Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Don Gondola Grilled Cheese with Celery Puree Soup


This meal came together through necessity. I had tomatoes that were starting to over-ripen, and celery beginning to age in the refrigerator. The result was a delicious grilled cheese and soup pairing.

Although one doesn't really NEED a recipe for grilled cheese, I absolutely love the Grilled Cheese Kitchen cookbook, and have used it frequently since I got it. Even though I've shared a few recipes, I highly encourage any grilled cheese lovers to purchase the book, as it contains many fantastic grilled cheese recipes, along with soups, and macaroni and cheeses.

This particular grilled cheese has a bit of Italian flair between the pesto, provolone cheese, and salami. Add some thinly sliced tomatoes, slather garlic-infused butter over slices of Italian bread, and it's the perfect grilled cheese when you want some added protein. I personally love salami, and used a traditional Genoa salami in my sandwich, but you could use another variety. I also made a basic and more traditional pesto than the basil-lavender pesto mentioned in the recipe.

I halved the soup recipe, but included the original quantities below. I had a box of beef broth open in the fridge, so I used that and topped off with a bit of water to make up the difference. I omitted the cream for a slightly lighter result. The soup reminded me a bit of vichyssoise or French potato-leek soup, but without celery instead of leeks. The onion and garlic made up for the lack of leeks. I recommend using a vegetable peeler to peel the celery prior to chopping. It will remove the fibers and yield a smoother soup.

Although tomato soup is a more common pairing for grilled cheese, I thought this soup was delicious and worked well with the sandwich. It definitely has a nice potato base, and since celery has a pretty neutral flavor, it doesn't really punch you in the face. You can definitely include the cream for added richness, but I left it out, and still enjoyed the soup very much.

Don Gondola Grilled Cheese
Serves 1
(From Grilled Cheese Kitchen)

1 1/2 teaspoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 slices Italian loaf
1 teaspoon Basil-Lavender Pesto (regular pesto is fine too)
2 slices provolone cheese (young, plain provolone, not aged or smoked)
2 ounces [55 g] thinly sliced salami (we like salume finocchiona, a Tuscan salami made with fennel)
2 or 3 slices small ripe plum tomato (about 1/4 in [6 mm] thick)

Heat a cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-low heat.

In a small bowl, stir together the butter and garlic powder until well blended. Spread the garlic butter on one side of each bread slice, dividing it evenly. Place one slice, buttered-side down, on a clean cutting board. Spread with the pesto. Layer one slice of the provolone, the salami, tomato slices, and then the second slice of provolone on top. Finish with the second slice of bread, buttered-side up.

Using a wide spatula, place the sandwich in the pan, cover, and cook until the bottom is nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and cook until the second side is browned and the cheese is melted, about 3 minutes longer. Cut the sandwich in half, if desired, and serve immediately.

Celery Puree Soup
Serves 6 as a side dish
(From Grilled Cheese Kitchen)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium head celery, leafy tops and tough base removed, stalks coarsely chopped (I recommend using a vegetable peeler to remove the celery fibers prior to chopping--it will yield a smoother soup with less effort than straining)
1/2 pound [230 g] Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup [120 ml] dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups [960 ml] chicken stock (I used beef broth and a bit of water)
1/3 cup [80 ml] heavy cream (I omitted this)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small soup pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the celery, potatoes, onion, and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables have softened and are translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the wine and thyme to the vegetables, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring often, until the wine is reduced by about half, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, cover, and bring to a low boil, then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the potatoes are very soft and falling apart, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream.

Use an immersion blender to blend the soup into a smooth purée in the pot. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, purée the soup in a blender, working in batches on low speed. Remove the plug from the lid, cover the lid with a clean towel, and hold down the lid while blending, or the hot soup will blow the lid off and make a mess in the kitchen.) Season with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve immediately.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Manti Dumplings


It's no question that my favorite food in the entire world is my beloved grandmother's manti. They are truly a labor of love to make, and the whole family usually gets involved assembly line style to make for efficient work. Our family recipe for manti is perhaps my favorite recipe on the blog, not only because it's my favorite dish, but because it's the recipe that has garnered the most positive feedback from fellow Armenians, both through blog comments and emails, letting me know how this recipe has connected readers back with their own memories of making and eating manti, and yet others who have tried the recipe and found it tasted exactly of their own youthful memories. I have also brought our manti into the kitchen at Union Square Cafe in New York City, which was my privilege.

