Super Human Irish Soda Bread

Four-leaf_clover

“To err is human…”  so, I guess that makes me — super human!  Alexander Pope may have been onto something when he penned those words over three centuries ago.

Have you ever tried something and it didn’t work out just as you had planned?

Have you noticed that just when you think you have it figured out, you don’t?

Okay, enough of the rhetoric.  What I’m getting at is this, we all make mistakes and, by we, I mean, me.

I had a wonderful idea to write a post about Irish Soda Bread and I thought this was the perfect time with St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner.

So, I mixed up a batch, put it in the oven and what do you know – yes, that’s right, it didn’t turn out as I had planned.

I have been baking this bread for quite a few years, and as luck would have it, or not have it, in this case, the dough spread out into a large round blob.

What is a person to do?

Well… eat the evidence, of course!

It sure tasted good, though, so I’m glad I didn’t throw it directly into the trash.

The moral of the story is this, things don’t always turn out as we planned, but that doesn’t mean the results are any less delicious!

I promise, at some point in the near future, I will actually write a post about Irish Soda Bread, and it better turn out exactly as I want it to, or else… I will have to eat another batch, all by myself ;)

Source Photo

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French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup - two bowls WMWhat will warm you up on a cool evening?  During the fall and winter months, when warm and cozy is what you’re looking for, French onion soup is the perfect answer.  This recipe is derived from a version in the Virginia Hospitality cookbook that I received as a gift after my first son was born.

I have modified it slightly and found that I prefer the flavor of vegetable stock more than the traditional beef stock called for in most recipes.  However, any stock you have on hand will be equally delicious.  The beauty of soup is that it’s easily tailored to suit your preferences.

The recipe calls for 6-7 cups of onions – that is not an error.  Onions reduce down during cooking and what remains is sweet, savory, and scrumptious.

The wonderful thing about a recipe like this is that it can fit into a tight budget or when you want to indulge and enjoy a timeless classic.  Simple ingredients and simple preparations equal one spectacular bowl of soup.

So, dust off your soup pot, get the ingredients together, and get ready to savor a piping hot bowl of French onion soup.

What is your favorite soup to prepare this time of year?

 

Ingredients:

  • 4 Tbsp. Butter
  • 6-7 Cups Onions, sliced thin
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Granulated Sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Cup White Wine, optional
  • 64 oz. Vegetable Stock
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1/4 tsp. Dried Sage
  • 1/4 tsp. Ground Black Pepper
  • 6-8 Slices French Bread, approx. 1-inch thick, toasted
  • 1/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
  • 4 oz. Provolone Cheese, sliced or grated

 

Directions:

  1. Melt butter, over medium heat, in a heavy 3 or 4 quart stock pot or Dutch oven.
  2. Add sliced onions, cover and cook 15-20 minutes, and stir occasionally, until onions are translucent.
  3. Add salt and sugar and continue to cook until the onions are caramelized, approx. 20-30 minutes, stirring regularly.
  4. Stir in all-purpose flour and cook 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add wine, stock, bay leaf, sage, and black pepper and simmer 10-15 minutes.
  6. Ladle the soup into 6-8 oven-safe soup bowls or crocks, being mindful to remove the bay leaf.
  7. Place a slice of toasted bread in each bowl, sprinkle with grated parmesan and top with provolone cheese.
  8. Bake in preheated 350° oven for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese turns golden brown.
  9. Let cool a few minutes before serving.

Yield:  8 moderate or 6 large servings

 

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Flourless Chocolate Soufflé Cake

Flourless Chocolate Souffle WM copyValentine’s Day is right around the corner and if you’re looking for a dessert to wow your special someone, look no further.  This soufflé is adapted from one we made in school and I was smitten after the very first bite.  If you’ve never made a soufflé before, this is the perfect place to start.  Even though there are several steps, this is a recipe that is not overly fussy or difficult.  It is also a hit with chocolate lovers because it’s rich, but not too heavy — if there is such a thing when it comes to chocolate!

What do you prepare when you want to show your loved one just how much they mean to you?

 Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Chocolate, semi-sweet, chopped
  • 1/2 Cup Butter
  • 6 Eggs, separated
  • 1/2 Cup plus 2 Tbsp. Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. Cocoa Powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • 1 Tbsp. Coffee
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla

 Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° degrees.
  2. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the soufflé dish or six 8-ounce ramekins.  Butter both the parchment and the inside of the dish.
  3. Combine the chopped chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat.  Stir constantly until melted and then add the cocoa powder, salt, coffee and vanilla.  Set the chocolate mixture aside to cool slightly.
  4. Whisk together the egg yolks with ½ cup sugar until thick and pale yellow.  This can be done by hand with a wire whisk, but is much easier with an electric mixer.
  5. Gently stir the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks.
  6. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until thick.  Gradually add the remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar and beat until soft peaks form.
  7. In several additions, fold egg whites into the chocolate mixture.
  8. Pour batter into prepared soufflé dish or individual ramekins.  Bake in a water bath or bain-marie until puffed and a skewer or cake tester inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, approx. 30 minutes for ramekins and 40 minutes for soufflé dish.
  9. Transfer dish to a wire rack and cool 10 minutes.
  10. Using a small sharp knife, cut around edge of cake, invert onto plate, peel off parchment and serve.  Or, you can keep it simple and spoon individual servings onto a small plate or bowl and garnish as desired.  The individual ramekins may be served in their containers, too.  The soufflé looks nice sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar just before serving.  If you really want to splurge, top it with a scoop of your favorite ice cream!

 

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Unforgettable Chocolate Cake

Baby Cakes copy WM

 

This cake is smooth, moist, delicious and, best of all, it never fails to please.  You know how some cakes are finicky, this one is not.  The recipe creates a nice, large layered cake, big enough for a crowd.  It is lovely filled with American buttercream, Swiss meringue buttercream, mousse or even a nice layer of jam or preserves.  Frost the sides with the same icing or forgo the icing and opt for whipped cream or top it with a spreadable or poured ganache.  The possibilities are endless, so let your imagination guide the way.

In one respect, this post is about the chocolate cake, but honestly, it is mainly about my twin grandbabies that are due later this year.  They happen to be my first and second grandbabies, so that means “gg” (my chosen grandma name) had to make something to celebrate!  The proud mommy and daddy to-be came home for a visit a few weeks ago and we had a small get-together.  I baked two three-layer cakes, one chocolate and one vanilla.  Eric, the youngest of my two sons, happens to prefer vanilla and Katie, prefers chocolate, so it worked out perfectly.  I just really needed an excuse to make two cakes in honor of both of the babies.

I had envisioned something sweet and simple, so the cakes were decorated in pastels and adorned with multi-color buttercream dots.  Once the cakes were baked, our dear friend, Michelle, who has known Eric since he was born, offered to do the decorating – what a friend!  They could not have come out more adorable and the parents-to-be seemed to like them, too.  Now onto the big news, we just found out today that they will be having a boy and a girl – so very exciting!!

What cake do you make to celebrate an extra special occasion?

 Ingredients

  • 5 oz. Semi-Sweet Chocolate, chopped
  • 8 Tbsp. Butter, softened
  • 2 Cups Light Brown Sugar
  • 4 Eggs
  • 2 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1 Cup Hot Coffee
  • 2 Cups Cake Flour
  • 2 tsp. Baking Soda
  • ½ tsp. Salt
  • 1 Tbsp. Cocoa Powder
  • 1 Cup Sour Cream

 Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Melt chocolate in microwave, in 30 second increments, then set aside until cooled slightly.
  3. Coat three 8 or 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray and place parchment paper in pans, if desired.
  4. Combine cake flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder and set aside.
  5. Cream butter and brown sugar on low speed approx. 5 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl during mixing, as needed.
  6. Add eggs, one at a time, until well blended.
  7. Add the melted and cooled chocolate and the vanilla and mix well.
  8. Add dry ingredients and sour cream alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
  9. Stir in coffee and mix approximately 1 minute, scraping sides of bowl, as needed.
  10. Pour batter evenly into the three prepared cake pans and bake approx. 30-35 minutes or until cake pulls away from the side of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  11. Remove from oven and set pans onto a cooling rack.
  12. Cool 10 minutes before removing cakes from the pans.
  13. Cool completely before icing the cakes.

