Saturday, March 30, 2013

Coconut Balls aka Better than a Mounds Bar

Since moving out to the east coast I have been fortunate to have some very wonderful people come into my life.  Not knowing if I am headed back to visit family and friends for the holidays, someone is always extending to me an invitation to a holiday gathering.  It must have been the full moon this week or maybe its my lucky Easter as I have received two different invitations to celebrate the day. With one being in the late morning and the other in the early afternoon I thought I would go to both of them as it would make for a memorable day. When I asked if I could bring anything, one person immediately said 'bring the Key Lime Pie' and other said 'bring something if you would like'.  Not ever wanting to go any gathering without either a hostess gift or a contribution to the meal, I just had to decide what it was that I was bringing to the early morning brunch. Decisions, decisions. Then I remembered these incredible chocolate covered coconut balls I had usually made around the Christmas holidays. Coconut cream eggs for the morning Easter brunch, perfect.

When a friend had given me this recipe a few years ago she said they were a million times better than a Mounds bar. A million times? To be honest I was a little skeptical on this bold claim.  Was it possible one could actually make something as good as or a million times better than a Mounds bar?  Being a person who absolutely loves the taste and texture of coconut in anything, I had to take on the challenge and make them, just to see if she was right of course.  And, well, yes she was right.

These coconut balls were creamy, rich, delicious, beautiful, and I might add just a little addictive.  They would convert even a non-coconut eater, maybe. After just one bite I became convinced that I would never want to eat a Mounds bar or Almond Joy ever again, no matter how hungry I was or how much I was craving the taste of coconut and chocolate. They were that over the top great. Maybe even a zillion times better than a Mounds bar.

It all begins with the coconut, beautiful white coconut.  The confectionary sugar is mixed in with the coconut in a very large bowl.

Once the coconut and confectionary sugar are mixed together, you mix in the sweetened condensed milk and the melted butter.  This becomes a very, very thick mixture.  I use a wooden spoon in the beginning stages and then I lightly grease my hands in butter and continue mixing using my hands until all of the sugar and coconut are perfectly blended.

This recipe calls for chilling the mixture twice.  First after it is all mixed together and then again after the balls are formed.  I generally chill the mixture overnight although the first chilling can be as long as 3-4 hours.

As the mixture was chilling I was debating which ice cream scoop to use.  Thought about using the oval one so they looked like eggs, but then I thought the proportion to coconut to chocolate would be slightly off.  I have an unusual square ice cream scoop that my friend's husband brought me back from England (my request of this scoop sent him off on quite a quest through London) but I thought the coconut squares would be 'too' large.  My one inch ice cream scoop was the perfect size. You can you a 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch ice cream scoops, but you will be scooping and dipping for days, okay not days, but it will take a little longer.  But its really not about the time it takes, its about the size you want.

This recipe takes more than one 2.5 pound block of the Ghiradelli double chocolate.  I would say that it takes a total of 3.5 pounds of chocolate to dip all of these coconut ball. So as to not overheat my chocolate, I melt the chocolate in more than one batch.

Once the balls are formed they are covered in plastic wrap chilled for several hours or even overnight. The chilling helps to ensure they will not break apart in the melted chocolate.

After I finish dipping, I use the leftover chocolate to randomly decorate the tops. I like the somewhat homemade look to these coconut balls.  I place melted chocolate in a baggie, make a small snip to one corner and then use like a pastry bag.  You can also just dip your fork into the melted chocolate and spread over the dipped coconut balls.
Coconut Balls aka Better than a Mounds Bar (hardly any tinkering to a recipe shared by a friend)

3 pounds confectionary sugar
28 ounces shredded coconut (2 packages)
28 ounces sweetened condensed milk (2 cans)
1/2 pound or 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 1/2 to 3 pounds of Ghiradelli Double Chocolate Candy Making and Dipping Bar
Optional:  Whole almonds added to the top of each coconut ball (press into coconut ball before chilling the second time)

