Tag Archives: bread

Beef Stew and Irish Soda Bread!

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, and last week I went searching through my city’s public library catalogue of Irish cookbooks in order to find something special to cook as celebration of the day. I had to plan ahead in order to put together an Irish-inspired supper since Tuesdays are extremely busy for me in terms of scheduled classes and homework workloads. I figured I wouldn’t really have the time on Tuesday evening to put together a special supper, so I had better make my attempt at making a St. Patrick’s Day meal on the weekend rather than on the day itself.

I was actually fairly surprised by the sheer number of Ireland-related cookbooks that are available through the public library. For some reason I’ve never really thought of the public library as a resource for cookbooks—although now that I stop to think about it, I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be. I spent a good couple of hours searching through the online lists and catalogue of books about Irish cuisine and cookery before settling on requesting a copy of Cathal Armstrong’s 2014 book, My Irish Table. And it’s probably a good thing that I went hunting for such a comprehensive and contemporary Irish cookbook a few days in advance of March 17, because as of this blog post going live, all seven copies of this particular cookbook have been checked out from the library’s catalogue.

In My Irish Table, author and four-star chef Cathal Armstrong records his culinary path from Dublin, Ireland to the United States, where he currently owns and operates seven well-respected restaurants. It’s clear in Armstrong’s writing that this book is all about his love of his homeland and Irish food. Originally I was going to try to produce Armstrong’s recipe for Irish stew, but my parents vetoed the idea on account of their distaste for lamb. That’s a shame, because according to Armstrong, “Real Irish stew is not made with beef. At all. Traditionally it is made with lamb neck or shinbones (known as gigot)” (60). Although it’s worthy to add that Armstrong continues by adding that he usually makes this stew using lamb shoulder chops instead of neck or gigot as they “are meatier and you can get a good sear on them, which adds flavour” (60). And that’s a helpful addition of detail, because as much as I would have liked to cook with lamb in pursuit of authenticity, I’m not sure I’m on board with the idea of cooking lamb neck just yet.

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If you don’t plan on quartering small potatoes for your stew, why not serve it over a fluffy mound of mashed potatoes? From what I’ve been able to learn from online food writing sources, this is another traditional way of serving beef stew, and the creaminess of the mashed potatoes really has a delicious effect on a bowl of hot stew.

Instead, I settled for Armstrong’s recipe for beef stew as found on page 72 of the book. Back on page 60 in his explanation of what constitutes a real Irish stew, Armstrong suggests that carrots shouldn’t really be added to an Irish stew, but that he likes incorporating them due to their sweetness. Perhaps as a result of this carrots are plentiful in Armstrong’s recipe for beef stew, as are eight cloves of garlic, and an entire serrano chili—something that I wouldn’t have ordinarily associated with a typical Irish-based beef stew. (Although on further consideration, why shouldn’t it be added? Chilies and spicy peppers always seem to work well with beef, almost regardless of culinary context.)

Armstrong explains what is actually happening in the pot during the stewing process by telling readers that “when you apply heat to food, you’re actually applying pressure” (73). He further delves into culinary science by explaining that stewing meat is forced to contract due to the application of heat (and its pressure), and that this forces the flavourful liquids from the meat, into the surrounding mire-poix of the stew’s vegetable and aromatic components: the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and fresh rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf (73). Armstrong says that the reason that a stew’s flavour intensifies over the days following the day the stew was originally made is because as the stew cools and the meat cools, it begins to relax and (re)absorb the surrounding liquid—liquid that was created by the meat and the vegetables cooking in the first place (73).

While Armstrong recommends that beef stew be served over mashed potatoes, I thought I would make a couple loaves of Irish soda bread to help sop up the stew’s resulting gravy-like liquid. Armstrong helpfully includes a recipe for Irish soda bread on page 191. The popularity of soda bread (and of a lot of other unleavened breads) is due to the yeast’s historic costliness. Armstrong says that baking soda was introduced in Ireland during the mid-nineteenth century (191) and this coincides with a historic record of the country’s economic climate which would indicate why this bread became as popular and prevalent through Ireland at this time.

Soda bread is not difficult to make. Consisting of mainly four ingredients (flour, baking soda, butter, and milk—oh, and let’s say salt too for seasoning), it’s a quick bread that requires little working and kneading of the dough, and no time required for resting the dough (since there’s no yeast in it). However I’ve had mixed results when making soda bread in the past. It was a bit of a surprise then that Armstrong’s recipe for the stuff worked out beautifully. (Honestly, my bread baking efforts have a 50-50 chance of success or failure.) As it was, the bread looked and smelled lovely when I removed it from the oven, and it tasted wonderful with the beef stew.

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Sure stews are even better the day after making them, but I think this was a pretty successful “pre-St. Patrick’s Day” St. Patrick’s Day supper!

I’d like to include the recipes for beef stew and Irish soda bread from Armstrong’s book to this blog post, but due to copyright issues, I will instead direct you to check out your local booksellers to find a copy. In lieu of making a purchase, I’d encourage you to browse your public library’s catalogue in search of it. Who knows, your public library might have seven copies of it—although I wouldn’t bet on being able to find a single copy available the day before St. Patrick’s Day!

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White Chocolate and Dried Apricot Scones!

Scones are a pretty versatile, single-serving quick bread. A batch of scones comes together really easily and in nearly no time at all. There’s no yeast necessary, and no lengthy “rest-and-raise” dough raising process to wait for. In fact, the whole process of putting together a batch of scones is fairly lax on labour, and can pretty much be completed in a single bowl—so there’s no huge pile of dirty dishes to wash up afterwards!