 

This recipe is adapted from one by Chef Marcel Desaulniers that was given to me many years ago.

 

 

 

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Functional Organization

Utensil Crocks WMBeing organized makes cooking much simpler and more enjoyable.  That is not to say you must alphabetize your spices; although, if it makes you feel better, go for it!  I just mean that when your ingredients, supplies and equipment are in a place you can easily get to, the entire process, from start to finish, will be less stressful and more rewarding.

I do not like a lot of clutter or too many things on my countertop, but I do like things easily accessible.  I have a tendency to doll up utilitarian items such as using an old crock for utensils, canning jars for special ingredients and cute, inexpensive bowls to organize things like paper clips and stamps in a drawer.  I repurpose and reuse things, not only out of necessity, but to cut down on waste and preserve precious resources.  I also love to open my cupboards without fear of falling objects or having to move ten items to reach that small can of baking powder in the very back.

I am not suggesting you go out and buy containers and bins or add to your collection of stuff.  I would, however, see if there are pieces you already have that could double as drawer and cupboard organizers.  Better yet, this is the perfect time to see what you use on a regular basis.  If you have a set of pots and pans that take up valuable cabinet space, but you only use three of them, pass along your rarely used possessions to people or organizations that could benefit from your excess.

Everyone needs to develop a system that works for them and if you are a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person, then stick with that.  If, on the other hand, you have not found a rhythm you are comfortable with, try a different approach and tweak it until your space functions the way you like.  There is no risk or cost involved, so give it a try and let me know how things go.

What tips and tricks do you use to make your cooking experience more enjoyable?

 

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Blueberry Buckle

Blueberry Buckle with Border with WM2We used to pick blueberries when I was growing up, so I fell in love with the little purple gems at an early age.  This recipe is simple to make and good for breakfast, brunch, dessert or snacking.  The crumb topping makes it hard to resist, but that could just be me.  If you find yourself with extra blueberries, rinse them gently, lay them out on a towel to dry and freeze them in a resealable bag or freezer container.  It is lovely to have fresh berries on hand because you never know when the mood will strike for some scrumptious blueberry buckle.

Did you used to pick fruit as a child, and if you did, what was your favorite?

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 1/4 Cup Butter, softened
  • 3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 1/2 Cup All-purpose Flour
  • 2 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/2 Cup Milk
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 2 Cups Blueberries, fresh or frozen

Crumb Topping:

  •  1/4 Cup Butter, softened
  • 1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup All-purpose Flour
  • 1/2 tsp. Cinnamon

Mix crumb topping and set aside.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Grease and flour a 9-inch square pan and set aside.
  3. Cream butter and sugar, then add egg and beat well.
  4. Add dry ingredients alternately with milk.
  5. Fold in fresh or frozen blueberries (still frozen) and spoon into prepared pan.
  6. Top with crumb topping and bake 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and tester comes out clean.
  7. Cool at least 20 minutes before serving.
  8. This is good served warm or at room temperature.

 

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Sugar Cookies – Grandpa Cutler’s Favorite

Grandpa Cutler's Sugar Cookies webThis recipe was given to me by my dear friend, Michelle, over 20 years ago.  In her family they are known as Grandpa Cutler’s Favorite Sugar Cookies.  Well, I didn’t know Grandpa Cutler, but I do know one thing, he had excellent taste.  These cookies are drop cookies and that in addition to the taste, make them irresistible.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Cup Butter
  • 1 Cup Granulated Sugar, divided – 3/4 Cup for dough and 1/4 Cup for rolling cookies
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 Tbsp. Milk
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. Lemon Extract, optional
  • 1 1/4 Cup All-purpose Flour
  • 1/2 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt

Directions

  1. Cream together butter, 3/4 Cup sugar, egg, milk and extracts.
  2. Add dry ingredients and stir until combined.
  3. Chill dough approximately 1 hour.
  4. Shape into 1-inch balls and roll in additional sugar.
  5. Place 3 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  6. Press flat with bottom of glass or measuring cup dipped in sugar.  Bake at 375° 7-8 minutes until lightly browned.
  7. Remove to a wire rack and cool completely.