1. In a large bowl, mix the confectionary sugar and coconut until well blended.
2. Add the sweetened condensed milk and melted butter to the coconut/sugar mixture.  Using a wooden spoon, mix all of the ingredients together until well blended.  
3. Cover with plastic wrap and chill several hours or overnight.
4. Using an ice cream scoop (1/2 inch to 1 inch) make balls and place on parchment paper lined cookie sheet.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill several hours.
5. Melt chocolate over simmering water.  Remove from heat when dipping.
6. Dip one coconut ball at a time.  Place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
7. Place some melted chocolate in a small baggie.  Cut tip and use to decorate tops of dipped coconut balls.
8. Store in a cool place.
Often when I make the 'family' holiday dinners in the house in the midwest I more often than not include someone outside of the 'family' as I really don't like to see a friend spending a holiday alone.  I would characterize myself as somewhat of a traditionalist, so in our family we have made inviting friends to holiday gatherings a tradition.  This tradition comes from the influence and impact of two very different life experiences.  The first one was when I worked as a waitress during college. It was having to work a shift on the holidays that I dreaded the most. Not because I would be away from my family for awhile but that I would have to see someone eating without any companions.  There was always the possibility it was by choice they were alone, but I could not help but wonder 'did not anyone invite them over?'  These visions of people eating alone in a restaurant on a holiday have stayed with me. So I had decided that when I had the opportunity to host holiday gatherings I would extend invitations to friends, family and sometimes just newly met acquaintances. For me this is like paying forward all of the kindnesses ever extended to me.

The second and more powerful influence goes back even further in time. When I was ten years old, the family of my best friend always invited me to their dinner table and holiday gatherings, even though I had a family of my own. Most times, I felt like the adopted fifth child. It was at these dinners where I learned much about food, particularly Italian and Polish foods.  Being at this table gave me my 'first' tastes and smells of foods that were not served in the house I grew up in. Sometimes if the food was too unfamiliar to me, I needed to smell it first, which led me to be given the nickname 'sniffer' by my best friend's father. But more important than the food knowledge I acquired from them was that my concept of 'family' became broadened and deepened.  And if learning and being the recipient of that concept wasn't enough, it was in that household and at that dinner table where I learned the values of 'inclusiveness, generosity, and acceptance'.  And when you are ten years old, these are pretty impressionable values.

The parents of my best friend are no longer here but I believe what they taught me and their children are the lifelong lessons that keeps their legacy and memory alive.  I should only hope to have just some of the impact on others that they had on me.  So on this Easter holiday, I feel incredibly blessed to be in the company of those who, like Andy and Edna had, made me feel like a member of a family.  Bringing a key lime pie or coconut balls to their gatherings will seem like such a small, insignificant gesture of thankfulness in comparison to what I will be receiving.  Happy Spring, Happy Easter to you all.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Not your Ordinary Egg Salad

As I was working on a project yesterday afternoon my neighbor brought over a dozen eggs.  Living next door to someone who raises chickens is like winning the organic egg lottery. She has me now permanently spoiled and I do not know what I will do, if someday I ever have to buy eggs from the grocery store. I have convinced myself I will never find store bought eggs with the same taste and yolk color of these eggs.

Everyday the chickens and rooster, yes of course there has to be a rooster, roam from my neighbor's property onto mine. Sometimes I worry that I will run over them backing my car out of the driveway, but I have been reassured they will get out of the way. So far, they have.  I would feel terrible if something were to happen to them as I have gotten to know these hens over the past year.  Little do they know that their eggs have been responsible for turning most everything I have made from ordinary to extraordinary.

When putting the eggs in the refrigerator, I realized I had not yet made egg salad with these eggs.  What was I thinking?  What was I waiting for? Well the egg salad moratorium ended this weekend.  I had forgotten how incredibly wonderful this egg salad recipe was. Word of caution here, not all egg salads are created equal. This one has just the right amount of creaminess, the right amount of bite from the freshly squeezed lemon juice and dijon mustard, and the right amount of crunch from the minced celery and onions. Yes, there is lemon juice in this egg salad recipe. I am beginning to think that next to salt, lemons are the next most incredible flavor enhancer.  And yes, this recipe is as close to being the most over the top, insanely delicious egg salad you will ever want to eat. Seriously. I would say it is perfect, but I will let you decide for yourself.  It is an egg salad that screams, that begs to be served on a hearty loaf of thickly sliced multi-grain or pumpernickel bread. But it is equally delicious and will not disappoint if you choose to eat it on white bread.

