Homemade Brown Bread with Local Ronnybrook Butter & Homemade Cherry Preserves
St. Patrick’s Day causes a frenzy of leprechauns, shamrocks, green beer and everything Irish people can get their hands on. I’ve lived in the same building for almost 7 years and while I don’t know everyone, I don’t think we have any Irish, yet I can the scent of corned beef and cabbage is already permeating the halls, and wafting its way into my apartment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no exception. I already have some brisket brining and the strong scent of cabbage will take over in a few hours.
Any holiday or reason to cook, I’m all over it. And St. Patrick’s Day is no different…with maybe one exception, the Soda Bread. People get so excited about Soda Bread, with its crunchy caraway seeds and plump raisins, it’s almost like a dessert. The first time I visited Ireland, I was astonished to see our version of soda bread is really nothing like theirs. It’s still yeast free, using baking soda instead as a levener, but it wasn’t sweet at all. No raisins, no caraway seeds, just a simple bread, toasted with plenty of butter. I’m not going to pretend I know why the recipe changed to more of a dessert like bread moving across the Atlantic pond, but it did. Soda bread in both forms is good, but it’s not the bread I fell in love with. There was something about a hearty, ridiculously dense slice of brown bread that just made me swoon.
I’m not Irish, not in the littlest bit. A pure bred Polish girl is what you’re looking at. But when my mom remarried over a decade ago, she chose an Irishman, with roots from Northern Ireland, just outside Belfast. I met his family for 5 minutes when they came for the wedding in 2001. When I really met them for first time we went to Ireland in 2002 and spent barely a week with them, but they welcomed me like I had always been part of the family. Two years later when my friend and I backpacked across Europe, my stepfather’s parents welcomed us into their home and insisted on taking us to visit every tourist location and castle within a 50 mile radius. I swear his mom, then in her 70s had more spunk and energy than we did at 21. We weren’t allowed to sleep in or lounge around–there was always something to see and do. His niece, my cousin in law, took us out on the town in Belfast and introduced us to Spuds (loaded baked potatoes–the Irish solution to our late night post bar diner food). So while I have no actual Irish blood in me, I think a bit has rubbed off.
I’m not usually one to judge, but sometimes there are recipes SO EASY that people don’t even think to try. It drives me crazy! So today, I’m going to be a bit judgy. If you’ve never made your own croutons, and don’t do so regularly, well, I might think a little less of you. And if you don’t try them after I go ahead and show you step by step how easy they are to make and take practically NO TIME out of your normal dinner preparation time, well, then you’ll just make me sad. Nothing’s worse than a sad locavore, burying herself in pint after pint of local Blue Marble Ice Cream. You don’t want to be responsible for that, do you? So please, just try it once.
When you tell someone you’re having sirloin with a port reduction sauce, it sounds fancy, and something you shouldn’t attempt on a weekday night. Yes there are meals that you slave over for hours, days sometimes, and serve to a small dinner party. Complements fly, you graciously accept them responding with things like, “oh it was nothing” or “no, I really just love cooking” in your simple but stylish attire. No one has to know that you changed out of your oil and spice covered cooking clothes, showered and primped only minutes before they walked in the door. The party starts at 6pm, but you’re secretly hoping the party starts to break up around 9pm so you can don your fluffy pajamas, crawl under the blankets and sleep for days after your 48 hour cooking marathon. And then there are those days when you come home after work, exhausted, and whip something up in less than 20 minutes for just the two of you. Well here’s one of my biggest secrets. What if you could make fast look fancy?
Last month I was finally able to attend my first BK Swappers’s event. I learned about BK Swappers last fall from my friend who blogs over at Becoming Brooklyn. But Fall was busy, and then came Christmas…finally when BK Swappers announced their January meetup, I RSVPed immediately. Then proceeded to panic for the next two weeks about which of my goodies were even worthy enough to debut at such an event.