Poolish and other things

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Although I consider myself fairly accomplished in the kitchen and am pretty confident when faced with most recipes. I have never, until last year, considered myself a baker. Ok, I could make brownies or cookies or quick breads (like Irish soda bread) , basically things that weren’t too fussy and didn’t need a lot of time to complete. I wanted to be able to make Irish bread without looking at my recipe and I perfected that a few years ago. Then I became obsessed with French macarons , took a class to learn how to make them, and now feel pretty accomplished when making them.

But I had never, ever tried a yeast dough bread, much less the iconic French baguette. So given my success with macarons, the fussiest of fussy baking, I took a class this weekend in French bakery favorites. The instructor was excellent and personable and able to relate to the class. The class also only had 9 students, so it was very hands on and tactile. I enjoyed every, single minute and 4 hours flew by. At the end of class everyone got deux baguettes and deux brioche rolls. I’m hooked and can’t wait to get started on my new skill! Watch this space for updates on how it goes!

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This could be the star of something big….

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Opening day of baseball season is just about 24 hours away. I am perpetually committed to the idea that opening day really should be a national legal holiday. I mean, who couldn’t benefit from sleeping a little late, having a little eye opener with your breakfast as you read the day’s lineup and special interest stories ( quick…Globe or Herald?)
Then a nice stroll or drive to a favorite watering hole where you can surround yourself with like minded individuals, a nutritionally empty lunch of hot dogs or Italian sausage and maybe a sports bar for dessert. No gifts, no cooking, no heavy lifting of traditional holidays. Just a chance to sniff the air for a whiff of warmth and growth, anticipate long twilight evenings with the reassuring background of the radio or television, and maybe take a little snooze during the middle innings.

In college, my crowd always did one of two things. If we were flush we played hooky from afternoon classes and went to Fenway and bought last minute seats in the bleachers for ridiculously low prices (it was the 70’s).

If we were not so flush, we still played hooky but went to the Red Hat and drank 80 cent beers and watched the game on the black and white tv behind the bar. Black and white. Screen size approximately the same size as my current laptop screen.

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The High Holiday Pt 3 in Defense of Boiled Dinner

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I know St. Patrick’s day is over. Forgive me, I was on travel that day and had to settle for a burger, not a boiled dinner, in an ersatz Irish pub in a Holiday Inn. So I was bitter. I got over it, but thought I should really defend this most traditional of menus, because it really is a favorite. Always has been.

First off, there is nothing wrong with corned beef. Nothing. Especially if you soak it well, and buy grey corned beef not pink. (Pink usually is my default color of choice, except in uncooked chicken and corned beef) The pink is even ok for sandwiches, just not the entree version. The difference in color is based on the salt used and grey corned beef is also called Yankee corned beef.

But there are two other cured meats you could try for the feast, and they pair well with potatoes, carrots, turnip, and cabbage. One is smoked shoulder of pork (aka smoked picnic shoulder) and the second is corned beef ribs. Not commonly found, if you do have a butcher that has them, seize the opportunity! They are usually much sweeter and more tender than sliced corn beef. My Nana and my mother and aunt all favored smoked shoulder or corned ribs. My mother would plan a boiled dinner with smoked shoulder like the DDay invasion. In the fall she would wait for a truly lousy, rainy, chilly Sunday and then go to it.

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And just a word about sides. Small creamer potatoes are perfect when boiled and served with Irish butter (get yourself some Kerrygold). And if you don’t like boiled cabbage, you can sauté it in a little butter and it will taste like cabbage, not meat. Don’t forget onions and turnip too. And on the subject of there’s a sucker born every minute, I found these at Trader Joe’s and thought they would be perfect for my boiled dinner.

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Lastly, pour a Guinness and remember the soda bread or traditional Irish brown bread.

Oh and you might wonder when I got my boiled dinner. We’ll, of course I did a preemptory version with smoked shoulder for the Hubs and I on Saturday, and then enjoyed one with corned ribs at my aunt’s on Sunday!

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The High Holiday Pt 2 ( Macaron Post #4 )

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In honor of the high holiday, a.k.a. St. Patrick’s Day, I whipped up a batch of macarons last Saturday. Of course, I made them in the colors of the Irish tricolor. We had a family gathering on Sunday and everyone got some to go as a party favor. Plastic containers from tomatoes and berries are particularly good to recycle as containers for baked goods. I used lime and orange as the flavorings. I tried to make pistachio, but can only find pistachio extract on Amazon, not at any local store including Whole Foods.

It never rains in Southern California…

Except when it does. And when it does, it is an EVENT, let me tell you. I have been home from the gentle climate of my friend L’s house for a week now and this morning woke up to temperatures BELOW zero. Again. And snow. Again.
Even if it does rain in Cali, the temperature is a lovely, non shivering 60 or 70 degrees. You can get the mail without a scarf. Heck you can get the mail without shoes!
The point of this is not really all about the weather but is in fact about the many things that I believe Cali does better.
The list is as follows:

1) Streets and highways. No potholes or plow scraped tarmac. No salt obscured reflectors. Just thousands of miles of streets that connect at right angles, with working lights and lighted (gasp!) street names. Oh, and did I mention the seemingly mile long on ramps to highways so that you can actually merge with traffic vs. being catapulted into the middle of four lanes.