But like I said, it's very time consuming to make. I started brainstorming ideas of ways to bring the flavors of manti onto my plate with a bit less of the effort (and no, I'm not going to use wonton skins like some Armenians do instead of rolling out their own dough). I came up with a couple of ideas, one of which I will share today, and another I still plan on testing out in the near future.

Enter my new and original Manti Dumplings, a redundant title as manti in their original form are decidedly dumplings. Yet I'm taking the flavor profile and meshing it with a traditional Asian-style dumpling as its doughy vehicle for consumption.

The filling is identical to that of my grandmother's manti, but with the addition of chicken broth to loosen up the ground beef and make for a juicier result. Chicken broth plays an important role in our manti. Typically, manti is baked in the oven and then drowned in chicken broth before it finishes baking. It then absorbs some of the broth, yielding a crunchy/chewy/soft texture, while also yielding a bit of a brothy base for serving. This is also why I elected to pan-fry these dumplings with chicken broth instead of the water that is normally used when cooking Asian dumplings with this method.

The dipping sauce is obviously the same sauce we use to top our manti, a mixture of yogurt and garlic. A final sprinkling of sumac atop the dipping sauce, and we have a true flavor replica of our original recipe. The only difference is the dumplings are larger, and the texture is a bit different, more chewy than our muse.

If you love manti, if you love dumplings, or if you simply love delicious food, please try this recipe! I'm so excited to share it with all of you, as it's one of my favorite inventions, a real twist on the original while still capturing everything I have always loved about this family favorite. Even though it's still time consuming to roll out your own dumpling wrappers, it really makes all the difference, and it's still faster than making traditional manti by hand. Trust me.

Manti Dumplings
Makes 32 dumplings, serving 4 as a main course, or 6 to 8 as a snack or starter
(Dough and assembly from Asian Dumplings)

8 ounces ground beef
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 1/2 tablespoons minced onion or shallot
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

10 ounces (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
About 3/4 cup just-boiled water (boil water, then let it sit for a minute off the heat before measuring)

Yogurt-Garlic Dipping Sauce:
1 cup plain yogurt
1 large clove garlic, minced or crushed
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon water (or as needed for proper consistency)
Big pinch kosher salt
Ground sumac

Canola or peanut oil, if pan-frying
About 1 cup chicken broth

To make the filling, mix the beef, chicken broth, onion, parsley, and seasonings in a medium bowl until well-combined. The filling can be prepared 1 day ahead and refrigerated.

To make the dough, place a large mixing bowl over a damp paper towel on your work surface, to keep in place while mixing. Add the flour and make a well. Use a wooden spoon to mix the flour while you add the water in a steady stream. Mix together until you have a lot of lumpy bits, then knead the hot dough in the bowl until the dough comes together. Add water by the teaspoon if the dough does not come together.

Continue kneading the dough on a lightly floured surface (only flour if necessary, and do so sparingly) for a couple more minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic (my mixing bowl was very large so I finished kneading directly in the bowl and it was just fine). The dough should bounce back when pressed with your finger, but leave a light impression of your finger. Place dough in a zip-top bag, seal tightly, pressing out excess air, and set aside at room temperature for 15 minutes up to 2 hours. The dough will steam up the bag and soften. After resting, the dough can be used right away, or refrigerated overnight and returned to room temperature before using.

To make the dipping sauce, combine all the ingredients except for the sumac in a small mixing bowl. Adjust the amount of water as needed to achieve desired texture (some yogurts are thicker or thinner than others). The sauce can be prepared several hours in advance and refrigerated.

To assemble the dumplings, remove the dough from the bag, turning the bag inside out if the dough is sticky. Put the dough on a lightly floured surface and cut it in quarters. Put three-quarters back in the bag, squeezing out the air and sealing it closed to prevent drying.

