Archive for March, 2009

Irish Cottage Soda Bread

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009


I can’t imagine celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day without a little soda bread, so called because it gets its leavening from baking soda rather than yeast. This is my favorite recipe to date for this treat. It comes from a now defunct store in Summit, New Jersey, called the Irish Cottage. Every year the store had a soda-bread contest, and this was one of the staff’s favorite winning recipes.


If you don’t have a way to use a quart of buttermilk, you may buy buttermilk powder in the baking section of large grocery stores. Add the required amount to the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder, and use water when the recipe calls for the buttermilk. 


The Bread




4 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold butter, cut into six pieces
1 cup dried cranberries (you may substitute raisins or currants if you like)
1 egg
1-1/3 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda

green sprinkles (optional)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a large cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper or a silicone mat.


In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. With two knives or a pastry cutter cut in the butter. When you are finished there should be only tiny bits of butter left. Add the cranberries.


In  separate bowl (or a 2-cup measuring cup) mix the egg, buttermilk, and baking soda. Combine them with the flour mixture, stirring just until the dry ingredients become moistened. Form the dough into a ball.


On a lightly floured wooden board knead the dough for 3 to 5 minutes. Form the bread into two mounds, place them on the prepared cookie sheet, and gently make a cross on the center of each mound with a serrated knife. Add a few sprinkles if you like. Bake the mounds until they are golden brown in spots, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Makes 2 small loaves. 

Jan and I wish you a happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Jan and I wish you a happy Saint Patrick's Day!

The Orange or the Green?

Friday, March 13th, 2009


Katherine Scott Hallett circa 1890 (Courtesy of Bruce Hallett)

Katherine Scott Hallett circa 1890 (Courtesy of Bruce Hallett)

A few days ago I decided to get ready for Saint Patrick’s Day. I foraged in the basement for my light-up shamrock (which a neighbor whom I shall not name says makes the house look like a low-rent tavern). I affixed it to a window and went into the closet to pull out green clothing. My mother looked at the green shirt, glasses, and hat I extracted and said, “Your great grandmother would have been appalled.”

Indeed, Katherine Scott Hallett was not a person known for wearing green on March 17. Born in 1860, she died long before I was born, but I have heard stories about her all my life. To say that my mother disliked her grandmother would be an understatement. Mad Katie (as we sometimes call her in the family) had no tolerance for little girls with spirit. My mother was chock full of spirit.

They couldn’t even make it through greeting each other without getting into a fight. Katie only wanted to be called “Grandmother,” deeming any less formal name beneath her dignity. She also believed that the word “hello” was sacrilegious. In her view it was just an excuse for saying “oh, hell” backwards. Of course it gave little Janice a great deal of pleasure to arrive at the red brick house in Clyde, New York, and holler, “Hello, Grandma!” at the top of her lungs. Things went downhill from there.

My Great Grandmother's House (the painting is signed "B. Christian")

My Great Grandmother’s House (the painting is signed “B. Christian”)

What, you may ask, does this have to do with Saint Patrick’s Day? Katie came to this country from Canada, but her family was Scots-Irish. They took part in one of the waves of Irish settlement by Protestant Scots. These settlements were encouraged, even sponsored, by the English. For centuries the rulers of England deluded themselves with the belief that if they kept bolstering the Protestant portion of the Irish population they would eventually weaken the hold of the Catholic Church and subdue the will of the Irish to rule themselves.

As a Protestant Irishwoman, Katie believed in wearing orange on Saint Patrick’s Day to celebrate the victory of Protestant William of Orange over his Catholic father-in-law, James II of England, in the battle of the Boyne in 1690. This Irish victory helped ensure that William and his wife Mary sat on the throne of England, Scotland, and Ireland. It also ensured that Protestants would have the upper hand in Ireland for centuries to come, leading to violence and resentment on both ends of the Irish religious spectrum.

To Katie wearing Orange on Saint Patrick’s Day was a tactic in the ongoing battle between Catholics and Protestants. This battle remained vital to her family long after they settled on this continent.

In many ways, I have sympathy for Mad Katie. Far from most of her family after moving to the United States, she lost her husband to pernicious anemia at a relatively young age. In her middle years the rigidity of her personality morphed into dementia. She became even more alienated from those around her.