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2) Better Costco stores. Look, all you have to know is that the snack bar is on the outside of the store. And they have much wider selection of everything including

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3) Better and bigger Trader Joe’s stores. In so many ways….More booze, more products, just more. And every town has one or more. Honestly, in California, it’s like a CVS or Walgreens.

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Did you know you can get this at Trader Joe’s?

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Genius. Pork Belly. For the masses. Genius

4) Nirvana…I mean Roger’s Gardens. Orange County. Corona del Mar.

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This is the place I took all the pictures of hydrangeas that I posted last week. The center is full of flowers and fountains, and beautiful gifts, pots, candles, books, and seasonal items. This is a treat no matter what time of year I visit and if I ever hit the seven lucky numbers, I would buy a house on this street. Ocean on one end. Nirvana on the other.

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5) The Oscars. I know everyone sees the same show. But in California you can watch the red carpet over breakfast practically and the show itself is over at the respectable hour of 8 p.m.

That’s all. Just wanted to let you know how I felt about it. We do have one secret weapon that is scarce in lotus land. Wicked pissah.

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Irish Soda Bread

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I grew up making Irish bread or at the very least, helping my Nana make it. She made it all the time, sometimes multiple times in a week. I remember it at all holidays, and family meals, and if someone just came in to visit. It was always there. I tried to measure her recipe when I was in college but it wasn’t the same as hers. But I kept making it and after Nana died, my mother started making it. She really made it in earnest after she retired and of course other family members made it too. Everyone has a different recipe that works for them, and that is what I’ve listed here. I highly suggest you treat yourself to some with a cup or pot of strong hot tea on St. Patrick’s Day next week. It’s an easy and forgiving recipe and oh so satisfying. ( So easy that I made about 200 little loaves for my wedding favors!)

Set oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9″ foil pan

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
Pinch salt
1 cup raisins ( use both regular and golden if available)
1 egg room temp egg
1 1/2 cups room temp buttermilk
1/4 cup melted butter,margarine or spread

Directions:

Mix all dry ingredients. Add egg and mix. Add butter and mix.
Add buttermilk a little at a time until well mixed.
Batter will be the same consistency as cake batter.

Pour into greased pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes
Lower oven temp to 325 degrees and bake for additional 30 minutes
Loaf should be golden on top
Remove from oven and pan and tap bottom, loaf should sound hollow when tapped. Cool and wrap in plastic wrap or tin foil.

(Pictured are the loaves I made and wrapped for St. Patrick’s Day last year)

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Beauty Lab #1

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I spent last weekend in the beauty and sunshine of Southern California and will give you a complete report during the week. However I wanted to share one of my better  purchases , when  I ( and my bestie L) spent a considerable amount of time in Nordstrom at South Coast Plaza in Orange County.

It was a try on shoes, poke around handbags and small leather goods, check out spring makeup color kind of visit and while L was buying some hair accessories, I wandered into what I call the “independent” part of cosmetics. In my youth it was where they sold Vitabath and Barielle products. Now it’s Philosophy, nail polish, Clarisonic products and more. I had already bought lovely Jo Malone fragrances, when I happened upon a stand of cool spring nail polishes. The incredibly well dressed, beautifully made up salesperson introduced me to the ungel “gel” manicure kit by Deborah Lipmann. No lights, no acetone soak, no soft nails. And (bonus!) you can use this kit with any brand or color of nail polish!

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I did a remedial mani on Thursday nite and so far so good. I used the kit and my recently resurrected bottle of OPI “20 candles on my cake”, a great pinky red. Very classic. My nails don’t have that hard as steel feel that a salon gel feels like, but they are shiny and hard enough and unchipped after a full two days of shopping, cooking and cleaning along with regular use. The only trick is letting each coat dry for a full 60 seconds, but what’s 60 seconds when you’re watching “Scandal”?

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I can’t wait for my next pedicure so I can have this fun color on my toes! I bought it when I bought the gel kit. Very summery and beachy and called “Mermaid Dream”. Reminds me of a Disney movie….

I’ll let you know how the gel holds up. Stay tuned!

Way back machine March 2013

This month’s visit to the way back machine features what I was working on last year in March. Significant progress has been made on many fronts…

Week of March 1

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Inspiration from Pinterest and I was stuck in a hotel room in MD because of a snow storm!

Week of March 8

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I made two of these! One for me, and one for my sister! Again from Pinterest

Week of March 15
It was all about the High Holiday and making Irish Bread and getting them packaged in an appropriate fashion…

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Week of March 22
No pictures are extant for this week but I have a note in Evernote that I made Swiss buttercream. It freezes beautifully and I used the last of the huge batch this year for tricolor macaroons

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Week of March 29
Getting ready for Easter with this inspiration from Pinterest ( I just checked the link and it’s inactive)

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What you can’t see is that the Morning Glory seeds were in the eggshells. I used cherry tomato containers as little greenhouses. Seedlings do very well!

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