Roll the dough into a 1-inch-thick log and cut into 8 pieces (cut in half, then cut each half in half, and so on to create pieces that are even in size. The tapered end pieces should be cut slightly larger). If your pieces are oval, stand them on one of the cut ends and gently squeeze with your fingers to make them round, like a scallop. Take each piece of dough and press each cut end in flour, lightly pressing the dough to about 1/4 inch thick and set aside.

Next, flatten each dough disk into a thin circle, about 1/8 inch thick, either with a tortilla press (lined with plastic wrap), or with a heavy flat-bottomed object like a frying pan (also lined with plastic). Alternatively, use a dowel (which is a good lightweight rolling pin alternative for fast and flexible dumpling making) to lightly roll out each disc into an 1/8 inch thick circle.

To finish the wrappers, place wrappers one at a time on your work surface, and flour only if sticky. Imagine a quarter-size circle in the center of the dough. This is what the Chinese call the "belly" of the wrapper. You want to create a wrapper that is larger than its current size, but still retaining a thick "belly" in the center. This ensures an even distribution of dough when the dumpling is sealed. Use the rolling pin to apply pressure to the outer 1/2-to-3/4-inch border of the wrapper. Roll the rolling pin in short downward strokes with one hand while the other hand turns the wrapper in the opposite direction. Aim for wrappers that are about 3 1/4 inches in diameter. When a batch of wrappers is formed, fill them before making wrappers out of the other portions of dough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (if planning to refrigerate dumplings for several hours, also dust with flour to prevent sticking).  Hold a wrapper in a slightly cupped hand and scoop about 1 tablespoon of filling slightly off-center toward the upper half of the wrapper, pressing and shaping it into a flat mound and keeping a 1/2-to-3/4-inch border on all sides.

To make "pea pod" shapes, fold the edge of the wrapper closest to you to meet the top edge and pinch together to seal well. Place on your work surface and press gently to steady the dumpling and make it sit flat. Fold the sealed edges of the dumpling to make a series of pleats from one end to the other.

Place finished dumplings on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and dough, spacing out dumplings about 1/2 inch apart. Keep the finished dumplings covered with a dry kitchen towel.

When all the dumplings are assembled, they can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for several hours and can be cooked straight from the refrigerator. For longer storage, freeze them on their baking sheet until hard (about 1 hour), transfer to a zip-top freezer bag, pressing out excess air before sealing, and frozen for up to 1 month. To cook after freezing, partially thaw, using your finger to smooth over any cracks that may have formed during freezing, before cooking.

To pan-fry the dumplings, use a medium or large nonstick skillet (or cook two batches at the same time using two pans). Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons oil for a medium skillet and 2 tablespoons for a large one. Place the dumplings 1 at a time, sealed edges up, in a winding circle pattern. The dumplings can touch. Medium skillets will generally fit 12 to 14 dumplings, large skillets will fit 16 to 18 dumplings. Fry the dumplings for 1 to 2 minutes until they are golden or light brown on the bottom.

Holding the lid close to the skillet to lessen splatter, use a measuring cup to add chicken broth to a depth of roughly 1/4 inch (this will vary depending on the size of the pan, but I used about 1/2 cup water to cook half the dumplings in a large skillet). The broth will immediately sputter and boil vigorously, Cover with a lid or aluminum foil, lower the heat to medium, and let it bubble away for 8 to 10 minutes, until it is mostly gone. When you hear sizzling noises, remove the lid as most of the broth is now gone. Let the dumplings fry for another 1 or 2 minutes, or until the bottoms are brown and crisp. Turn off the heat and wait until the sizzling stops before using a spatula to transfer dumplings to a serving plate. Display them with their bottoms facing up so they remain crisp.

Serve dumplings with the yogurt-garlic dipping sauce in individual dipping sauce dishes, and sprinkle the top of each serving of sauce with sumac before dipping.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Cherry Bakewell Birthday Cake for Harry Potter


In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia put Dudley on a strict diet. Harry informs his friends of the severe diet imposed on the whole family, and his friends in turn send him a variety of birthday cakes.