I have a feeling that at some level she had a genuine affection for my mother, who by all accounts was a pretty cute child. (Today she’s a cute old lady.) Sadly, Katie was unable to express that affection.

So—what am I going to wear for Saint Patrick’s Day? I hesitate to don either orange or green at this point for fear of reigniting the war Katie kept fighting well after it should have been over for her. I could try to emulate the Irish flag and wear a bit of both, throwing a little white in between. I’m not sure that color combination would do much for my figure, however.

At this point, I think I’ll bow out of the orange-and-green wars and wear blue. This color was originally associated with Saint Patrick; there is actually a color known as Saint Patrick’s blue. Of course, I’ll probably still have to don a shamrock or two.

Happily, I can pay tribute to both Irish Catholics and Protestants by whipping up some traditional Irish dishes in my kitchen. My great grandmother may have hated her Catholic neighbors. Nevertheless, she was as partial as the next Irish-American girl to such foods as soda bread and Irish stew.

I dedicate this year’s Saint Patrick’s Day-related posts to her memory and to the Irish heritage that many Americans share.


Irish Stout Cheese Spread

I have to admit to a secret love for processed cheese spreads. There’s something comforting and just plain yummy about them. I hate to read the labels on the commercial ones, however. So I’m making my own instead. This spread has all the creaminess of store spreads, but I know what’s in it, which is reassuring.

If you want to make this savory spread even prettier, use a yellow Irish cheddar to create a golden dip. A note to food-processor neophytes like me: if you use the food processor, don’t try to scrape the spread off the blade with a rubber spatula. We ended up with a “secret ingredient” in our first batch: red plastic!


2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (for roasting garlic)
salt and pepper to taste (for roasting garlic)
6 ounces stout
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 8-ounce brick cream cheese at room temperature
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning


First, roast the garlic. You won’t actually need the entire head of garlic, but it’s silly to roast less than a head. For instructions on roasting garlic see my Springtime Irish Stew post.

Allow the stout to flatten a bit (you may do this while you roast your garlic if you like).

In a food processor or electric mixer, blend the cheeses and 1 tablespoon of the stout. Add the 1 teaspoon garlic, the Worcestershire sauce, the mustard, and the Creole seasoning. When they are well blended slowly pour in the remaining stout.

Let the cheese spread mellow in the refrigerator for 2 hours or more before serving; then return the spread to room temperature for best flavor and texture. Makes at least 1 quart of spread.


Michael’s Potato Cheese Soup

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009
Michael (left) and his partner Tony (Courtesy of Carolyn Halloran, West County Independent)

Michael (left) and his partner Tony (Courtesy of Carolyn Halloran, West County Independent)


Potatoes are central to Irish cuisine and have brought both joy and tragedy to the Irish people. This recipe comes from Michael Collins, the chef at the Green Emporium in Colrain, Massachusetts, now a pizzeria. Michael likes to serve hearty soups along with his pizza. This one reflects his Irish heritage and therefore serves as an appropriate addition to a Saint Patrick’s Day (or week!) menu.


He warns that the soup is quite heavy; if you look at it closely, you’ll see that it’s definitely NOT low in fat. Serve it in small quantities as part of a balanced lunch, however, and you’ll enjoy it without feeling too guilty.


We tend to think of potatoes as not terribly full of flavor, but this recipe shows that they can star in a dish. It occurs to me that chives might be nice as a garnish instead of the suggested herbs……..




2 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 cup chopped leeks or green onions

3-1/2 cups diced potatoes

3 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1 cup grated cheddar cheese (a little more if you must, but don’t go overboard)

1/2 cup milk or half and half

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill or parsley

crumbled bacon for garnish (optional)




Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and leeks or onions. Sauté for 5 minutes.


Add the potatoes and stock. Bring the soup to a boil, cover it, and simmer it for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through. Mash the potatoes a little if you see large chunks, but don’t get rid of them entirely.


Stir in the remaining ingredients (save a little of the herb for garnish), and cook for 1 minute more, stirring. Crumble a little bacon on top if you like for extra flavor (and calories, I fear). The leftover parsley or dill also looks nice on top.


Serves 4 to 6.