The eggs are put in a medium sized sauce pan or one large enough so the eggs have some room to move.  You add enough cold tap water to the pan to cover the eggs by at by one inch.  As soon as they come to a boil, you remove them from the heat and cover.  Some say you let them rest for 10 minutes, some say 12 minutes, and some say 15 minutes.  I let them rest in the pan for 15 minutes.

In order to stop the cooking process, the eggs are then transferred to a cold water bath and left to sit in it for five minutes before you begin to peel them.  You should be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to peel these eggs.

There are egg salad recipes out there that call for finely chopping the eggs, for grating the eggs, for mashing the yolks.  But this recipe calls for simply cutting the eggs in to a medium chunky dice.  I don't know about you but I love seeing, tasting and the texture of the bites of egg yolk and egg whites in my egg salad. I first slice up the eggs and then do a rough chop.

Finely chopping and dicing the celery and onions are really important here.  This egg salad wants you to experience the crunch of these vegetables, but doesn't want you to be overpowered by the taste of a piece of celery or onion as the eggs want to remain center stage.  The onions and celery are there to add flavor and some additional texture.

Everyone has their dijon mustard preferences, mine is Maille. You can use Grey Poupon, but again I would encourage you to try the Maille, not just in this recipe but in every recipe calling for dijon mustard. The mayonnaise, mustard, freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper are added to the chopped eggs and stirred gently until combined.

I love eating this egg salad freshly made but it equally delicious cold.  Don't wait until Easter is over to make egg salad out of all of those dyed hard boiled eggs. You will want to make this recipe before the holiday, you will want to make it year round, because this isn't your ordinary egg salad.

Not Your Ordinary Egg Salad (slight adaptation of the Cook's Illustrated recipe, March 1999)

1 dozen large eggs, room temperature, organic if available
1/2 cup Hellman's mayonnaise
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard, recommend Maille
4 Tablespoons minced red onion, about half of a small red onion
6 Tablespoons finely chopped celery, about two stalks
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus an additional pinch
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
1 loaf of multigrain, pumpernickel, or other hearty bread

1. Place eggs in medium sized saucepan.  Cover with one inch of water and bring to a boil.
2. Remove pan from heat, cover and let sit for 15 minutes.
3. Fill a medium sized bowl with ice cubes and water.  Transfer eggs to ice water bath and let rest for up to 5 minutes.  
4. Remove eggs from ice water bath.  Cut into a medium dice.
5. Mix diced eggs with chopped celery, minced onion, mayonnaise, dijon mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Stir gently until well combined.
6.  Serve on sliced bread, open face or as a sandwich.  
7. If not serving immediately, cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

About a decade ago someone important to me was dealing with the impending loss of his father. Having had lost my father many years back, I knew that I wanted to show my support in ways other than words.  So one day after work I came home and began to put together what I hoped would be a great 'comfort food' basket for him and his family. I was up cooking until 3 am but when cooking out of care for someone, you don't feel the exhaustion, only the energy.  I don't remember everything I made for this basket, but I do remember making this egg salad recipe as I thought it be a perfect food to get everyone distracted, at least for a little while. Why do I remember this? Well there are some things I suppose I just remember.

Creating, making or bringing gifts of food to those I care about allows me to share a small part of myself with others. Often there are no words to show my support of someone or how important they are to me, so the gift of food is how I sometimes express my thoughts, my feelings, my thankfulness, my love. Sometimes these gestures make a difference and sometimes they matter to others, but regardless of their impact, they always matter to me.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Perfect Cosmopolitan

When I was in Tucson I was on the hunt for tequila shot and margarita glasses as I thought I would find the best selection there.  And as it happened, there was. Not only did I find the perfect tequila shot glasses, I also found some incredibly beautiful glasses that could be used for either martinis or margaritas. As I am generally not known for being the most practical person, I surprised even myself when I selected these glasses. But the moment I walked into the store they caught my eye.  Made of recycled glass and having a white iridescence to them, I knew they were exactly what I had envisioned. Thankfully the store in Tubac shipped because I was not going to be able to bring them on the plane.  And I absolutely had to have them.

