Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Winning Irreverent Bread Stuffing (serves 12)

Here we go again! This Christmas was no different from any other in that the house was crowded with family and friends, there was mountains of delicious food and there was yet again another stab at reinventing my mother Maureen’s stuffing!

bread stuffing

Irreverent bread stuffing

It has to be reinvented because as I have said before, I have come to the very sad conclusion I will never replicate the taste she seemed to magically create with what I always hope are the exact same ingredients she used. It has proved to be true time and time again that everyone who cooks puts their own mark on the end result – watch the movie Like Water for Chocolate if you don’t believe me! Alright, I am certainly not saying that my mother’s stuffing had the effect that Tita’s Rose Petal Sauce had on Pedro, but it most definitely had a taste that makes my siblings swoon every time we mention “Ma’s stuffing”

The bread stuffing was plain looking on the Christmas tble but was not short on flavor

The bread stuffing was just one of the many dishes piled down the center of my Christmas table!

 When my mother was alive and well, I would call her to guide me through the steps, but even then, with her voice in my ear, I couldn’t get it right.  It probably had something to do with the fact that when she made it, she didn’t think at all. She just threw it together as if guided by the cooking god inside her, and stopping to think about it and tell me what to do felt unnatural. My sister June makes a “Chicken Dinner” that my kids beg me to cook, but I cannot seem to manage that one either. I have watched her make it several times, but like all wonderful recipes, this one also comes from the heart and will only reach sublimity if she is the one at the helm, not me.

My trifle and pudding standing by in the kitchen for desserrt (two more dishes i have had to come to terms with)

My trifle and Christmas Pudding standing by in the kitchen for dessert (two more dishes that my mother made but this “me” version will be the ones my children will struggle to recreate one day)

On important annual occasions like Christmas there is a yearning inside of all of us to get a taste or whiff of the past. We want to experience the joy of being a child again, and eating a dish our mother’s made for us is a huge part of that feeling of comfort. (Remember Ratatouille!). My Christmas dinners are different from the ones of my childhood in that I like all sorts of people around the table, not just blood relatives. I like a big loud-gathered mishmosh of people. The food is always festive but varies from year to year depending my whims and whose around the table. However there is ALWAYS a version of Maureen’s stuffing gracing the table. The meal would not feel like Christmas without it!

Famous Chicken Dinner

My sister June’s “Famous” Chicken Dinner

This year I did something completely unorthodox and instead of using my mother’s mashed creamed potatoes as a binder I used white sweet potatoes; positively sinful! In every other way I did my best to conjure up her flavor but I decided on the sweet potato substitute out of curiosity, and also because I knew I was going to mess up the recipe anyway. It turned out pretty fantastic and was a big hit with everyone. I figure my new mission is to make a “version’ of my mother’s stuffing every year, that way, in years to come, my children will feel that got it right every time!

Time for seconds!

Time for seconds!

You will need:

2 to 3 tbs olive oil

1 Large sweet onion –  small dice

3 celery ribs with leaves – finely sliced

2 large garlic cloves – finely chopped

1 lb white mushrooms – diced

3 or 4 sprigs fresh thyme

2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves – finely chopped

1 cup chicken broth (or 1 good quality stock cube and 1 cup water)

2 tsp herbs de Provence

1 1/2 tsp allspice

10 cups bread crumbs (make in food processor with blade using regular plain old slices of white bread – works best!)

3 small/medium sweet white potatoes – large dice

1 cup milk

2 tbs unsalted butter

1 1/2 tsp med/coarse sea salt

several grinds black pepper


Preheat oven 400

1 – Put large saute pan on low/medium and add two tablespoons of the oil. Add the onions, garlic and celery. Cook for about 5 minutes before adding the thyme springs and rosemary. Add the diced mushrooms and turn up heat to full medium and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

saute onions, garlic and celrery. add mushrooms and herbs

Saute onions, garlic and celery. Add mushrooms and herbs

2 – Add the cup of broth and turn heat down to low. Cover and cook for another 5-8 or so minutes, until everything is nice and soft. turn off when done and set aside.

Add broth

Add broth

3 – In the meantime put the sweet potatoes into a pot and cover with cold water. Cover and boil until they are very soft (but not falling apart). Drain the water and add the butter, salt, several grinds of pepper and milk. Mash until very smooth and lump-free. Taste and adjust seasoning according to your taste if necessary.