There are quite a few cakes featured in the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook, which showcases cakes that Harry may have received from his comrades. The one that my friend Camille decided to make to celebrate Harry Potter's birthday last week was the Cherry Bakewell Cake from Hermione.

This Cherry Bakewell Cake imitates the flavors of the famous Bakewell Tart. It's an almond cake with cherry preserves filling, and a decadent butter frosting on top. This is definitely more of a European style cake, less fluffy than an American counterpart. The cake layers are relatively dense with a firm crumb, offset by the sweet and tart filling and rich frosting.

Almond is the most prevalent flavor here, both through the ground almonds and almond extract in the cake batter. Camille suggests cutting the frosting recipe in half, as it was much more than what was needed to frost just the top of the cake, even with some generous piping detail along the edges. The frosting is quite rich, so a nice thin layer on top is more than enough.

Cherry Bakewell Cake (from Hermione)
Serves 8
(From the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook)

Almond Cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely ground almonds
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature

Butter Frosting: (Camille suggests halving the frosting recipe below, as it makes much more than you'll need)
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons whole milk

To Finish the Cake:
1/2 cup cherry preserves (Camille suggests an extra tablespoon or two)
Maraschino cherries, for decorating
Toasted sliced almonds, for decorated (Camille omitted this)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Whisk the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each until incorporated, and scraping down the sides as needed. Add the almond extract and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour, and mixing on the lowest speed to combine. Finish by scraping down and folding the batter with a rubber spatula.

Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans (it will be thick) and bake for about 25 minutes, until the cake feels soft but firm when touched lightly in the center or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and cool completely.

For the frosting, beat all the frosting ingredients together until smooth, creamy, and fluffy, scraping down the sides as needed, about 7 minutes.

To assemble the cake, place 1 cake top-side down on a cardboard round. Spread the cherry preserves on top of the cake all the way to the edges. Top with the second cake top-side up. Spread about 1 cup of the frosting on top of the cake. Place the remaining frosting in a pastry bag fitting with a star tip, and pipe a border around the edges of the cake. Line the inside of the border with maraschino cherries placed about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle the middle space with toasted sliced almonds.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Chicken and Mushroom Pies for Harry Potter


This past Tuesday was Harry Potter's birthday, so of course this Ravenclaw and her Hufflepuff friend, Camille, had to celebrate! Last year we made bangers and mash and rock cakes from the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. This year we tried a couple different recipes from the same book.

Just a quick note, although I think this is a really cool cookbook with recipes of dishes mentioned throughout all the Harry Potter books, Camille and I both agree that some of the recipes aren't well-tested, and we have come up with some tweaks to improve them. For example, these beef and mushroom pies were adapted so significantly from the book, they are basically an entirely different recipe. The quantities in the filling (more than doubled), the sizes of the dough circles, and cooking times have all changed from the original.

For Tuesday's festivities I contributed the entree, while Camille made dessert. I'll be sharing the dessert in a future post. For the entree I decided to make individual pies again, but this time made one of the other variations in the book, featuring a chicken and mushroom filling. What's odd is that both this recipe and the beef and mushroom one both needed to have the filling quantities essentially doubled, but this recipe was closer to having the right size dough circles, while the beef one was way off. I preferred the baking technique for the beef pies over the one for the chicken pies, and have noted the difference in the recipe below. Next time I would bake these using the instructions for the beef pies, as I found those had a firmer and more golden crust, which was easier to remove from the pans.

Why is this so important, you ask? Well, this is what happens when your crust is a bit too tender, even though you baked the pie at least 10 minutes longer than the recipe says. It breaks when you try to remove it from the pan. Oops!

Fortunately after having a couple incidents of leaking pies, I quickly came up with a plan B, and grabbed some ramekins to house these pies, since I had baked these a day ahead and planned to transport them to Camille's for Harry Potter's birthday the following day. The ramekins really saved the day, and make these delicate pies easier to reheat without making a mess. I never had a similar issue with the beef pies, so I think the baking technique really makes the difference here.

