Cooking, Traditions

Irish Soda Bread with Whiskey Butter in Honor of St. Patrick’s Day

Irish Soda Bread with Whiskey Butter      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Irish Soda Bread with Whiskey Butter

Growing up, we had a little book of Irish toasts and poems sitting in our living room.  My maternal grandmother, seeing that the strength of the Irish was growing too strong, came over one day very briefly and went into the living room.  When she left, we found an Italian book sitting next to the Irish one so her grandchildren wouldn’t forget their mother’s roots.  It is with great irony and a big smile that I remember one of the Irish poems, which I read so many times that I have now have memorized it:

Soaking raisins in Whiskey for Irish Soda Bread    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Soaking raisins in Whiskey for Irish Soda Bread

St. Patrick was a gentleman
Who through strategy and stealth
Drove all the snakes from Ireland
Here’s a toasting to his health
But not too many toastings
Lest you lose yourself
And forget good St. Patrick
and see all those snakes again.

Assembling Ingredients for Irish Soda Bread    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Assembling Ingredients for Irish Soda Bread

Every year, my mother & father would host a party for St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate my father’s ancestors (and because it was a really good excuse to have a party). The party was complete with brisket, potatoes, cabbage and Irish Soda bread + spirits and beer galore. Over the years, I have tried making many different Irish Soda bread recipes because I can’t stand the imposter store-bought kind. This recipe hails from Rose Mary Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible and is the best recipe I have found so far. I hope your family likes it as much as mine!

Incorporating the butter into flour for Irish Soda Bread       www.morewinelesswhines.com

Incorporating the butter into flour for Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread dough after mixing flour and butter with fingertips      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Irish Soda Bread dough after mixing flour and butter with fingertips

Oh, and if you’re not a beer drinker, make sure you try a Whiskey, Ginger Ale and Lime this St. Patrick’s Day.  It will clear out your sinuses.

Irish Soda Bread

Original recipe from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

1 cup raisins
1/2 c Irish whiskey (i.e. Jameson)
4 T unsalted Kerrygold butter (or regular), cold
2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
3 T sugar
2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 c + 1 T buttermilk

1 T Demerara sugar (Optional)

1. Soak the raisins in the whiskey for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the whiskey for the whiskey butter.
2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. Cut butter into 8 slices. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, incorporate the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the raisins with a silicone spatula/wooden spoon. Slowly, stir in the buttermilk until just incorporated. Be careful and don’t over mix. Empty dough out onto counter and knead, roughly 8 times, using a bench scraper to bring it together. Try not to use flour unless you have to. (Yes, your hands will be covered in the sticky dough. Big deal).
4. Shape dough into a round loaf, roughly 6″ diameter. Spray a sharp knife with cooking spray and make a 1/2″ slash from one side of dough to another, then a second to form a cross.  Optional:sprinkle with demerara sugar
5. Bake 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.
6. Cool bread on a wire rack. Optional:Wrap in a clean cotton/linnen dish towel and cool on wire wrack

Irish Soda Bread Dough    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Irish Soda Bread Dough

Irish Soda Bread Dough before Baking     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Irish Soda Bread Dough before Baking

Ingredients for Irish Whiskey Butter    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Ingredients for Irish Whiskey Butter

Irish Whiskey Butter    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Irish Whiskey Butter

Irish Whiskey Butter
3 T reserved Irish whiskey from raisins
1 T Demerara or regular sugar
9 T unsalted Kerrygold butter, softened

Stir together whiskey and sugar in a microwavable bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave 20 seconds. Stir to dissolve most of the sugar. (It’s ok if the sugar does not completely dissolve.) Cover and allow to cool. Stir the softened butter until smooth. Then, slowly stir the whiskey into the butter until incorporated. Refrigerate if not using immediately.

Enjoy!

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Cooking, Reflections, Traditions

Chicken and Prosciutto Braciole with White Wine Mushroom Sauce

Chicken & Prosciutto Braciole with White Wine Mushroom Sauce

Chicken & Prosciutto Braciole with White Wine Mushroom Sauce

If you listen to the stories of countless immigrants regardless of country of origin, you will hear different stories with very common threads:

  • The iron will to make a new, better life
  • The desire to assimilate and become successful in American culture
  • A careful preservation of heritage and traditions revolving around family, holidays and food

I am a 4th generation American.  America is my home and I am grateful to live here.  My ancestors hailed from Italy, Ireland and Germany.  I married a 3rd generation Italian American.  My husband and I have a passion for Italian American food.  This cuisine, above all others, comforts, nourishes, and brings back the old and welcomes new memories with our families as we cook.