Springtime Irish Stew

Monday, March 9th, 2009



We still have a lot of snow in the hills of western Massachusetts, but I know spring is on its way.

The sun shines in on my bed a little earlier every morning, delighting my cat Lorelei Lee. (I don’t have to look out the window or feel the sunlight. I can identify the exact moment the rays land on the quilt because I suddenly hear purring.) Of course, losing the hour of sleep this past weekend was a little hard on both Lorelei and me, but we love having more light in the evening.

Maple syrup taps have begun appearing on neighborhood trees, and sugarhouses are starting to boil down the sap to make New England’s best known elixir.

Best of all, new baby animals are making their way into the world. Erwin and Linda Reynolds in Charlemont reported the other day that they had THIRTY-ONE little lambs at their Erlin Farm! Naturally, my mother and I had to pay them a visit.

(Courtesy of Leon Peters)

(Courtesy of Leon Peters)

I think my mother may have been more excited to see our friends than the lambs. Erwin and Linda embody the extended meanings of the terms shepherding (guidance) and animal husbandry (love). They have within them huge stores of common sense and heart. My mother is as sensitive to those qualities as the lambs seemed to be.

The lambs we saw at Erlin varied in age between six days and five weeks. The oldest were just learning to use their little knees to leap into the air. One would suddenly execute an awkward jump on all fours; then a couple of others would try and ALMOST manage. I’m sure within a day or two many will be airborne.

My mother and I fell especially in love with one of Erwin and Linda’s “bottle babies,” Bandit. Erwin explained that sometimes the ewes have too many lambs to feed or just don’t come up with enough milk. At that point, Erwin and Linda take over with formula. They have take extra care of the bottle babies since these lambs don’t get the natural immunities that come from drinking mother’s milk. Bandit looked pretty happy and healthy—and utterly darling. I’m hoping she gets to be a mother next year instead of being turned into lamb chops.

It makes me a little sad to think that most of these adorable babies will someday become food. Nevertheless, I’m happier cooking and eating lamb from Erwin and Linda or from my neighbor Paul Cooper than I am consuming lamb from far away. I know that these lambs led happy lives in a beautiful place. (I also know that they were fed a healthy diet.)

Erwin and Linda gave me a bunch of recipes from the American Lamb Board, some of which I’m sure will make their way into these pages soon. Meanwhile, in honor of spring—and Saint Patrick!—here is a recipe for lamb stew.

The recipe gives the potatoes and carrots maximum flavor by mixing them in with the lamb from the very beginning of the cooking. Its drawback is that by the time the stew is done the pieces of potato and carrot have become very small. If you like, you may wait until after the first hour to add them to the stew pot. They will have more integrity that way.

I like a crazy mixed-up stew so this method suits me just fine.


Erwin and Linda with Baby Bandit

Erwin and Linda with Baby Bandit

Springtime Irish Stew


1 head garlic
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (for roasting the garlic)
salt and pepper to taste (for roasting the garlic)
1-1/2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder
8 baby potatoes, cut in half
1 onion, sliced
6 carrots, cut into chunks
a handful of parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)
salt and pepper to taste (I use a generous teaspoon of salt and 10 turns of my pepper grinder)
2 cups (possibly more) stock: lamb if you have it, but beef or chicken will do


First, roast the garlic. (If you are disinclined to roast, you may skip this step and chop up a couple of cloves of raw garlic for the stew instead. I think the roasting is rather fun.) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pull the outside skin off the head of garlic, but leave the individual skins on the garlic cloves.

Cut off the tips of the garlic cloves. (See photo.) Place the garlic head in a small baking dish. (An ovenproof ramekin does nicely.) Drizzle oil all over the exposed parts of the garlic, using your fingers to make sure the oil touches all the visible garlic. Sprinkle salt and pepper overall. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil.


Bake the garlic until it feels soft, about 30 to 40 minutes. Allow it to cool until you can touch it; then squeeze the individual cloves out of their skins and into a bowl. Mash the garlic with a fork. Set it aside while you prepare the lamb.

Trim off any excess fat you can from the lamb, and cut it into small chunks.