The ones on the right were the biggest victims, but I felt safer putting all the pies into ramekins for transportation

So what makes these chicken and mushroom pies so special? Well, they are not unlike American chicken pot pies, but without the carrots, celery, peas, and optional potatoes. It's really a much simpler filling that focuses solely on the chicken and mushroom. The filling is not boring by any means, and was perfectly seasoned and super comforting. When I cooked the filling ahead of time, it didn't seem to thicken enough to my liking, so I added more flour (in a slurry using the broth that was already bubbling away) to get it closer to where it should be. Since this is a double crust pie, I wanted to make sure the filling wouldn't make the bottom crust soggy. I've noted the recipe below with the added flour, but next time would also reduce a bit of the broth, as I didn't think it was necessary and I ended up with a bit of leftover filling that wouldn't fit in the crusts.

These little pies are SO GOOD, and a great way to celebrate Harry Potter's birthday in the future, or simply the next time you are looking for comfort on your plate. I definitely plan on making these again with the noted adjustments below.

Stay tuned next week for Harry's birthday cake recipe!

Chicken and Mushroom Pies
Makes 6 pies
(Adapted from the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook)

Pie Crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into pieces (I use Spectrum non-hydrogenated shortening)
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup cold water

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour (next time I would reduce the broth to 2 cups and the flour to 5 tablespoons)
2 1/2 cups chicken broth (next time I would reduce the broth to 2 cups and the flour to 5 tablespoons)
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenders, diced into 1/4-inch pieces
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Stir the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add the butter and shortening pieces and toss to coat with the flour, then flatten the butter and shortening pieces between your fingers until there are pea-sized pieces of butter and shortening throughout the flour. Sprinkled 1/2 cup of cold water over the mixture, and gently use a rubber spatula or bowl scraper to hydrate the flour until the mixture sticks together. Add more water by the tablespoonful as needed until the dough holds together. Divide the dough in half, form into two disks, and wrap each disk with plastic wrap. Chill at least two hours or preferably overnight.

To make the filling, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook until softened. Season with salt, pepper, and thyme, then sprinkle the flour over and mix with a wooden spoon until combined. Slowly pour in the chicken broth while stirring. Cook until the mixture thickens (it will continue to thicken as it bakes). Add the chopped chicken breast, stir, and bring to a simmer. Continue to cook for 5 to 10 minutes until chicken is cooked through and broth is thick. Adjust seasoning as needed. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl or container and cool completely. You can do this step a day ahead of time, and refrigerate the filling until needed.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator. On a generously floured surface roll out each of the discs to about 1/8-inch thickness. You will need to cut out 6 larger circles measuring about 6 1/2-inches in diameter, and 6 smaller circles at 3 3/4-inch in diameter. For the larger circles you can trace a knife around a plate or saucer. For the smaller circles, use a circular dough cutter or trace the top of the glass. You will likely need to re-roll the scraps from both disks of dough once in order to cut out enough circles.

Fit the large circles into the cups of a jumbo sized muffin pan. To make life a little easier, you can use your knife to cut a small wedge from one side of the circle before pressing the dough into the cups. This will keep you from having a rumpled piece of dough inside the cup. Just press the cut edges together to seal once the dough is fitted into the cup. You can also patch up with scraps of dough as needed if you accidentally cut the wedge too deep.

Fill each of the dough-lined muffin cups generously will the filling, about 1/2 cup into each. Take the smaller dough circles and brush the edges with a little water, then lay the smaller circles over the filling, and use your fingers to press and seal the dough. Crimp the edges if you'd like. Brush the tops of the pies with the egg wash, and use a sharp knife to cut a few slits to form vents. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly, rotating the pan halfway through baking. (NOTE: Next time I would prefer to use the baking technique for these Beef and Mushroom Pies, preheating the oven to 425 degrees F, baking for 15 minutes, then reducing the heat to 350 degrees F for another 30 minutes. The beef pies had a more golden and firm crust and were easier to remove from the muffin pan without incident).