One of my favorite comfort foods growing up, which was served only during holidays, is Braciole, (pronounced bra-zschOL).  If you have a thick Chicago accent, change the pronunciation to (bra-ZHALLL), accent on the “all” part of the word.  Braciole is a meat roll-up that has been browned in oil, then allowed to finish cooking in a tomato sauce.  As a little girl, my Papa would make braciole and meatballs and let them simmer in tomato sauce.  We would eat them over a heavy pasta we referred to as “sinkers.”

I took this memory, coupled with a recipe from The North End Italian Cookbook by Marguerite DiMino Buonopane to make a variation of this dish using chicken and prosciutto.  This cookbook was also the inspiration behind another one of my recipes, Chicken Soup with Escarole and Polpettini.

I hope you enjoy this updated version of braciole as much as we do!

Chicken & Prosciutto Braciole with White Wine Mushroom Sauce Ingredients

Chicken & Prosciutto Braciole with White Wine Mushroom Sauce Ingredients

Rolling up the Chicken &Prosciutto Braciole with White Wine Mushroom Sauce

Rolling up the Chicken &Prosciutto Braciole with White Wine Mushroom Sauce

The rolled up the Chicken &Prosciutto Braciole with White Wine Mushroom Sauce

The rolled up the Chicken & Prosciutto Braciole with White Wine Mushroom Sauce

Browning the Chicken &Prosciutto Braciole with White Wine Mushroom Sauce

Browning the Chicken &Prosciutto Braciole with White Wine Mushroom Sauce

Chicken and Prosciutto Braciole with Whine Wine Mushroom Sauce

Original recipe from The North End Italian Cookbook by Marguerite DiMino Buonopane

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 large garlic clove, finely minced (optional)
1/4 c. freshly grated Romano cheese
1/4 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 c. fresh parsley, (1 T. set aside for garnish)
4 thin slices prosciutto
2 T unsalted butter
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 c. white wine
8 oz.mushrooms, thinly sliced (I used white button mushrooms, but you can get creative)
1/4 c. chicken broth
2-3 T unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Pound chicken breasts to 1/4″ thickness. Sprinkle each chicken breast with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Now, place the smoothest side of each chicken breast down, facing the cutting board you are working on. Spread a little garlic over the “rough side” of each piece of chicken (if using). Then, sprinkle each chicken breast evenly with both cheeses and parsley. Place a single, thin slice of prosciutto over each chicken breast. Roll up each piece of chicken, tucking the filling as you go. Secure each chicken breast with 2-3 toothpicks.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 T unsalted butter & 2 T olive oil. Swirl in pan until butter is melted and oil is hot. Add chicken roll-ups, browning slightly on each side. Work in 2 batches if necessary to give each chicken enough space in the pan to brown.

Transfer browned chicken to a medium-sized baking dish. Place baking dish in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.

While chicken is baking, drain any excess fat from the skillet. Return the unwashed pan to the stove over medium heat. Add the wine and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Increase heat to high and add mushrooms. Continue to stir the mushrooms and wine, 5-8 minutes longer, over high heat. Stir in chicken broth and reduce heat to low once sauce begins to thicken. Just before serving, stir 2-3 T unsalted butter into the sauce to finish.

Once chicken comes out of oven, remove toothpicks if you are a nice cook,  transfer to serving dish and spoon white wine mushroom sauce on top. Sprinkle with reserved fresh parsley.

Enjoy!

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Cooking, Traditions

Infamous Holiday Punch (*Don’t forget the Ginger Ale!*) (Act 2)

Our Family's Infamous Holiday Punch

The Stephan Family’s Infamous Holiday Punch

A party would not be complete without our family’s Infamous Holiday Punch.  Nor, I have learned, would a Cookie Baking Marathon.

The phrase, “Don’t forget the ginger ale,” originated  a few years ago when post-punch time became the grown up equivalent of nap time.  Delicately put, a few family members starting to ‘nap’ at the party.  Everyone was being responsible.  No one had more than one or two glasses of punch.  Then someone went to make a second batch.  Well, there were almost no ingredients left except for the ginger ale!  Whoever made the punch the first time forgot to add the ginger ale!  I was little at the time, but every time we make punch now, the story is re-told!

From Christmas ornament exchange parties at my aunt and uncle’s house to holiday baking at my parents to a housewarming ‘toga’ party we threw in our first home as a married couple, this punch has made an appearance.  I hope it will grace your family’s next big get-together, too.

