and microwave some veggies…
  2. Throw some fish or chicken on the Foreman grill and microwave some veggies…
  3. Take out.

Add in some nights of cereal, frozen pizza, and salads and I’m following the same formula.  This week’s meal satisfaction to effort ratio was especially favorable…

Top photo: Thursday’s dinner. Seared Day Boat scallops (sweet & sustainable) with polenta and asparagus. Time commitment: 10 minutes–a 4-minute sear, a 6-minute steam, and a 5-min quick-cooking polenta. Tip: get a partner to stir the polenta while you sear and steam.

Bottom photo: Saturday’s dinner. Take out from The Meatball Shop (Stanton and Allen). Includes the weekly special Bolognese balls in a pesto sauce, and spicy pork balls in a spicy meat sauce, and a side of braised collard greens. Added leftover polenta and asparagus from Thurs. Time commitment: about 2 minutes in the microwave. Tip: Be prepared for a really heavy plate and, quite possibly, more leftovers.

Cabbage dumpling with crispy onion

Potato-Mushroom Vareniki with Crispy Onion

Cabbage Dumplings

Cabbage Vareniki

Although the crispy fall air has already settled on Brooklyn, I’m honoring the final day of summer with photos from the last great beach weekend of ’09. Our small group met up in Brighton Beach, a seaside neighborhood in Brooklyn with a vibrant Russian community and boardwalk culture.

The first stop was Cafe Glechik (3159 Coney Island Avenue), a Ukranian restaurant we hit up for vareniki (dumplings), smoked and pickled noshes, borscht and a flaky Napoleon layered with a caramel custard.

Onward to the boardwalk and Cafe Volna (3145 Brighton 4th St) for beer–the Russian import Baltika. Surrounded by salty air, the native Russian tongue and men in track suits shooting vodkas, it was a poor-man’s vacation to the Black Sea.

Our final stroll was down Brighton Beach Ave to locate a little piece of history. My grandma Florence lived in Brighton Beach as a child where her parents ran the grocery store, George’s Dairy, on Brighton 3 Street. At that time the neighborhood was predominantly Jewish. My Great-Grandmother Efrosina, “Nanny,” ran the store and spoke fluent Yiddish along with her native Romanian and about three other Eastern European languages. So we journeyed to Brighton 3 Street for some photos, and left with some Russian vodka.

Sweet Farmer's Cheese Vareniki with sour cream

Sweet Farmer's Cheese Vareniki with sour cream

Pickled Herring

Pickled Herring

Pickled Watermelon
Baltika

Baltika

Brighton 3rd

Brighton 3 Street

Ukranian Borscht

Ukrainian Borscht

Brighton Beach Boardwalk

Brighton Beach Boardwalk

Sausage

Sausage

Bird waiting for take-out

Bird-toting customer at Cafe Glechik

Boardwalk Love

Boardwalk Love

Banana-nut pancakes

Shopsin's: Banana pancakes (dare I ask for the nuts they forgot)

Vegetable dumplings and pork sesame pancake

Vanessa's Dumpling, Eldridge Street: Vegetable dumplings and pork sesame pancake

Momofuku cereal-milk ice cream with caramelized cornflakes

Momofuku Milk: Cereal-milk ice cream with caramelized cornflakes

The Tulsa: on the menu at Lobo, Cobble Hill

Lobo, Cobble Hill: Tulsa on the menu!

Bahn Mi at Baoguette

Baoguette, Grammercy: Pork Bahn Mi

Half a Bahn Mi at Baoguette

Baoguette: Literally a $5 foot long, but a really good one

Pakistani on Crosby Street

Lahore, Crosby Street: Pakistani, frequented by cabbies and myself

Best Vegetarian Lunch: Lentils, spinach and okra on Basmati

Lahore's Vegetarian Lunch: Lentils, spinach and okra (camera phone not doing justice)

Terrace Bagels Weekend Special: half whitefish salad, half Nova lox

Terrace Bagels, Windsor Terrace: Weekend special half whitefish salad, half lox

The Bark Dog at Barks Dogs, Park Slope

Barks Dogs, Park Slope: The Bark Dog with pickled hot peppers and the most delicious buttery, toasted bun!