 

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Homemade Vanilla Sugar

Single Vanilla Bean copy WMMaking your own vanilla sugar could not be easier.  You can substitute vanilla sugar for granulated sugar in any recipe.  It is also wonderful added to coffee or sprinkled on baked goods.  This makes a great hostess gift, party favor and is a terrific addition to any gift basket.

 Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Vanilla Bean, cut into 1 inch pieces

 Directions

  1. Place sugar in a jar or bowl, add the vanilla bean, cover and shake well.
  2. The sugar will take on a more pronounced vanilla flavor with time.
  3. This can also be done with turbinado (raw) or demerara sugar with equally delicious results.
  4. The best part is you can just add additional sugar to the jar as it is used and your original vanilla bean pieces will impart their sweet floral goodness to cups and cups of sugar.

 

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Strawberry Tea Bread

Strawberry Tea Bread copy WM copyPicking ruby red strawberries in the cool early morning light is a memory that comes to mind each time I take in the sweet fragrance of these beautiful berries.  My favorite way to enjoy freshly harvested strawberries is to just pop them in my mouth.  But every so often, when my tummy is full and I find myself with an abundance, I often make this orange-scented, jewel-speckled bread.  When you find yourself in this wonderful predicament, bake up a loaf of this delicious quick bread.  And, if you are feeling extra generous, bake up two and share one with a friend; they will be so very thankful you did.

I would love for you to share your favorite strawberry memory, too.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 Cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 1 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Eggs, beaten
  • 2/3 Cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. Orange Extract
  • 1 1/4 Cup Diced Fresh Strawberries
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped Pecans or Walnuts

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Butter and flour a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan or spray with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.
  3. Stir together dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, vanilla and orange extract and add to dry ingredients; mix just until dry ingredients are moistened.
  5. Gently stir in diced strawberries and chopped pecans  – do not over mix.
  6. Pour mixture into prepared loaf pan and bake in preheated oven approximately 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the bread comes out without crumbs.
  7. Cool bread in pan a few minutes before removing to a wire rack.
  8. Cool completely before cutting.

 

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Creamy Poppyseed Dressing

Fruit Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing copyWMThis sweet and tangy dressing is delicious and great on just about any salad, whether it is a simple green salad, a fruit salad or even chicken salad.   It can be made in a blender, shaken in a tightly sealed jar or in a bowl with a wire whisk.  You can make it right before you dress the salad or up to 5 days in advance.  The other benefit of making your own salad dressing is that you can decrease the sugar, omit the onion, use any flavored vegetable oil and add yogurt for a creamy version; it is totally up to you.

I don’t always make my own dressing, but sometimes it’s difficult to find a bottled salad dressing that is just right.  Do you generally buy or make your own salad dressing or are you like me and it is a combination of the two?

 Ingredients

  • 1/3 Cup Rice Wine or Cider Vinegar
  • 1/3 Cup Sugar
  • 2 tsp. Onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. Dry Mustard or Dijon Mustard
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1 Cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1/4 Cup Yogurt, plain, optional
  • 2 tsp. Poppy Seeds

Directions

  1. The steps are essentially the same whether you use a blender, jar or a bowl.
  2. The following are the steps used for making the dressing in a blender.
  3. Combine vinegar, sugar, onion, mustard and salt and blend for 15 seconds.
  4. Gradually add oil while blender is running.
  5. Blend in plain yogurt, if desired.
  6. Stir in the poppy seeds (do not blend).
  7. Serve alongside the salad to allow each person the opportunity to choose how much to use or dress the salad lightly just before serving.

 

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