Ever since my first martini at a restaurant in Balboa Park in San Diego I have been looking for the perfect Cosmopolitan recipe.  Finally, in Ina Garten's newest book, Foolproof, was the Cosmopolitan recipe worthy of christening my new dual purpose martini/margarita glasses.  This is one smooth, delicious, perfect martini. And seriously, this is THE one you will want to serve to your friends.  But you too are worthy of this Cosmopolitan! Just make sure you are serving some food with these Cosmos. You along with everyone else will want to remember the evening, particularly the Cosmos.

It all begins with freshly squeezed lemons. After the lemons are squeezed, you pour the juice into a tall pitcher.  Added to the lemon juice is the cranberry juice, vodka, Cointreau, and egg white. When all of the ingredients are combined, stir until combined.  I used the 'red' cranberry juice, but it works equally well with white cranberry juice. The recipe yields enough for either four regular sized martini glasses or two over-sized martini glasses.

I attribute my tolerance to consuming vodka to my Polish ethnicity.  Unfortunately I didn't learn about this tolerance until well into my adult years. My favorite is Grey Goose and I always keep a bottle in the freezer.  It is the only vodka I use when making or ordering martinis. This recipe calls for filling the cocktail shaker half-full with ice and then adding enough of the Cosmo mixture until the shaker is almost full.  You then shake for 30 seconds, no cheating on the time, as you want this cocktail mixed perfectly.

I used the dash of egg white when making these Cosmos.  This is optional and I know some of you may be a little skittish on consuming raw egg whites. Earlier in the day, my neighbor brought over a dozen eggs from her chickens so I felt it was an omen of sorts to stay true to the original recipe. The egg whites create a foaminess to the Cosmo, creating a perfect finishing touch.

The Perfect Cosmopolitan (a very slight adaptation of the Dukes Cosmopolitan recipe shared by Ina Garten)

4 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 large lemons)
4 ounces Cointreau liqueur
7 ounces of cranberry juice (red or white)
7 ounces of vodka, Grey Goose highly recommended
Dash of raw egg white (this is optional but it adds something to this martini)

1. In a pitcher, stir the lemon juice, Cointreau, cranberry juice, vodka  and egg white.
2. Add ice to a cocktail shaker.  You will want the cocktail shaker to be half-full with ice.
3. Pour enough of the cosmopolitan mixture into the cocktail shaker until it is almost full.
4. Shake for a full 30 seconds.
5. Pour the strained Cosmopolitan into some martini glasses.
6. Pour into four regular sized martini or two over-sized martini glasses.  Enjoy.

Way back in college the only alcohol I drank was either beer or wine, mostly beer out of the bottle.  So when I turned 21 I thought maybe I should have a cocktail.  I have no idea what possessed me to select a Manhattan as my inaugural 'adult' beverage.  Unfortunately it was the only cocktail I had ever tasted up to that point in my life and it would be the only one I would have tasted until well into adulthood.  At the wedding of my future husband's sister, I had two Manhattans during the cocktail hour.  I must not have eaten during the day, probably wanting to make sure I fit into the tight long green dress I had bought for the occasion, because within hours into the reception I was not feeling very well.  Well that would be an understatement. I thought I was going to die.

So to make a long story short, I became so sick that it was more than 25 years before I allowed 'hard liquor' to pass my lips again. I guess I was never meant to be a bourbon girl.  Oh well I guess there are worse things.  I remain appreciative to my friend Sue who reintroduced me to adult cocktails, more specifically, the martini.  Some things, as they say, are worth the wait.  However, if you are someone who loves to serve or drink martinis, don't wait too long before making this Cosmopolitan.  Procrastination is usually not a good thing.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Caramelized Leek and Onion Quiche

A few summers ago I had a friend who thought it would be a great idea if I had a garage sale.  The very thought sent shivers up my spine.  Immediately my mind raced to the magnitude of the work it would take.  But that realization paled only in comparison to the thought of deciding what to part with, what to sell. While I was rationale enough to know that I have acquired more things than one really needs, I remained somewhat irrational when it came to parting with things I thought I had to have.  It took my friend awhile but I finally agreed to, well actually, I finally relented to having a garage sale. But only on the condition that she and a few of my other friends would help. They agreed to that condition a little too quickly.  Either this was some sort of a planned 'intervention of sorts' or they were all curious as to what it was that I was going to be putting in the garage sale.

