March 24, 2014

Irish Guinness Stew and Irish Soda Bread


True to the very cold and snowy winter we have been having this year, it snowed on the St. Patrick’s Day holiday, which is only a few days before the official start of spring. That storm brought eight inches of snow, on top of the snow we already had. It was an excellent day for Irish comfort food to celebrate my part-Irish heritage!  

Irish Guinness Stew (Irish Coddle)

Irish Coddle (sometimes called Dublin Coddle) is traditional Irish comfort food. The name “coddle” derives from the slow simmering or “coddling” of the stew. This is a stove-top recipe using a Dutch oven. (For a vegetarian alternative, just leave out the meat, still tasty.)




Ingredients:

  • I lb. of sausage (Irish bangers* are traditional and what I used, but any sausage will do, just don't use small links) 
  • 4 to 6 slices of thick, dry rubbed bacon, fat trimmed 
  • 1 bottle Guinness dark stout 
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut in half and thinly sliced into rounds
  • 2 large carrots, cut into large rounds 
  • 6 medium potatoes, cut into large chucks (I used Yukon Gold potatoes for the lower starch content) Note: No need to peel onions, especially if using Yukon Gold, unless peeling is preferred
  • 4 cloves garlic, cut into large chucks
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • Handful of fresh parsley, minced (or 1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes)
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 4 cups low fat chicken broth

    *Irish bangers are a particular type of pork sausage. (In Ireland and England, sausages are called bangers.) To make my recipe authentic, I wanted to use Irish bangers and found them at my local Whole Foods Market (they make their own organic sausages). If there’s no Whole Foods Market nearby, a butcher shop might have them. If not, any sausage would do (just don’t use small links). Per an excellent question from my friend, Mimi, I called Whole Foods and asked about the seasonings for Irish bangers: Sea salt, black, red and white pepper, coriander, ginger, mace, nutmeg, parsley, canola oil, bread crumbs and wheat flour.





Directions:

  1. Sauté  bacon in large skillet over high heat for a few minutes to brown and lightly crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the sausages. Cut bacon and sausages into large, bite-size pieces.
  2. Sauté  onions and garlic in skillet over medium heat until just softened and lightly browned.
  3. Place the cut-up bacon and sausages at the bottom of a large Dutch oven or stew pot. Add the sautéd onions and garlic. Add the cut-up potatoes and carrots.
  4. Stir in the broth and Guinness stout.
  5. Toss in parsley, bay leaves and thyme. Salt and pepper to taste (note: I find that if the bacon is salty, no added salt is needed).
  6. Cover and simmer for one hour or until all ingredients are blended together and thoroughly cooked, stirring occasionally.
  7. Serve the stew with traditional Irish Soda Bread (see recipe below), or any hearty bread.





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Irish Soda Bread




My first time making Irish Soda Bread and I was pleased with the way it came out. It’s really easy to make, no yeast. Besides serving it with the stew for dinner, I find it’s also great with jam and coffee or tea in the morning.  

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups flour (I used whole wheat flour but you can use all-purpose flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 ½ cups buttermilk


Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Brush a baking sheet with melted butter or margarine (or use a cooking spray).
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda.
  3. Slowly stir in the buttermilk, mixing until the dough is firm enough to be gathered into a ball. If dough crumbles, add up to ½ cup more of the buttermilk, one tablespoon at a time, until dough holds together. 
  4. Place dough on a lightly-floured board and shape into a somewhat flattened round loaf. (Don’t overprocess, just shape, a light touch works best.)
  5. Transfer loaf to the baking sheet. Using a small, sharp knife, make a deep X in the top of the dough (about ½ inch deep).
  6. Bake at 425 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until top of loaf is a golden brown. 
You’ll have a loaf that is crusty on the outside, and soft and chewy on the inside. A dense, rustic bread, perfect as a companion to the Irish stew.

Enjoy!


Spring is officially here and we’ve had a few nice days recently with mild temperatures. However, there are weather reports of yet another snowstorm due this week. Hopefully, just a minor storm that won't leave much snow. Winter just refuses to exit quietly this year. Looks like time to make another batch of Irish Stew! 

©2014 JerseyLil’s2Cents all text and photos

March 13, 2014

Finding Beauty in the Beast of Winter

Oh, what a bone-chilling winter it has been! I won’t sugar-coat it, it has been miserable. This has been the winter of never-ending snow, ice, freezing rain, sleet, and more snow here in the Northeast U.S., as well as parts of the South, the Midwest, and reaching into Canada. In fact, due to a weather condition called a polar vortex, many places around the globe have seen severe weather. 

The frigid cold around here has set records. Many mornings, I've awakened to temperatures in the single digits; the other morning, the thermometer read a mere 8 degrees. It was warmer in Alaska that day! Some people like the cold, some people like snow, and I respect that. But for me, winter is definitely not my favorite season. 

Still, despite the drabness and chill of it all, there is an assured beauty to winter, a serenity in the silence of new fallen snow. So to cheer things up while waiting for spring, I'm sharing photos taken around my home this winter, followed by winter art that I hope you'll enjoy. 


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I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently?
And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt;
and perhaps it says "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again."

~Lewis Carroll
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass 








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The birds of winter around my home  

Blue-gray gnatcatcher 

Robin in the snow (we see robins here all year-round)
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The Cardinal stood out like a picture fair,
As snowflakes struck its body there.
Upon a branch of the winter tree,
Nestled among the needles proud and free.
~Joseph T. Renaldi


In my area, cardinals are only seen in the winter months. 