Remove from the oven and use a thin knife to gently pop each of the pies out of the muffin cups. You could also flip over the pan, but this could be dangerous if any of the pie tops are a little loose. These pies can be individually frozen and reheated at a later time.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Fresh Cherry-Almond Scones


I consider scones to be a specialty of mine. I have come up with a base recipe that works, and tweak the flavors to suit my desires as well as the seasons. I recently went to a 4th of July party at a neighbor's house, and decided to bring some scones along. Since summer is abound in fresh fruits, I decided to pit and chop some fresh cherries instead of using dried cherries as I have on many occasions in the past.

Almonds are a great compliment to cherries, so I added some amaretto to the dough as well as the glaze, and decided to use the glaze as an adhesive for some sliced almonds on top of the scones, instead of mixing them into the dough like I do with my Almond Joy scones.

This was a fun spin on my usual M.O. The result is a delectably tender-crumbed scone bursting with fresh cherry flavor, laced with aromatic amaretto, with a bit of crunch from a shower of sliced almonds over the top.

Regardless of the occasion or non-occasion, these scones are a great way to start your summer days alongside a cup of coffee or tea.

Fresh Cherry-Almond Scones
Makes 12 to 16 (depending on size)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 cup), cold and cut into cubes
3/4 cup pitted, roughly chopped fresh cherries
1/4 cup buttermilk, heavy cream, or milk, plus more for brushing
2 tablespoons amaretto
1 large egg, beaten

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon milk or buttermilk
1/2 tablespoon amaretto
Sliced almonds, for garnish

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add cold butter cubes to the flour mixture and work the butter into the flour mixture, using your fingers or a pastry cutter, until the mixture resembles coarse pea or dime-size crumbs. Be careful not to overwork the mixture or the butter will soften too much and the resulting scones will not be flaky. Add the cherries and toss well. Mix together the buttermilk, amaretto, and beaten egg and then add to the flour mixture and mix until just combined, kneading lightly (but don't overwork it).

Divide the dough in half and pat each portion into a 3/4-to-1-inch thick circle. Don't overwork the dough, as you want the butter inside to stay as cold as possible until the scones head into the oven.

Use a bench/dough scraper or knife to cut 6 or 8 wedges (like a pizza) from each round. Flip each cut scone over and place upside down on the parchment lined baking sheet (the bottoms are flatter and will look prettier as the tops of the scones), spacing a couple inches apart. At this point, the scones can be refrigerated or even frozen and baked later. Frozen scones can be baked from a frozen state; just add a little extra baking time, as needed.

Lightly brush on top of the scones (but not the sides) with a little buttermilk, milk or cream (whatever you have). Bake scones for 18 to 22 minutes until lightly golden on top. Remove from the oven and allow the scones to cool on the pan while you prepare the glaze.

Stir together the confectioners' sugar, amaretto, and milk until smooth. If the glaze is too thin, add a sprinkle more confectioners' sugar. Too thick, add a drizzle of milk. When scones are cool, drizzle the glaze over the tops, and immediately sprinkle some sliced almonds over each scone (you may want to glaze/sprinkle one scone at a time so the glaze doesn't set too fast before adhering the almonds to the top). The glaze will act as a glue, and the almonds will stick to the top. Allow the glaze to set and then serve the scones at room temperature.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Ireland - Days 12 & 13 - Kilkenny, New Ross, Dublin


Breakfast at Hotel Kilkenny was not a traditional buffet. There was a buffet for cold items, and table service for hot items.

Dad ordered the pancakes, which were more like crepes. He seemed to like them.

Mom tried the eggs, grilled tomato, hash brown, and beans.

I was intrigued by the scrambled egg with Irish smoked salmon served with homemade brown bread, which our server said was a popular choice. I pictured it to be smoked salmon scrambled into the egg, but it was actually 2 separate items on the plate. On one end was incredibly wet scrambled eggs on top of a soggy piece of bread. At the other end was a single slice of smoked salmon on top of a dry piece of brown bread, with nothing to lubricate the bread. Honestly, this dish to me was unpalatable. I put the slice of smoked salmon on a piece of toast and ate that. The rest went back to the kitchen. I filled up on toast and cheese instead. What a bummer.

