Monday, March 10, 2014

Ready for St. Patrick's Day with "Easy Irish Soda Bread"

St. Patrick's Day will soon be here and here is a favorite treat for this fun holiday. Irish Soda Bread is Ireland's version of a classic quick bread. Baking soda was introduced to the country in the 1840s and was used as a leavening agent in this bread made from staple ingredients. A tradition in the preparation of this bread, carried on by many to this day, including me, is to cut a cross shape into the dough with a knife before baking the bread to ward off the devil and protect the household. Many families have treasured recipes abounding with favorite variations of this beloved bread, including my Grandma Cleva's recipe. She loved buttermilk in her soda bread and I carry on her buttermilk tradition in my own recipe.

In the United States, this bread has come to be known by many as a dessert bread, but in Ireland, as with many traditional Irish families in the US, it is to this day enjoyed served with the main course meal rather than as a dessert bread
This is my recipe take on Irish soda bread that includes raisins, a favorite ingredient addition of mine for pairing with this bread's tangy flavor and tender texture topped with a hard crust.

"Easy Irish Soda Bread"

4 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup margarine, softened
2 cups raisins
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup buttermilk 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray and dusting of flour. In large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, margarine and raisins. Add egg and 1 cup of buttermilk. Stir until mixture is combined. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead slightly. Form dough into a round shape and place on baking sheet. In small bowl, combine melted butter with 1/4 cup buttermilk. Brush buttermilk mixture over bread. Use a sharp knife to cut a cross shape or an 'X' into the top of the loaf. Bake 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on wire cooling rack. Enjoy! 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Fun Fat Tuesday Recipe: "Flameless Bananas Foster Bundt Cake"

New Orleans is a city dear to my heart. My husband was a Hurricane Katrina medical volunteer in NOLA days after that tragedy and went on to spend 6 weeks in the area taking care of patients many times out of a makeshift medical tent. When it came time to choose our honeymoon destination, New Orleans was our unanimous choice. We had an amazing time.

In December of 2012, I returned to New Orleans on a solo trip to fulfill my bucket list wish to visit NOLA during Christmastime! I had the most amazing time. I spent treasured time with my sorority Little Sister Susan. We both have December birthdays and it was priceless to be able to celebrate together. I stayed at the Le Pavillon Hotel in the French Quarter, which was my honeymoon hotel and how wonderful it was to see some of the same staff again. 

Today as NOLA celebrations for Fat Tuesday are underway, I am sharing my recipe tribute to one of my favorite desserts which was created in New Orleans at Brennan's Restaurant. I've invoked the name of this restaurant so beloved in my heart before. Bananas Foster is an amazing mix of bananas, caramel, cinnamon and rum. This dish is traditionally prepared by igniting the rum. I created a recipe for an easy, flameless version. I choose to cook the banana mixture until it thickens and has a syrupy texture. I decided to pay homage to this favorite NOLA recipe in a cake: a bundt swirl cake with a flameless bananas foster filling.

                            "Flameless Bananas Foster Bundt Cake"

2 1/2 cups King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup light sour cream
1 teaspoon Rodelle pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup "Flameless Bananas Foster Filling"

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 10 inch bundt pan with Baker's Joy spray or coat with cooking spray and sprinkle with flour. In large bowl, add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In separate mixing bowl, beat butter with mixer at medium speed until creamy. Add sugar and vanilla extract. Mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sour cream and mix well. Slowly add dry flour mixture to creamed butter mixture, beating well after each addition. Pour half of batter into the prepared pan. Add bananas foster filling mixture by the spoonful over batter around the pan, then lightly swirl together with wooden skewer or spoon handle. Cover with remaining cake batter. Bake 50-55 minutes or until toothpick inserted in cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then invert cake onto a plate. Enjoy!  

"Flameless Bananas Foster Filling"

1 medium banana, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon rum OR rum extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

In medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. When butter is melted, add brown sugar, cinnamon and rum. Stir to dissolve brown sugar. When mixture is bubbling at the edges, add chopped bananas and stir to coat bananas. Let bananas cook in the syrup, stirring often, until mixture has a thick and syrupy consistency.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Mardi Gras Recipe: "Easy Mini King Cakes"

I love the history of the Mardi Gras celebration. Here are some fun facts for you about this annual event imparted to me by a number of the French Quarter's fabulous tour guides: 

*"Mardi Gras" is French for "Fat Tuesday"and it is an official holiday in the state of Louisiana since 1875.