As a way to show my appreciation to all of them for the time they would be spending both before and on the day of the garage sale I decided I would make us all lunch.  Compared to the labored decision over having the garage sale, the lunch menu decision was so much easier. It takes longer to say Caramelized Leek and Onion Quiche than it did for me to make this menu decision.  I knew I wanted to make something that was equally delicious served out of the oven or at room temperature.  And I wanted something that presented beautifully on a cake plate. Yes, I live by the mantra 'you eat first with your eyes'.

This Caramelized Leek and Onion Quiche is a slight adaptation of Le Pain Quotidien's Quiche Lorraine recipe as it is one that is as closest to quiche perfection as you would find anywhere.  The quiche filling has a rich custardy consistency and is complimented by the savoriness of the caramelized leeks and onions. One could become addicted to caramelized leeks and onions as these vegetables become transformed in the cooking process.  When combined with eggs, cream, sour cream, swiss cheese along with a little ham, the result is a quiche that is sinfully delicious.  And now that spring is finally here, at least according to the calendar, I thought it was perfect dish to celebrate the beginning of the new season.

I like cutting my leeks lengthwise, although it is completely okay to cut them horizontally.  Once cut, leeks often have to be rinsed in a colander as you will usually find some of soil left between the layers.

I use a Spanish onion for this recipe as I think this onion has just the right amount of sweetness. Adding to their taste, they caramelize beautifully. Remember to cut them first in half before thinly slicing.

In a large saute pan you first melt 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter before adding the sliced leeks and onions.  The caramelization process takes anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes when cooked over medium-low heat.  You will want to stir occasionally and as it gets closer to the end you will be stirring a little more often as you do not want them to burn.

The recipe calls for freshly grated Swiss cheese.  You can use gruyere cheese instead of Swiss as both work equally well.

When buying the ham, I usually ask the person behind the deli counter to cut two 1/4 inch slices of ham as this makes it easier to cut the ham into a 1/4 inch dice.

The whipping cream or heavy cream is combined with the sour cream and eggs.  They are all whisked together until smooth.  A pinch of nutmeg, pinch of white pepper and a half teaspoon of crushed sea salt is added.

In full disclosure the original recipe called for making the crust.  I have found that the refrigerated Pillsbury pie crust works perfectly here. The first ingredient to be layered in the pie shell are the cooled caramelized leeks and onions.  I usually add just another sprinkle of sea salt over the onions before layering the ham and cheese. Remember, ham is layered before the cheese.

Once all of the ingredients are layered in the pie shell the thick egg mixture is poured in the quiche pie shell.

The quiche is baked at 350 degrees in the lower third of the oven or until puffed and golden.  This can take anywhere from 25 to 30 minutes depending on your oven and the depth of your quiche pan. I always place the quiche pan on a cookie sheet as it is makes it easy to put in and take out of the oven. When the quiche is finished you will let it sit for about 10 minutes before transferring to a platter and cutting. The Caramelized Leek and Onion Quiche has just the right amount of decadence for lunch, brunch or dinner.

Caramelized Leek and Onion Quiche (inspired by Le Pain Quotidien's Quiche Lorraine recipe)

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon of whipping cream/heavy cream
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons of sour cream
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of white pepper
2 large leeks very thinly sliced, both white and green parts  (about 1 3/4 cups of sliced leeks)
1 large Spanish onion thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup of sliced onions)
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt crushed in your fingers
1 1/2 cups diced ham (I used about a tad bit over a half pound of Boar's Head maple glazed honey ham)
3/4 cup freshly grated Swiss cheese (a tad over a 1/4 pound of swiss cheese)
1 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust

1. Cut leeks and rinse in water to release any remnants of soil.  Dry completely.
2. Thinly slice the onion.
3. Melt 6 Tablespoons of unsalted butter in a large saute pan and add sliced leeks and onions.  Saute over medium-low heat until the leeks and onions have caramelized, about 30 to 40 minutes. Stir occasionally, and watch carefully near the end.  Remove from pan and let cool.
4. Whisk together whipping cream/heavy cream, sour cream and eggs until well blended. 
5.  Add a pinch of nutmeg, pinch of white pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.
6.  Unroll pie dough and place in 9 inch removable bottom quiche pan.
7.  Layer cooled leek and onion mixture on dough.  Followed by the ham and then by the swiss cheese.
8.  Pour egg mixture over top.
9.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes until quiche is puffed and golden.  Note: If using a deeper pan like the one I used here, cooking time will be slightly longer.
10. Remove from ove and cool slightly before cutting.  Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

