Monthly Archives: February 2015

Cashel Blue and Fig Shortbread

I find a well-appointed cheese board hard to resist.  By that I mean, not just a selection of different kinds of cheese, but nuts, jams, fruit and interesting bread or crackers. Even though I bake, I am always more tempted by salty, savory treats than sweets.  Last Saturday, I attended the annual Ireland Network Chicago Ball at the elegant Drake Hotel and was very happy that the Irish Dairy Board/Kerrygold provided a selection of wonderful Irish cheeses after dinner. I know this might seem freakish to  some of you chocoholics, but I actually passed on the chocolate mousse dessert in favor of a plate of cheese.    It reminded me that I recently experimented using Kerrygold’s Cashel Blue in a savory shortbread recipe.

I was recently intrigued by a recipe for Stilton sables (a fancy French word for thin shortbread biscuits) by Beca Lyne-Pirkis, one of the contestants in BBC’s “Great British Bake Off.”   To make it my own, I started with her basic recipe for the shortbread but substituted something Irish — Cashel Blue cheese — and something American – California black mission figs — for the British ingredients.   The dried figs benefit from being rehydrated for a few minutes before adding them to the dough.

I haven’t come across savory shortbread much in the States, but these tasty biscuits are a nice addition to a cheese board and are definitely worth trying.  They are also lovely served on their own as simple canapes when friends come round for drinks.  A bonus is the dough can be made ahead and frozen so you always have something on hand for unexpected guests.

 

Cashel Blue Cheese, Fig and Walnut Shortbread

Prep Time: 40 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: 25 shortbread biscuits

Cashel Blue Cheese, Fig and Walnut Shortbread

Ingredients

  • 4 oz. all purpose flour
  • 3 oz.cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 4 oz.cold Cashel Blue cheese, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 3 oz. dried Black Mission Figs, cut into small pieces
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 4 oz. walnuts, ground in a food processor

Instructions

  1. Soak the chopped figs for 10 minutes in just enough cold water to just cover them. Drain.
  2. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Put the flour, butter, cheese and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like large breadcrumbs, but be careful not to over mix.
  4. Add the chopped figs and egg yolk and pulse until the dough forms a ball.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly. Press it out to form a disk, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes. If not baking right away, at this stage the dough can be placed in a plastic freezer bag and frozen for future use.
  6. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  7. Grind walnuts in a food processor, then spread out on a large plate.
  8. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator. Place between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out to 1/4 inch thickness. Using a 2 inch round biscuit cutter, cut into rounds. Coat the rounds in the ground walnuts and place on the lined baking sheets.
  9. Bake for 16 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool slightly on the baking sheet before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.
http://40shadesofflavor.com/cashel-blue-and-fig-shortbread/
The

 

Love at first bite — chocolate krispie hearts

Chocolate krispie treats were a staple of school bake sales when I was young — not surprising since they are easy enough for a middle schooler to make his or herself and don’t involve baking.  I’m surprised that I don’t often see the chocolate version in the states.

No exaggeration, these treats came together in less than five minutes. They do take another 30 minutes to cool and set up. Stirring the mixture will be easier if you first grease a rubber spatula with butter or spray it with a canola oil baking spray.  I used milk chocolate chips because I already had a bag in my pantry, but you could certainly use dark or bittersweet chocolate.  Since it is Valentine’s Day, when the treats were cool, I made heart-shaped treats by cutting them out with a buttered a heart shaped cookie cutter.    This recipe makes about six hearts, depending on the size of your cutter, and you will have a extra krispie treats around the borders.  You can also just cut them into the more typical bars.  You will have more treats that way.

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Love at first bite — chocolate krispie hearts

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 6 chocolate krispie hearts, more if you just cut them into bars.

Love at first bite — chocolate krispie hearts

Ingredients

  • 6 oz. butter
  • 10 1/2 oz. (one bag) mini marshmallows
  • 10 oz. milk chocolate chips or grated dark chocolate
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 oz. puffed rice cereal such as Rice Krispies

Instructions

  1. Butter an 8 by 8 dish.
  2. Melt butter in a large saucepan.
  3. Add the marshmallows,chocolate and salt. Stir with a greased rubber spatula until all the ingredients are melted.
  4. Stir in the puffed rice cereal until all the grains are coated with the marshmallow/chocolate mixture.
  5. Turn out into the buttered dish, spread out evenly and pat down the surface until it's even.
  6. Let cool for 30 minutes.
  7. Butter the inside of a heart-shaped cookie cutter. When the chocolate krispie treats are cool, cut out heart shaped treats. You can skip the cookie cutter and just cut them into bars.
http://40shadesofflavor.com/love-first-bite-chocolate-krispie-hearts/