A scone’s basic form can be altered to suit any savoury or sweet purpose. Cheese scones are hugely popular, and plain scones with added dried currants are pretty conventional for pairing with afternoon tea. Scones made to accompany tea or coffee are usually only lightly sweetened, so as not to compete with the sweetness or flavours of the tea or coffee. This weekend though, I decided I wanted to make my scones sugary, and stand in for a traditional dessert. I decided to add dried apricots for a subtle fruit flavour, but threw in white chocolate chips for their distinct creamy sweetness.

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These scones are almost cake-like in their sweetness.

Did you know white chocolate isn’t actually chocolate in the strictest sense of the term? White chocolate is actually a derivative product of chocolate. It contains nearly all the ingredients necessary to meet the requirements of classifying as chocolate, but lacks the all-important re-addition of cocoa. In its manufacturing, the cocoa solids are removed from the process and never reincorporated, so while it still contains the appropriate cocoa butter, milk, and sugar, white chocolate lacks the inclusion of cocoa that is present in other forms of chocolate. As a result, white chocolate has a very sweet taste that is reminiscent of other kinds of chocolate, but is still distinctive enough in terms of flavour that it stands apart from the other types.

Depending on your own tastes (and desire for a sugar-rush), you may want to adjust the amount of sugar added to the scones’ dough, or increase or lessen the amount of chocolate chips incorporated into the dough. I used a whole cup of white chocolate chips in my scones, and despite the recipe yielding fifteen scones, I almost feel as though I’d used too much! The sugar content definitely helped make these scones work as a treat for dessert!

I think if I were to make these scones again, I would lessen the amount of white chocolate added, and maybe even increase the amount of chopped, dried apricot, so that the flavour of the chocolate wasn’t so prevalent in each bite. Instead of making Dried Apricot and White Chocolate Scones, I whipped up a batch of White Chocolate and Dried Apricot Scones. Still, a cup of strongly brewed, dark roast coffee would offset the sweetness and creaminess of the white chocolate, and its acidity will likely call forward the flavour of the apricots.

If you are looking to put your own spin on a basic scone recipe, I would suggest using this one as a base, and then swap out the white chocolate and dried apricots for dried cranberries and dark chocolate; cinnamon, ginger, and toffee pieces; fresh raspberries or blackberries sweetened with honey; diced rhubarb tossed with vanilla sugar; or any other flavour pairing you can imagine! Or, you could omit the additional flavours completely, sweeten the dry ingredients with a half cup of white sugar, and simply let the scones’ flavour stand alone—they’re just as tasty eaten warm from the oven with a small pat of butter or jam as the scones stuffed with other ingredients!

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Chewy chunks of dried apricot play second-fiddle to creamy, sweet white chocolate chips in these dessert scones.

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Apple Cheddar Quick Bread!

When the weather’s cold and dreary, I think a lot of people look to offset the chill and gloom with comforting meals and homemade treats. The last couple of days here in the city have been pretty cool and rainy (definite fall weather!) so I was on the lookout for a seasonal-themed treat to put together this weekend for the blog. And since last week I dealt with pumpkin as the seasonal flavour pick, I thought this time around I would incorporate September’s other major harvest flavour: apple.

One of my favourite flavour pairings (especially in the fall when the apples are plentiful and ripe) is crisp apple and extra-old cheddar cheese. The sharpness of the cheese and the tartness of the apple complement each other well, and you can make a super quick, and super easy snack simply out of sliced apples and cheese. But simply cutting up apples and cheese wasn’t going to cut it (pardon the pun) when it came to putting together a homemade comfort-food fall treat for the weekend. A cold snack wouldn’t take away the chill from rainy fall weather, and it definitely wouldn’t fill the house with the delicious, comforting smells of something baking in the oven!

Online you can find all kinds of recipes for homemade apple-based treats—even ones that incorporate sharp, aged cheddar cheese for a more savoury component. Trying to find “the perfect apple pie recipe” through your average online search engines can be a major undertaking though, and to be honest, I didn’t think I had it in me this weekend to sort through all those search results (never mind futzing around trying to make proper pie pastry dough). No thanks. Luckily for me, ‘apple’ is as common a theme for baking recipes as ‘crackpot theories’ is to Game of Thrones fans.

So I definitely wasn’t feeling limited in my search at all.

So what I really wanted for this weekend (and this blog post!) was a recipe for something fall-y, apple-y, cheesy, and warm from the oven, and when I came across Canadian Living’s September 2013 recipe for Apple Cheddar Quick Bread, I knew I’d found the perfect weekend treat recipe.

This savoury-sweet loaf isn’t too labour intensive to prepare, and while it bakes, it will fill your home with the best smells—baking apple, baking bread, and melting, crisping cheddar cheese! It’s delicious when it’s warm from the oven, and even tastier when it’s left to cool on the counter for a while. When I made the bread, I left the peels on my diced and grated apples because I thought it might add a complementary texture to the softness of the fresh bread, and because I don’t mind apple peel at all. (Though you can absolutely peel the apples if you prefer—that’s one of those details that won’t have too much of an effect on the finished product, I think.) I think this bread would make for a great, savoury accompaniment to a bowl of steaming-hot, root vegetable-heavy stew, or a nice, herbed pork loin supper.

Of course, a cup of tea, and a slice of this bread would make for a perfectly good evening snack for you to indulge in while you sit in your comfiest chair, and watch the wind blow and the rain fall outside your window. And not that I’m trying for a hard sell here… but that seems like the ideal set up for thinking up your own nutty theories about Game of Thrones character motivations and machinations, too.


Big pieces of softened, tart apple and creamy, sharp cheddar are what makes this quick bread deliciously savoury-sweet.

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