At some point in my life I became a collector of dishes, platters, antiques, yellowware bowls, redware, mother of pearl serving pieces, art, more dishes, glassware, white ironstone, more dishes.  I attribute my fondness or slight obsession with dishes to Martha Stewart. Why Martha?  At the time she began having a presence on television, I recall her once saying that not only was it more economical to serve food at outdoor or large gatherings on 'real' dishes (i.e., those one might pick up at a tag sale) than it was to serve on 'paper' plates.  Then she added, 'real' plates made any simple occasion seem special.  And who would not want to make their guests feel special?  Yes, I was one who bought her way of thinking hook, line and sinker.

Her advice came well before the days the phrases 'environmentally friendly' or 'being green' became part of our vocabulary.  Not only have I found sets of dishes and china at garage sales and antique stores, I have also purchased them from department stores and on eBay.  I will admit that I have acquired more sets of dishes and china than one really needs to have. I suppose this means I hadn't fully listened to the economical part of Martha's advice.  I would be thrilled if someday these treasured sets of dishes will be both passed on to and used by my niece and nephew.  Hopefully I will have been successful in influencing their appreciation for beautiful dishes more than their 'dish minimalist' mother, otherwise known as my sister, has had on their lives.  It would be an understatement to say how competitive I can be with my sister.  But no matter whose influence is more enduring or stronger, if they should ever decide to sell the dishes passed on to them one day at a garage sale, I hope they too will be surrounded by good friends who will be there to help them.  Because at the end of the day it is not about the types or quantities of things one collects, it is about the friends that come into your life and stay.  Especially the ones who see you, not for your quirks and obsessions, but for your gifts.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Irish Shortbread

Before the holidays I had bought Thomas Keller's newest cookbook, Bouchon BakeryNot only are Keller's books beautiful, they are filled with information written in a way that makes you feel like he is talking to you, not at you.  As I started reading through this book, I thought to myself Keller approaches the art of baking with the same precision and attention to detail that an architect designs a building.  With regard to precision, Keller believes in weighing dry ingredients and he provides what I call the American measured version amounts.  Although I have been baking for quite some time, I thought baking like a professionally trained pastry chef was maybe taking me down a path I wasn't certain I wanted to go.  Until the day I tasted a shortbread cookie made by a parent in one of my schools. In just one bite I thought to myself 'this woman must be a baker'.  What I didn't know at the time was that she weighs her ingredients, just like Keller.

At the holiday time there is an abundance of baked goods brought into schools by parents.  On the last day of school before the winter break, I was visiting each of my schools wishing staff a happy holiday. I always first stop into the school office to let them know I will be in their building.  On the office counter at a school, I saw a platter of cookies that not only looked incredibly delicious, they were beautifully presented. I must have been in a hurry or distracted as I still don't why I did not take a photo of those artfully arranged cookies.  As I was admiring, probably drooling actually over those cookies, the school secretary said 'have a cookie'.  Which one to choose was a bit of challenge, but having an affinity for shortbread made the decision just a little easier. In the first bite, I was in shortbread heaven. They were without a doubt the best homemade shortbread I had ever eaten.  

Later that evening I sent the parent an email to let her know that I thought she was a phenomenal baker.  As much I was hoping to get her recipe, at the time it was more important to let her know that one of the best parts of my day was taking a bite of her shortbread cookie. The next morning I received an email reply. Not only was she appreciative of the accolades, she shared her recipe, one she had brought with her from Ireland when she moved here.  As I read the recipe, I thought, oh my goodness, she bakes as Keller suggests one should.  The dry ingredients were all listed in ounces, not cups or variations thereof.  Her Irish Shortbread recipe and the new insights I had gained in Keller's book pushed me to move out of my baking comfort zone. It was finally time for me to take out the scale I had purchased more than a year ago and put the measuring cups off to the side, at least for this recipe.

When I think of shortbread I generally associate the cookie having its origins in either Scotland or England but not Ireland.  However, because this recipe came all of way from Derry, Ireland, I decided its name had to take on its origin, in honor of the heritage of the woman who so graciously shared the recipe with me.