Top Chef Home Edition

This winter, in the 21st century equivalent of “hey kids, let’s put on a show”,  my friend Pete and his friends and neighbors in “Halsted Flats” — a very stylish apartment building on Chicago’s north side — have been holding their own “Top Chef” cooking contests prior to watching the latest episodes of “Top Chef Season 12.”  They recorded the weekly cook-offs on smart phones and posted short videos of “Top Chef Halsted Flats” on Tumblr: topchefhf.tumblr.com

I was surprised and honored to be invited to judge the final contest to decide the winner of “Top Chef Halsted Flats.”  What a fun night of great and inventive food and, of course, wine.  The Girl Power team of Julia and Jojo and the boys’ team of Peter and David engaged in a saucepan to saucepan battle for the title of “Top Chef.”

Top Chef Halsted Flats finalists, David, Pete, Julia and Jojo.

Top Chef Halsted Flats finalists, David, Pete, Julia and Jojo.

Pete and Julia.

Pete and Julia.

 

Julia and Jojo’s three course menu was inspired by the Spice Girls who also provided the soundtrack to the Girl Power kitchen.  Here’s the Girl Power menu:

Top Chef Boystown 047

In case you can’t read it, the first course was “scary” scallops with bacon and cream, “sporty” salmon with a soy and Dijon mustard glaze over “posh” squid ink pasta with truffle and champagne sauce with “Baby Ginger” chocolate and ginger spice cake pops with chocolate frosting paired with ginger beer.

Baby and Ginger Spice cake pops with ginger beer.

Baby and Ginger Spice cake pops with ginger beer.

Pete and David chose an Asian theme — pork pot stickers in a miso broth with ginger and lemongrass, Asian style stir fried pork in napa cabbage cups and an almond cookie with green tea-lychee ice cream, lychee and raspberry syrup.

Asian style pork cups

Asian style pork cups

More than the kitchens became heated.  The three judges engaged in lively discussions about the merits of each dish and the overall menus before awarding the title to Pete and Dave’s team.  Ultimately, the Girl Power team lost points for failing to take full advantage of the theme  they had chosen by not opting to include spices in each course.

Top Chef Halsted Flats winning team David and Peter in Peter's kitchen.

Top Chef Halsted Flats winning team David and Peter in Peter’s kitchen.

In addition to bragging rights, the winning team won the chef’s aprons and a copy of Chicago’s very own Top Chef Stephanie Izard’s cookbook “Girl in the Kitchen.”

For those confident enough in their culinary skills to compete for the real title, Bravo is holding an open casting call in Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 11 for contestants for “Top Chef, Season 13.  Apply here: http://www.topchefcasting.com/

Belfast’s Vibrant Restaurant Scene

In a recent regular Travel Section feature “36 Hours”, the New York Times called a visit to Belfast “an eye opening experience in the best possible way” and praised its vibrant restaurant scene.  The writers gave shout outs to the Taste of Ulster sharing boards at Robinson and Cleaver, the Crown Liquour Saloon and Ox.  Click on the link to read the article and watch the video.

 

Hot toddy with ginger and lemon

I woke up on Sunday morning to this.

Snowy morning Feb. 1, 2015

Snowy morning Feb. 1, 2015

It got worse, the storm eventually dropped more than 19 inches of snow on Chicago.  It was “Superbowl Sunday”, but who really wants an ice cold beer during a blizzard or the next day spent digging out from the snowpocalypse? This is hot toddy weather.   To boost the drink’s heat index, I like to add a piece of crystallized ginger to the whiskey, water, sugar and lemon.  Hot whiskey is sometimes called  “Irish chicken soup” because it’s a folk cure for a cold or sore throat.  I’m not sure whether this hot toddy will cure a cold, but I guarantee that you will feel better after drinking it.

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Hot toddy with ginger and lemon

Hot toddy with ginger and lemon

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. Irish whiskey
  • 1 cube demerara sugar or tsp. brown sugar or honey
  • 1 piece of crystallised ginger
  • 1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Slice of lemon for garnish
  • 1 cup very hot water

Instructions

  1. Boil water.
  2. Add whiskey, sugar, ginger and lemon juice to a glass.
  3. Place a metal teaspoon in the glass to conduct the heat from the hot water away from the glass to prevent it from breaking.
  4. Add hot water to the whiskey. Garnish with slice of lemon.
http://40shadesofflavor.com/hot-toddy-ginger-lemon/