After our disappointing breakfast, we boarded the coach for a quick stop in the city center of Kilkenny for a bit more exploration. Since we had already checked out the castle the evening before, we spent some time in the Butler House Garden across the street. Here you can find some of the remains from the blown up Nelson's Pillar from O'Connell Street in Dublin, 1966.

We had admired the spires of St. Mary's Cathedral the day before, and wanted to check that out as well in closer proximity.

A quick stop in Inistioge led us to a "leprechaun bridge." At least that's what our tour director Bernard called it. I swear, he was constantly making us laugh the whole trip!

That's Bernard, our very own leprechaun!

New Ross was our main attraction for the day. It's actually the ancestral home of the Kennedys, but also an important port for emigration during the famine. Here we toured the Dunbrody Famine Ship and Irish Emigrant Experience with Liam as our tour guide.

We learned the very sad and interesting history of the Dunbrody and other famine ships, or coffin ships. They earned this dark nickname because of the number of passengers who died along the way. Passengers would spend about 2 months at sea. Most were steerage passengers, but there were some first class passengers on board. Both had very different experiences. Steerage passengers spent at least 23 1/2 hours per day below deck, with up to 8 people sharing each 6-foot-by-6-foot bunk. This led to the spread of disease, and as a result death on board. Bodies were dumped overboard regularly. Steerage passengers also ate hockey puck-like breads that they would soak in rain water to make them soft enough to eat. Imagine these living conditions for 2 months straight.

Our steerage class passenger. The person she portrayed died in real life on the Dunbrody :(

I found my passenger Owen Daily's bunk

Meanwhile first class passengers had actual food and coffee on board. There were even live animals that the crew would butcher for meat along the way.

First class quarters

The kitchen for preparing food for first class

And speaking of the crew, it wasn't easy for them either. The first crew of the Dunbrody abandoned ship when they got to New York. For future sailings, instead of getting paid after each leg of the trip, the crew didn't get paid until they returned to Ireland, ensuring the crew would actually finish their job and come back across the Atlantic.

The crew's quarters

The Dunbrody was an unexpected gem. I didn't think much of today's itinerary when I first read it, but after visiting the Dunbrody I think it's an important experience for anyone visiting Ireland to understand the sad reality of the Irish people during the famine, but also to see the roots of the vast emigration from Ireland to America and why it occurred.

Map of the United States showing % of population with Irish roots

We had enough time after our tour to grab some lunch, and luckily for us there was a restaurant right upstairs with lovely views of the Dunbrody and the town of New Ross!

Dad had one of his usuals of this trip, a tuna and sweetcorn sandwich. Between tuna sandwiches and vegetable soup, his lunch selections were pretty predictable.

Mom got the Cajun chicken strips in light tempura batter, and served with lime and chive mayo. The chicken was crispy, hot, and juicy. I tried a couple pieces and really enjoyed it!

My pick for lunch was the salmon croquettes, infused with fresh chili, fennel, and lime, and encrusted with pinhead breadcrumbs. It was served with the same lime and chive mayo and a medley of salads much like the chicken strips. The various salads were comprised of rice salad, beets, red slaw, lettuce, and a potato mash (kind of like cold champ--scallion mashed potato), and were all drizzled with balsamic.

The salmon croquettes were delicious. They were soft and tender, almost creamy on the inside, and super crunchy on the outside. Service was super fast, which made for a quick and very convenient meal with a pretty awesome view.

Later this afternoon we returned to Dublin, where it all began. It was time for our Farewell Dinner, which took place at Nancy Hands near Phoenix Park, north of the Liffey.

Here's a little history we learned about dear Nancy and her hands. Nancy and her husband opened the bar together, but later got divorced, and Nancy kept the bar and ran it on her own. She would break the rules on Sundays and serve beer during the 2 hours when all bars were supposed to close. After she got in trouble, she closed the doors during those 2 hours, but had a copper mailbox out front where customers could knock and she would serve them beer through the mail slot, and so they would only see her hands. Nancy's hands. Get it?