 “Infamous” Holiday Punch

2 L Ginger Ale
1 bottle Champagne
750 mL Rhine Wine
1 c. Apricot Brandy
16 oz mixed berries, frozen in an ice ring (optional)*

Combine all ingredients in a punch bowl.  Don’t forget the Ginger Ale!  Serve over ice.  

*Optional Ice Ring:  Break out the bundt pan!   Put some water in the the bundt pan, add frozen mixed berries and freeze overnight.  Place bundt pan in a shallow dish of warm water to loosen the ice ring, lift pan out of water, invert, tap out ice ring and place in big punch bowl.

*Optional Ice Cubes:  Put frozen mixed berries in mini muffin tins.  Add water to cover.  Freeze a few hours to overnight.  Place mini muffin tin in a low shallow dish of warm water to loosen ‘ice cubes.’  Place an ice cube or two in each glass before pouring in the punch.

**You can substitute the water in the ice ring or ice cubes with ginger ale**

Our Family's Infamous Holiday Punch

Our Family’s Infamous Holiday Punch

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Cooking, Traditions

A New Spin on an Old Tradition: Christmas Cookie Baking 2013 (Act 1)

What do you get when you cross a birthday party with a cookie baking marathon?  Lots of good food, spontaneous flash mobs dancing, and a case of the vanishing cookies.

A healthy "hello" flash mob style

A healthy “hello” flash mob style

You see, whenever someone walked in the door, my family had to break out in a surprise flash mob and dance.  Whenever reference was made to my brother’s potential love interest named Grace, they had to play the song Amazing Grace and dance (sway in place while eating cookies).  Many hands made light work.  We were able to put my Uncle Tony and Mana to work peeling the wrappers off of the Hershey’s Kisses for the peanut butter blossom cookies.  My Aunt Pam came prepared with Rum Balls (for our Papa), her Hidden Treasure Cookies ready to be frosted, a new gluten free cookie and ingredients for Our Family’s infamous Holiday Punch.

Mana and Uncle Tony taking the wrappers off the Hershey's Kisses

Mana and Uncle Tony taking the wrappers off the Hershey’s Kisses

Aunt Pam making the Peanut Butter Blossom Cookies

Aunt Pam making the Peanut Butter Blossom Cookies

Fortunately I had a little baking elf to help me get through the recipes, my friend Katy.  Everyone said she deserved a raise.  I like to think she was there because we amuse her, not because mom or dad are slipping her $50s behind my back.  We made my favorite Rugelach (a Barefoot Contessa Recipe), which is a crescent roll-up style cookie with a cream cheese dough and a sugar-raisin-cinnamon and apricot preserves filling.  Be careful if you make this recipe.  It takes some time, but the results are worthy of the time investment and long lost relatives may start requesting them…

Making the Rugelach

Making the Rugelach

We crafted my Mana’s “Cookies Rolled in Nuts with a Cherry on Top.”  They got this name when I asked her what she called them.  She started laughing and said, “They have no name, just cookies rolled in nuts with a cherry on top.”  Each year when I mention them, Mana laughs so hard her side starts to hurt.

Finishing the Cookies Rolled in Nuts with a Cherry on Top

Finishing the Cookies Rolled in Nuts with a Cherry on Top

Before everyone arrived, I made “Everyone’s Favorite Fudge” and “Salted Vanilla Caramels.”  They take time and need to sit in the pans for a few hours to set before they can be divided into bite-sized pieces.  After a late night cocktail party, a few of us sat around the kitchen table and wrapped the fudge and caramels.  We learned the next morning that maybe wrapping small food items should be reserved for any time BUT after a cocktail party.  Oh well.   I only make these once a year and they are little treasures.  I learned last year that these make a great surprise treat for the person who literally ‘has everything.’

Everyone's Favorite Fudge

Everyone’s Favorite Fudge

Salted Vanilla Caramels

Salted Vanilla Caramels

I’ll share a few more photos, stories and one of my favorite recipes in my next post, “Christmas Cookie Baking, Act 2!”

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Cooking, Traditions

A prelude to a new tradition: Annual Family Cookie Baking (and 7 Layer Bar Recipe)

Catherine's Seven Layer Bars

Catherine’s Seven Layer Bars before Baking

Sure, a lot of people bake for the holidays.  It seems natural.  Siblings and children are home from college and relatives from far away come to visit.  You want to show them that they mean something to you, so you bake.  You don’t bake the usual chocolate chip cookies.  You break out the heirloom family recipes and once a year favorites.