Mash and cream sweet potatoes

Mash and cream sweet potatoes

4 – Put the bread crumbs in a very large bowl and whisk in the allspice. Add the veggies and mix with the crumbs (I use my hands!)

Add cooked veggies to bread crumbs

Add cooked veggies to bread crumbs

5 – Add the mashed sweet potatoes and mix until everything is well combined. Taste the mixture and add whatever you think it needs more of: salt, pepper, allspice etc

Add potatoes and mix together

Add potatoes and mix together

6 – Turn the mixture into two buttered loaf pan (or 1 larger loaf pan) and a couple of knobs of butter to the top. Cook in preheated oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto a board or work surface.

Place in loaf pan, add knob of butter and place in oven

Place in loaf pan, add knob of butter and place in oven

7 – At this point you can slice and serve or slice and place in foil and reheat before you are ready to serve.

Before reheating, slice and place in foil

Before re-heating, slice and place in foil

It keeps very well in the fridge for a week. It is great fried in the morning with an egg if you are lucky to have any leftovers, or as part of a sandwich.

Barly remenbered to take this picture before it dissapeared!

Barely remembered to take this picture before it disappeared!

Siobhan Asleep in NYC – And John the Charming Baker of Eataly

Happy Christmas Siobhán– This is for you – xx

NYC at night

NYC at night

How do you write an account about being with your oldest friend in the world for 20 hours in New York City of which half of it she spent asleep! This really wasn’t her fault. She was in New York on a business trip for 4 days where her every moment was pretty much booked up with stuff that had nothing to do with fun or being in one of the greatest cities to visit in the world. The work my friend does has always been a mystery to me. All I know is that she has to dress in a “corporate” manner, wear high heels and carry a bag with a lot of papers in it (well maybe now the papers have turned into a computer full of papers!). It is not the case that I have no interest in her work but when it comes to Big Business and my friend, all I can see is my friend, the girl I met when we were thirteen at an all girls convent school in Ireland. The most important part of her work to me is finding out whether she is happy or not, and, for the first time in a long time she was happy to report a resounding “yes” to that question. Okay, she was happy with work so we could move on and concentrate on enjoying the things that have sustained this friendship for decades (too many to admit here!).

"Meek and humble of Heart"

Church in Ireland

I arrived at her hotel on the West Side at what seemed like an ungodly hour to the two of us; 10.30pm for me, a time that I would have been in bed most weekdays and at 3.30am Greenwich Meantime for Siobhán, a time I’m sure she would also have been tucked far beneath the covers. She had arrived from London that morning and that evening and next day was her only free time and so she decided to forfeit sleep and feeling fresh for me! I told her to get some sleep before I arrived because we would be going out when I arrived. She answered the door in a sleepy stupor fully clothed, and after a big hug I asked her why she choose to get into bed wearing a dress, complete with tights and a necklace? “I thought we were going out for a drink?” I had already been rethinking that plan as I was tired from my whole day and the two-hour bus trip into the city, a bus incidentally that was filled to the brim, stuffy, and part of an accident scene (well, our bus was the first on the scene of a car accident, where the bus driver jumped off the bus to help, not before telling me to call 911 to report it. That was a very bad idea considering the fact I am from Ireland and when someone asks your location taking into account the  North, South, East and West of that location it only serves to confuse the situation even more. The best I could do on that count was to try to read the road signs and indicate we were near the Lincoln Tunnel! By the time I had more or less told the 911 operator where we were the bus driver had helped out as much as he could and was getting back on the bus. As the operator was telling me to stay at the scene until the police arrived, we were already driving away! ).

my favorite building in New York: The Flat-Iron building

my favorite building in New York: The Flatiron building at night

“Sure, let’s have a drink somewhere”‘ I said feeling that if we didn’t we would both end up going to sleep and use up our precious few hours together. While I waited for Siobhán to gather herself I noticed her dinner tray from room service so of course had to investigate. There was a piece of leftover salmon and green beans on the plate, along with an enormous hunk of bread. Siobhán saw me and commented on who in the world would eat practically a loaf of bread with their dinner! Yes I know, I thought, but right at that moment I was feeling a little hungry and pulled off a piece, slathered it in butter and felt happy and grateful that this country errors on the side of extremely large portions! And a few hours later when we returned to the room I made myself a sandwich with the rest of the salmon while Siobhan made short shrift of the last of the bread!

Tom brought a giant loaf of bread!

I love good bread!