Cardinal sitting pretty on a snowy morning




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The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

~ Robert Frost


Crow (taken with a long lens)

Crows on a snowy roof

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Coco loves the snow!



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Winter Art

Looking at winter through the eyes of an artist, you can see the majesty and beauty in the season. (I enjoy looking at the season much better than I enjoy being in it!)

Snowy Landscape at Arles ~Vincent Van Gogh 


Train in the Snow at Argenteuil ~Claude Monet


Beneath the Snow Encumbered Branches, Scotland ~Joseph Farquharson


Winter Afternoon, Norway ~Hans Gude 


Whitehall England in Winter ~Paul Maze


Winter Coast, Prout’s Neck, Maine ~Winslow Homer


Snowy Monday in New Hampshire ~Lilla Cabot Perry


Skating in Central Park (New York 1934) ~Agnes Tait
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Spring briefly visited the other day and brought lovely weather with temperatures in the 50s. Everyone smiled at Spring and then Winter got jealous, roaring back with gusts of freezing cold winds and dropping temperatures. As I’m typing this, it’s 19 degrees outside! There are local weather reports of a possible late March snowstorm next week. Winter is not leaving quietly this year! But Winter’s days are numbered. I saw a lone daffodil bravely poking her head out from a small patch of snow, a welcome sight. Spring is just around the corner!


©2014 JerseyLil’s2Cents all text and photos
Paintings in public domain (from WikiPaintings, WikiMedia Commons and Google images) 

February 12, 2014

Groundhog Daze


Another Groundhog Day has come and gone, the annual tradition celebrated every February by abruptly waking a burrowing rodent from his winter slumber at sunrise to become a meteorologist for a day. According to folklore, if the groundhog sees his shadow, expect six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t see his shadow, there will an early spring. (For me, spring is never too early!)

One of the most famous furry February forecasters making these predictions every year is Punxsutawney Phil, residing in the rural countryside of Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Groundhog Phil is a celebrity in the Northeast U.S., and gained worldwide attention after he made numerous appearances in the 1993 film comedy, “Groundhog Day.” (Note: Prior to the movie, Gobbler’s Knob had crowds of about 2,000 on Groundhog Day. Since the movie, crowds there have topped as high as 30,000 for the celebration.)


Phil appeared repeatedly and handsomely in that movie, thus attracting a following of admirers, because the movie is about one day, Groundhog Day, repeating over and over in a time loop until Bill Murray, a dispirited rather grumpy TV weatherman covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, reexamines his life, makes needed personality adjustments, and finally gets the lovely producer, Andie MacDowell, to fall in love with him. 

Here’s a funny trailer from the movie:



Fun movie, one of my favorites, but back to present day Groundhog Phil…  

Crowds gathered at dawn on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney on the frosty cold morning of February 2, bundled up in warm coats, scarves and hats, cameras in gloved hands, anxiously awaiting the forecast. As the sun began rising over the wooded hillside, Phil slowly emerged from his tree stump burrow, looking sleepy but regal, rubbed his eyes, sat up and gave what everyone swears was a wave to the delighted crowd. Phil then paused and looked around, contemplating the importance of the moment as the crowd leaned forward, and the proclamation was made for February 2014: Six more weeks of winter!

Phil says, "I can only please half of the people half of the time!"
Snow lovers cheered; spring lovers jeered! My two-cents to Phil: I am not pleased (although I understand the big furball is only doing his job). This winter has already been the worst we have seen in many years in these parts with heavy snow, ice storms and freezing temperatures (and I don’t like to be that cold!). OK, I know there are some snow lovers out there but for many of us spring cannot come soon enough. 


"Well, it's Groundhog Day... again!"
"There is no way this winter is ever going to end, as long as this groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. I don't see any other way out. He's got to be stopped!"
~ Bill Murray, Groundhog Day


Punxsutawney Phil, Weather Prophet Extraordinary according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, has been in the “early Spring or forget about it, six more weeks of winter!” forecasting business since 1887...that’s right, 1887...well over a century of emerging from his cozy burrow every February 2 to let us know which way the season will go. He’s quite senior for a groundhog, ancient in fact. The Punxsutawney Groundhog website insists there has only been one Phil throughout all those years. Apparently Phil’s lifespan, much longer than any groundhog in history, has been magically extended by sipping a secret recipe Groundhog Punch called the “elixir of life” served up by the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club at their annual summer picnic. Secret recipe groundhog punch...hmmm…


Rumors are circulating that Phil may have lost his edge, gotten a bit too comfy. Since becoming a celebrity, the venerable groundhog forecaster has been spending his time in a cozy, heated simulated tree trunk (no burrow in the ground for him), warm and snug, munching on veggie chips and sipping perhaps a wee bit too much of that groundhog punch. After all, his record has been spotty in recent years, having made accurate predictions only 39% of the time. Last winter, Phil predicted an early spring and what happened? We had cold days and snow right through to the end of March. Slipping there, Phil! Looks like groundhog daze to me!

As I am writing this post, my area is expecting yet another major snow storm this winter, a big Nor'easter in fact, so Phil's forecast just may be on target this time. Spring will still come again...one day! Until then, pass the hot chocolate please.


©2014 JerseyLil’s 2 Cents

Photos (except for the hot chocolate photo) from Wikimedia Commons and Google images. Video from YouTube.