Kid Friendly Sugar Cookies

Kid Friendly Sugar Cookies

I used to do the holiday baking by myself, with one of my brothers occasionally passing through the kitchen.  Last year, I decided to try something different.  I invited my mom, aunts, grandmother, 8 year old cousin, and my brother’s girlfriend to join the marathon baking session.  Guess what?  I could not exert my over-the-top perfectionist tendencies.  But it was FUN!  We had our family’s famous “punch” while baking.  My little cousin was in heaven.  I learned that certain recipes are best made ahead of time and that others, like peanut butter blossoms, seven layer (magic cookie) bars, christmas ‘wreaths’ and sugar cookies are great to make when a little cousin is offering her helping hands.  I learned that even your tried and true jam thumbprint recipe can fail.

Placing the kisses on the peanut butter cookies

Placing the kisses on the peanut butter cookies

This year, I will not be performing the holiday baking alone.  I was texting my little cousin on Thanksgiving and she asked me when we would be doing our annual holiday baking.  I had sort of given up on it because of everyone’s hectic schedules.  Still, she persisted.  Now, as I look back over last year’s fun, I am glad she asked for us to do it again!  We managed to work around everyone’s schedules and will be doing our cookie baking a few days before Christmas!

Some ingredients from 2012's Holiday Baking Day

Some ingredients from 2012’s Holiday Baking Day

One of our cookie trays - this one went to the monks

One of our cookie trays – this one went to the monks

Not needing an excuse to make one of my favorite ‘bar’ cookies, I recently made a batch (along with my favorite sugar cookies) for a coworker’s baby shower. Variations of this bar are everywhere.  My mom’s original recipe came from the paper wrapper on a can of Sweetened Condensed Milk.  I tend to make these with whatever leftover bits of baking chips I have in my baking pantry.

Catherine's Seven Layer Bars

Catherine’s Seven Layer Bars

“Catherine’s Seven Layer Bars”

2 sleeves graham crackers (16 graham crackers)
1 stick butter, melted
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
3/4 c. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 oz. Ghirardelli white chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 c. Heath toffee bits
1/2 c. Butterscotch chips
1/2 c. shredded sweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease a 13″ x 9″ pan with cooking spray.

Break graham crackers into 1-2″ pieces.  Place in food processor.  Pulse until fine crumbs are formed.  Combine graham cracker crumbs with 1 stick melted butter with a spatula in a medium size bowl.

Pour graham cracker-butter mixture into greased 13″ x 9″ pan.  Pat down evenly with hands.  Press crust down with bottom of (1/2 c.) measuring cup or glass, adding a 1/2″ rim/edge in the crust.

Pour sweetened condensed milk over graham cracker crust.  Spread evenly with spatula, trying not to drag up graham cracker crumbs in the process.  Sprinkle on the rest of the ingredients in layers, ending with the coconut (if using).  Press down with a fork.

Bake 25 minutes, or until coconut is toasted and turns a light tan color.  Transfer pan to a wire rack.  Let cool completely, 1 hour – overnight.  Cut into small bars and serve from pan or place each individual square on a muffin cup and serve on a big tray.

It takes a village… to do the holiday baking!

It takes a village… to do the holiday baking!

Christmas Wreath 'Cookies'

Christmas Wreath ‘Cookies’

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Cooking, Traditions, Travel

Rosemary, Nutmeg & Shallot Sweet Potato Fries (so you can eat cookies later)

Rosemary, Nutmeg and Shallot Sweet Potato Fries

Rosemary, Nutmeg and Shallot Sweet Potato Fries

After Thanksgiving dinner and weekend, I felt like a stuffed turkey.

My inputs have not been equaling my outputs, despite my best efforts at physical activity.   I have also developed a fear of the ‘expanding chair,’ my very wide chair at work that everyone says is because new employees develop the work equivalent of the “freshman 15.”

To balance the extravagance and edible utopia that the holiday season brings, I have been working to showcase 1-2 vegetables with each dinner.  With my family’s upcoming bake-a-thon worthy of the cookie monster himself  (more details in a week), I feel a need to balance…

I am a passionate cook and baker.  More than anything, I enjoy eating good food –  with my friends and family, in the company of new friends and coworkers and among strangers in new cities.  Every meal leads to a story.  Some stories are better than others, but a story nonetheless.  A recipe is good, but not complete, without some form of a story preceding it – some reason or way it came into being.

We spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Pittsburgh with my husband’s family.  One of my favorite culinary stops  is “The Strip” district in downtown Pittsburgh.  I have been going there for the past 8 years, (since Mark and I started dating).  It never gets old.  I stop at Enrico Biscotti company and get the White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Biscotti.  We go to Penn Mac and get some good cheeses, stock up on dried pastas, balsamic vinegars and pignoli nuts.  This time, I also bought fresh nutmeg for $.50.  With fresh nutmeg now on hand, I started to experiment.  The recipe below is the result.