This shortbread recipes uses a combination of butter and margarine.  The original recipe didn't specify whether to use salted or unsalted butter so I just decided to the use the Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter.  It is after all a recipe that came from Ireland.  Remember, the butter and margarine both need to be room temperature.

After the butter and margarine are weighed, they are mixed together in a large bowl or on a plate with a fork until well blended.

Not only are there two kinds of fat in this shortbread, there are two kinds of flours:  all-purpose and semolina. After the flours and sugar are all weighed, they are sifted into a bowl.

Make certain the bowl or plate you use to mix the butter and margarine together is large enough for you to add the flour to it. The butter and margarine mixture is combined with the flours and sugar mixture.  This is where you get to use your fingers!  Mix until it all comes together.  You can work this mixture until you get small balls of dough or one large ball of dough.

The dough is then pressed into a parchment paper-lined 9 by 9 inch pan.  I use a tart pan with a removable bottom because I like how easy it is to both press in and remove the shortbread.  Once you have the dough evenly pressed in, use a fork to make indentations into the dough.

The shortbread is baked at 300 degrees in the upper third of the oven for approximately 45 minutes or until lightly browned on the sides and bottom. When you get close to 40 minutes, check your shortbread for color.  If you are not using a removable bottom pan, then form a square on a baking sheet so that you can easily check the dough for doneness.  Baking time could be as long as 60 minutes depending on your oven.  My cooking times have ranged from 45 to 50 minutes.

Remove the shortbread from oven and sprinkle with granulated sugar.  While the shortbread is still warm, cut into fingers or squares, whichever your preference.  Let come to room temperature.  If not serving immediately, it keeps well in a covered container for several days, that is if it lasts that long. Once everyone tastes the rich buttery flavor of these shortbread cookies, you will be making them often. And you might just never buy packaged shortbread cookies ever again.
Irish Shortbread (an ever so slight adaptation of a recipe from a generous baker from Derry, Ireland)

9 oz all purpose flour
3 oz semolina flour
3 oz granulated sugar
7 1/2 oz fat  (4 oz butter and 3 1/2 oz margarine)
Extra sugar for finishing

1.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees (F).
2. Take butter and margarine out the night to bring them to room temperature.
3.  Weigh butter and margarine and mix together with a fork on a plate until well blended.
4.  Weigh all purpose flour, semolina flour and sugar.  Sift all ingredients.
5.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter/margarine mixture.  Using your fingers rub together until it is well blended.  The original recipe called for the forming of a ball.
6.  Press into a 9" by 9" (or 8" x 8") pan lined with parchment paper.  The original recipe called for forming a square on a cookie sheet.
7.  Once the dough is flattened, crimp edges and prick all over with a fork.
8.  Bake at 300 degrees (F) in the upper third of the oven for approximately 45 minutes until lightly browned on sides and bottom.  Baking time could range from 45 to 60 minutes.
9. Dust with sugar and cut into fingers or squares while still warm.
10.  Let cool.  Serve or place in a covered tin.

Note: Using a smaller pan (or 8" x 8") will result in slightly thicker slices of shortbread.

The first time I made this shortbread was at the Christmas holidays when I went back to the midwest to visit family and friends.  The shortbread was one of the cookies I made for the holiday cookie platter.  The shortbread got rave reviews from everyone and was the first cookie to be gone. About a week later, I received a text from my nephew who had returned back to college.  The text was asking me to send him the shortbread recipe.  I actually read the text twice as this was a 'first' from him.  Then I thought, well I had been reluctant in making any recipe with ingredients that needed to be weighed and here was this college kid not even thinking twice about it.  So if like me, you had previously discarded those recipes that looked like something only a professionally trained pastry chef would make, just remember, if a nineteen year old college kid could make this recipe, so can you!  Trust me, this may become one of your favorite cookies to make and eat.

Some say that on St. Patrick's Day everyone is a little bit Irish.  Whether on this day you drink a Guinness or eat either a corned beef sandwich or corned beef and cabbage, maybe the time has come to consider a new adding a new food tradition, the one of making Irish Shortbread.  But this is one cookie you won't want to make only once a year.