*French explorer Sieur d'Iberville is credited with bringing the Mardi Gras tradition to America in 1699 because the festival had been celebrated as a major holiday in Paris, France since the Middle Ages.

*Some historians have said New Orleans' grand traditions began in 1827 when a group of students returned from school in Paris and donned strange costumes and danced their way through the streets during Mardi Gras after taking part in this type of revelry in Paris celebrations. Other history sources attribute early French settlers to Louisiana to the growing revelry of this literal holiday. During the years 1827-1833, the New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebrations became more elaborate, culminating in an annual Mardi Gras Ball. 

*The exact date of the first revelries cannot be determined, but  it was well-established by the middle of the Nineteenth Century. The Mystick Krewe of Comus presented its 1857 Torchlight Parade with a theme taken from "Paradise Lost" written by John Milton.

*The colors of Mardi Gras are purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power. 

I am serving up a "piece" of Mardi Gras tradition in a bite-size cake at my house today to celebrate. I am a huge fan of Nordic Ware baking pans because of their durability, non-stick coating and even baking nature. I love mini cakes for personal-size treats and this pan was perfect for my miniature King Cakes for Fat Tuesday. For their 65th anniversary, the Nordic Ware company released a special edition cake pan for mini cakes. They are called "bundtlette" cakes and I think the name is just as cute as the pan. 

Native New Orleanians and locals alike can tell you about the history behind the King Cake and here are some fun facts about this tasty treat. It is traditionally oval in shape, made from a sweet dough and covered with a poured sugar topping decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras-colored sugars of purple, green and gold, symbolizing the  Three Wise Men who visited the Christ Child. This cake tradition is believed to have begun with French settlers around 1870, who were themselves continuing a custom which dated back to Twelfth Century France, when a similar cake was used to celebrate the coming of the Magi twelve days after Christmas bearing gifts for the Christ Child. As a symbol of this Holy Day, a tiny plastic baby (symbolic of the baby Jesus) is placed inside each King Cake but other items sometimes used are coins, beans, pecans or peas. In 1871, the tradition of choosing the Queen of Mardi Gras was determined by who drew the prize within the cake. Today, finding the baby or other prize in the cake is a sign of good luck to the one who finds it. It can also mean the person who finds the prize has to host the next King Cake Party.

I make an easy mini King Cake using Pillsbury reduced fat cinnamon rolls and ready-made writing icing found in the cake decorating section of the baking aisle. It is customary to place a plastic baby inside the cake, but for times when I don't have or want to use a small plastic baby in the cake, I have found a good and fun substitute is to use a pecan instead, and the recipients had just as much fun seeing who finds the pecan in their cake. 

The glittery mask you see pictured is my new Mardi Gras mask, local made in NOLA with no rubber-band because it glues right on with eyelash glue! I am donning at multiple celebrations this year thanks to seeing fabulous Fleurty Girl maven Lauren wearing one and I was so happy to find one for purchase on her website before they sold out. 

"Easy Mini Bundt Pan King Cakes"

1 can Pillsbury reduced fat cinnamon rolls
1 shelled pecan  
1 small tube purple writing icing
1 small tube green writing icing
1 small tube yellow writing icing

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray mini bundt pan with cooking spray and dusting of flour. Remove rolls and glaze from can. Cut each roll in half to make each mini cake. In one of the pieces of dough, add the pecan and shape dough around pecan. In each mini cake mold, shape dough halves around center of bundt mold, then gently press the ends together. Bake 11-13 minutes, or until top is golden brown in color. Cool for 10 minutes and revert pan onto cooling rack or heat-safe surface and remove rolls from pan. Coat rolls with the glaze that comes with the can of rolls. I then drizzle the purple, green and yellow icings across the cakes in sections. Allow to cool 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Now...enjoy your Fat Tuesday and as they say it in NOLA, "Laissez les bons temps rouler!" (let the good times roll!)