The Enrico Biscotti Company, Pittsburgh, PA

The Enrico Biscotti Company, Pittsburgh, PA

Pennsylvania  Macaroni Company Cheese Selection, Pittsburgh, PA

Pennsylvania Macaroni Company Cheese Selection, Pittsburgh, PA

Grating Fresh Nutmeg (no it is not an alien)

Grating Fresh Nutmeg (no it is not an alien)

Rosemary, Nutmeg and Shallot Sweet Potato Fries

2 Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ x 2-3″ ‘fries’
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
a few gratings of fresh nutmeg
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced cross-wise (Optional*)

Preheat the oven to 450F.

Spray an 11″ x 7″ or similar baking dish** with cooking spray.  Toss together all ingredients in a bowl.  Transfer to baking dish.

Bake 15 minutes.  Stir.   Bake additional 12 minutes.

Very good served with pork tenderloin, green beans or alone as a snack!

Notes:
*I found the shallots will burn if spread out in a really big pan, so omit if you are going for a ‘crispy fry’
**For crispier fries, use a jelly roll pan and spread out fries so they are not touching.

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Cooking, Traditions

Flashback 2008: Grandma’s Holiday (Dressing) Stuffing

A plate with Grandma's Holiday (Dressing) Stuffing

A plate with Grandma’s Holiday (Dressing) Stuffing

The year was 2008.  For the first time, my grandmother let one of her 5 children host a holiday.  This meant Christmas Eve with my dad’s side of the family was being held at our house.  There were certain traditions we couldn’t let go of – including making copious amounts of my Grandma’s Holiday Stuffing.  Still, change permeated the air.  The fine china was replaced by paper plates, the mismatched silverware replaced by plastic look-alikes and the cousins brought the wine.

Butter, Celery and Onion

Butter, Celery and Onion

Growing up, the holidays were not complete without Grandma’s Stuffing, which she called ‘dressing.’  Every year I remember sitting at the “big kids table” and impatiently eyeing everyone take a big spoonful of stuffing while patiently waiting my turn…  We never had enough of this stuffing for my 10 aunts and uncles, 25+ cousins and all of their spouses, children, significant others and everyone else my Grandmother welcomed into her home.

Adding parsley to the stuffing

Adding parsley to the stuffing

Flash forward to 2013.  I am married and spent Thanksgiving with my husband’s family.  They have a passion for cooking that cannot be rivaled.  Still, for the past 2 holidays we have spent together, I have held tight to this recipe.  It has been updated with a little less butter and the addition of chicken stock.  I usually double or triple this recipe for the holidays.  As a side serving, it will serve 6 big or 9 small people.

Grandma's Holiday (Dressing) Stuffing

Grandma’s Holiday (Dressing) Stuffing

Grandma’s Holiday (Dressing) Stuffing

12-13 cups  Italian bread, cut into 1″ x 1″ pieces, left out overnight*
1 pkg. Jimmy Dean’s sausage
1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 c. onion, finely diced
1 1/2 c. celery, finely diced
2 T. assorted herbs –  dried Poultry Seasoning plus fresh thyme leaves and sage – if available
1/2 c. fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 c. finely chopped walnuts
4 c+ chicken broth
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
gravy (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 350F (or whatever temperature the turkey is cooking at).

2.  Place day-old, cubed bread in a huge bowl or stockpot.

3.  Brown sausage in a large skillet over medium-high flame until cooked through, breaking up into tiny bits with a spatula.  Pour over and mix with bread.

4.  In the same skillet, melt a stick of unsalted butter.  Add onion and celery and sauté until celery is soft and onions are translucent, but not brown.  Pour over and mix with bread.

5.  Add walnuts to skillet to toast slightly, 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Pour over and mix with bread.

6.   Stir poultry seasoning, fresh herbs and parsley into the bread mix.  Add chicken broth, 1/2 cup as a time, as needed to moisten the stuffing.  Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  (Optional: Melt some additional butter and pour over the stuffing mix to add flavor and moisten).

7.  Before placing stuffing in the oven, ladle gravy or more chicken broth over stuffing to keep it moist (but not soaked) during cooking.

8.  Bake, covered, for 30 minutes.  Uncover and bake an additional 10-15 minutes, if you like having some crispy bits on top.

9.  Serve to family, friends and loved ones.  Tell everyone it is fat free.

* Note:  If you are traveling or running short on time, you can buy thinly sliced strips of bread from a local bakery or grocery store instead of cutting your own the night before.

Stirring the (Dressing) Stuffing

Stirring the (Dressing) Stuffing

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