Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spotted Dog

No, not you, Jack.

This spotted dog:

Spotted Dog is the traditional Irish soda bread, but with raisins. It is ridiculously easy to make and is delicious at St. Paddy's Day and anytime during the year.

My source for soda bread is Peter's Mum's Soda Bread Recipe.  This web page provides some history to the bread, as well as instructions to make the two types of soda bread: cake and farl. The web page also states that bits of fruit typically are not added to the soda bread, but done as a change of pace or for a treat. In this case, the "spotted dog" is considered a tea bread or tea cake.

My mom used to make soda biscuits often. They were quick (no yeast) and could be served warm with any meal. Rather than cutting tender biscuits into circles as they do in the southern U.S., these hearty biscuits were dropped by spoon onto a baking sheet, forming a crunchy crust on top as they baked. Adding a bit of sugar to the dough and sprinkling a little more on top of the formed biscuits before baking made for fabulous biscuits underneath strawberries with cream.

Here is the traditional recipe, with optional ingredients for the Spotted Dog.

Irish Soda Bread
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1 cup raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet and set aside.

Put the dry ingredients in a large bowl (including the sugar, if using) and stir with a whisk to combine. Add  3/4 cup buttermilk to the dry ingredients and stir. If your kitchen's humidity is low (we had 8 percent humidity here yesterday--it is DRY in Colorado!), you probably will need more buttermilk. The important thing is to use a minimum of buttermilk--you don't want the dough to be too wet.

Add raisins (if using) and stir until mostly combined and then turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead the dough. The goal is simply to combine all the ingredients, not develop the gluten. Knead only 15-30 seconds.

Quickly shape the dough into a slightly domed circle about 6-8 inches in diameter and place it on prepared baking sheet. Using a very sharp knife, cut a cross into the top. This will help the bread to flower.

Bake the bread at 450 degrees for 10 minutes; then turn the oven to 400 degrees and bake for 30-35 more minutes. To make certain the bread is done, pick it up off the baking sheet and tap the bottom. If it is done, it will sound hollow.

One note: Leftover bread is delicious the next morning when toasted and smeared with lots of butter and/or jam!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Emerald Season

Shamrock leaf

Soon we will be upon what Barbara Kingsolver calls The Emerald Season. Early spring is when we start to see green again: in the early spring crops such as tender spinach, baby lettuces and bright green peas. I guess it is no accident that St. Patrick’s Day comes at this time. And, isn't the pert Kelly green so welcome and refreshing after a long, sleepy winter of browns and grays?

Traditionally, the Irish have not been particularly well known for their cuisine:  potatoes and cabbage and cabbage and potatoes and did I mention cabbage? But, things are different on the Emerald Isle now. The focus is on locally grown meats and vegetables, artisanal  products such as cheese and bread, and high-quality ingredients.

Still, in the U.S. on St. Patrick's Day, we love the romantic notion of Ireland, where so many of our forefathers and foremothers left in the 1800s. We enjoy having some of the traditional Irish foods during this time.

Following is a potato soup, which sports the tri-colors of the Irish Flag: orange carrots, green parsley, white milky broth. Try serving a pot of this with a homemade Irish soda bread (recipe in the next post) on St. Patrick's Day or any cool, spring evening. Éirinn go Brách.

Pot o' Gold Soup
Serves 5 - 6

2 tablespoons butter
1 leek, white and pale green part, thinly sliced
1 carrot, shredded
5-6 cups potatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled and cubed
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
8 ounces shredded white cheddar
4 strips bacon, diced, and fried for garnish (optional)
Parsley, finely chopped, for garnish (optional)

Melt butter in large saucepan. Add leek and carrot and saute for a few minutes. Add potatoes and broth, celery seed, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, 10 - 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk flour and milk together in a pitcher or bowl until smooth; add to soup when potatoes are done and simmer until slightly thickened, just 1 or 2 minutes.

Remove half the soup to a blender or food processor (or use an immersion blender) and process until smooth. Return to saucepan, stir in parsley and simmer for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and add cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. Garnish with the optional bacon and/or parsley.