Oh wait, there's more. Apparently her hands serving beer were not the only reason her hands were famous. Apparently she would also take customers around the back and serve them in other ways with her hands. One of the employees at Nancy Hands told us this colorful history. We were all kind of speechless!

"Guinn-tiques" aka Guinness antique ads on the walls

We sat upstairs in one of the dining rooms, and selected from the following menu for our last supper as a group.

Not surprisingly, dad ordered the soup to start (this man is so predictable, haha).

I had the warm goat's cheese pastry, really more like a parcel stuffed with herbs and goat cheese, served on roasted, thinly sliced beets, rocket (arugula), and walnut oil.

My entree selection was the beef and Guinness casserole (really beef and Guinness pie).

It was filled with tender beef and flavorful veggies in a thick, well-seasoned sauce, topped with a round of puff pastry. The side dish was just potatoes though, not the champ (scallion mashed potatoes) as advertised.

Dad got the breaded cod, which was a breaded version of fish and chips (he asked for fries on the side), but not quite as good as the battered stuff. I'm sure this is meant to be a fancier version of the classic dish, but why mess with perfection?

Mom liked her pan-fried chicken supreme, which was supposed to be stuffed with leeks and potatoes, but wasn't actually stuffed at all, nor was it pan-fried. It appeared to be roasted. So basically the food was great, but not always as advertised on the menu.

Other members of our group really enjoyed both the rack of pork, and chicken and mushroom pasta dishes. Everything really looked great!

Dessert was a sampler which included three different sweets.

Our Farewell Dinner was such a special experience for all of us. It was not only a great way to say goodbye (or see you later) to our new friends, but also a very special opportunity to meet some of Bernard's family! We were the first group that was special enough to him, and I suppose asked him so much about his family, that he invited some of his family members to Nancy Hands so we could meet them! His mother came from the nursing home with his wife, one of his sons and his 4-year-old granddaughter, who was so precious as she visited our tables and sang songs for us. We had seen pictures and even videos of them throughout our trip, and heard so many stories along the way, it really felt so special to get to meet them in person.

After vacating Nancy Hands, we headed to our final hotel of the trip, Ballsbridge. The room was pretty nice, and shortly after we started settling in we got a call from the front desk informing us that he had an additional single room available for us at no extra charge, because the triple room we were in wasn't really a triple (although I swear it was the same size as what we had at other hotels). We thanked them but passed on the offer since we were sharing some items like toothpaste, it just made more sense to stay in the same room as planned. It was a great offer though!

Breakfast our final morning wasn't bad, but I was kind of over all the typical options so I decided to make a sandwich instead.

Sadly, our journey is coming to an end. It's time to head back to Dublin Airport where we'll make our way across the Atlantic back to Providence aboard Norwegian Airlines. As our plane takes off, we can take in the gorgeous forty shades of green of the Emerald Isle one last time (for now, because we WILL be back).

Once again we have a couple options for food, this time chicken with tomato sauce, rice, and green bean (mom and dad's choice), or beef with brown sauce, carrots, and mashed potatoes (my choice). Both meals also come with pasta salad with pesto and tomatoes, and decadent Irish chocolates! The beef was more tender than I expected for airplane food, and the chicken was pretty decent as well. Both were far superior to the chicken we ate on the way to Dublin 13 days prior. The chocolates in particular were excellent! I really wish I had, like, 5 to 12 more boxes of these chocolates.

Well, friends, the time has come to wrap up these trip reports from the glorious island of Ireland. I knew Ireland would be beautiful, but it truly exceeded my expectations. I had a wonderful time traveling with a really cool group of fellow explorers from around the world, and the best darn tour director ever! Thank you Bernard, and of course Paul our amazing coach driver, for sharing beautiful Ireland with all of us. I'd also like to add that overall we had fantastic meals throughout the country. I've heard so many people say British and Irish food is nothing special, and it breaks my heart to hear it. We really loved the places, the people, and the food. Ireland will always have a very special place in my heart, and I CANNOT WAIT to go back someday!

Ireland - June 2018


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