Place about 2/3 of the potatoes in the bottom of a Dutch oven. Arrange the onions and garlic over the potatoes; then put the carrots on top of the onions and garlic. Place the meat on top. Sprinkle at least half of the parsley and all of the rosemary on the meat, plus the salt and pepper. Top with the remaining potatoes.

Pour the stock over all, and place the Dutch oven on the stove top. When it boils, turn it down and cover it. Simmer the stew for 2 hours, stirring occasionally to keep the food from sticking to the pan and adding more stock if necessary.

Just before serving sprinkle the remaining parsley on top of the stew to give a hint of fresh green.


A Hug in a Bowl: Faith’s Tunafish and Noodles

Friday, March 6th, 2009



Today I have a guest blogger, my friend Faith Montgomery Paul. As kids Faith and I spent summers together at Singing Brook Farm in Hawley, Massachusetts. She’s probably the first person apart from my family I ever cooked with. We made a ton of fudge and cookies to share with our friends as teenagers! Along the way we cooked up a friendship that has lasted for decades.

Faith returns to Hawley every summer with her husband Arnold and her son Ian, one of my all-time favorite kids. We only see each other a few days a year, but we’re in touch by e-mail all the time, and it feels as though we’re still just around the corner. She wrote me a few weeks back and said she was in the mood for tuna-noodle casserole, and I said that sounded like a blog post to me!

When I made the casserole (the photo is of my version; I’m sure Faith’s looks neater!) I didn’t have any canned mushrooms so I sautéed a few fresh ones and popped them in. I also threw a little paprika on top because I just love paprika. And I mixed the salt, pepper, and onion granules into the sauce so they would spread out (sorry, Faith; I just can’t help messing with recipes a teensy bit).

Anyone else who would like to share thoughts and recipes is very welcome to do so; after all, the name of this blog is “In OUR Grandmothers’ Kitchens.”

Meanwhile, here’s Faith……… 


Comfort Food


Everyone has his or her own definition of comfort food, and I would be hard put to define it conclusively. But I know it when I eat it. It can take the sting out of winter, or heartbreak, or too much STRESS, at least temporarily. It’s warming and sustaining and non-threatening (no exotic ingredients here!). It’s like eating a hug in a bowl. Usually, it’s something that my mother Jane made when we were growing up. Sometimes it involves noodles, sometimes cheese sometimes both!


Winter is my prime time for comfort food, because I really don’t like winter very much. Yeah, the snow is nice when everything looks impossibly like a postcard. Yeah, it’s great that my son gets to ski (every Tuesday, all day, with his school — great school — but that’s another story). Yeah, I know we only get the other three seasons because we have winter. I get all that. I still don’t like wearing all these clothes and having my hands cold from November to April. I don’t like days with more darkness than sunshine. Really, I’d just like to eat my weight in chocolate around Thanksgiving (possibly Veterans Day) and then sleep until Memorial Day.


So, along about now, when it seems as if winter might not end, I dig into my memories of childhood and produce: tunafish and noodles. Other people might call it tuna noodle casserole, but in my family it’s “tunafish and noodles.” And here’s how my mother made it.




about 1/3 of a 1-pound bag of medium-width egg noodles

2 cans tuna packed in water

2 ribs celery, chopped (more if you’re a celery fan)

1 can mushrooms, optional

1 can cream of celery soup

1 soup can of milk

onion powder (about 1/4 teaspoon, or more to taste)

salt and pepper to taste

several slices American cheese




Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook and drain the noodles according to package directions. While they are cooking, drain the tuna and canned mushrooms (if using) and chop the celery. In a 3-quart casserole, combine the drained tuna, drained mushrooms, and celery, making sure to break up the big chunks of tuna. Add the noodles and mix well. Add the cream of celery soup and milk. Mix very well. Sprinkle with onion powder. Taste for seasoning and add more onion powder and/or salt and pepper until it is pleasing. Top the casserole with cheese. Bake, covered, for about 45 minutes. If you like the cheese a little brown, remove the cover near the end. Serves 6 to 8.


Note: My mother always puts butter and salt and pepper on the noodles before she puts them in the casserole, but in a nod to my cholesterol level I don’t. I also use one-percent milk, and we don’t notice the difference. Of course, I do put cheese on top, but you have to draw the line somewhere.