Our night on the town consisted of us settling into the hotel bar preferring not to deal with traipsing around in the frigid weather looking for somewhere fabulous to have a drink We decided we would leave our adventuring to the next day when Siobhan had gotten a little sleep (by this point she had been up more than 24 hours straight!). The hotel bar was completely cheesy (matching the drab out-of-date hotel in general) but on the bright side, we could drink there all night if we liked and the cocktails were enormous and potent! My friend had this theory she developed while sipping her drink that because she was in a different country she would be immune to the aftereffects of one-too-many. I think she might have been right except for that last one, a mystery shot complements of the bartender.

one of last's night's birthday indulgances

one Hefty cocktail!

The next morning she was dead to the world and so I let her sleep, happy myself that it was midweek and I could laze in bed with no obligations to anyone for anything whatsoever! I finally got her up to meet my friend Bird for coffee around 10am after which we went back to the hotel saying the only “cure” for this feeling of wanting to curl up into a ball and sleep was to eat a greasy breakfast. The hotel breakfast could have fed an army but it did nothing for my poor friend who wondered if she could take a little nap before we went out and about? “Why not”, I said and told her I could explore the pool, one of the reasons she choose the hotel in the first place. There was a rooftop pool, but I found out it was literally on the roof, outside in the elements and closed for the season! What could I do? Well since I was captive to the room until Siobhán woke I decided I might as well take a nap myself and hopped back into bed and promptly fell fast asleep.

The breakfast meant to cure a hangover (but failed!)

The breakfast meant to cure a hangover (but failed!)

We woke around late lunchtime and so decided to skip lunch and opt for an early dinner before I left for my bus home. I wanted to take her to Eataly, the Italian market created and owned by Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich, two great chefs (read more about the market HERE if you are interested) located right next to the Flatiron building. I figured we could soak in a little of the beauty (and cool factor) of that part of town, with photo ops in front of the Empire State building and the Flatiron; a whirlwind tour so to speak!

photo op before popping across the street to Eataly

Photo op before popping across the street to Eataly

Siobhán LOVED Eataly (even though we both agree the name is wanting!), from the packed specialty food areas dotted throughout the whole market, to the many fantastic-looking restaurants also coexisting the space in a fun hotchpotch fashion. The thing she loved the most was the entire atmosphere and energy of the people strolling, shopping and eating in the market. It felt friendly and welcoming, so much different from the feeling of austerity she got when strolling through London. She loves living in London, but right at that moment she realized why I love New York so much. It has a bold in-your-face quality that invites people to be part of, and to take pleasure in. 

Giant wheels of Parmigiano Reggian stacked in Eataly's cheese shop

Giant wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano stacked in Eataly’s cheese shop

All the employees were beyond helpful and ready to share any information they could on the various foods and other products on offer. I was allowed take pictures of whatever I wanted and the place I was most curious about this particular visit was the beautiful bakery. And, that evening was my lucky day because one of the guys making bread was only too happy to fill us in.

Eataly's bountiful bakery

Eataly’s bountiful bakery

John, one of the bakers in Eataly, was ten hours into his shift and busy as a bee. The bakery was just to side of the bread shop and was in full view if anyone wanted to watch the bread making process (like those places that make fudge on enormous marble tables in front of glass windows facing the street in cutesy seaside towns). I however wanted to do more than just peek through a glass window, I wanted to have an intimate view into the into the inner workings on the floor-laden bakery floor!

John checking the muliple drawers of rising dough (check out the floor)

John checking the multiple drawers of rising dough (check out the floor)

John was only too happy to answer my pesty questions, like, “how much bread do you make here?”. He told me that they make 2,000lbs of dough each day, which makes 2,000 loaves of bread – I just couldn’t believe such a small compact little place could manage to do all that. And at $5.50 per loaf I also couldn’t believe that Mr. Batali and Ms. Bastianich made over $4,000,000 in revenue in bread alone – this dough produced a lot of dough indeed (couldn’t resist!)

John, the charming baker from Eataly

John, the charming baker from Eataly

Eataly’s bakes with a wood oven that was brought over from Spain and painstakingly reassembled in the bakery. Because of the nature of the brick oven there are heat variations according to where the bricks are located in the oven, which means rotating the bread by hand every 10 minutes for even baking. This requires a boatload of diligence on each person working in the bakery (so no taking off for a quick drink to the Birreria to quench a thirst).

John making bread with a fellow bread man!

John making bread with a camera-adoring fellow Bread Man!

As well as this bread being sold in their shop it also supplies the rest of the marketplace whose restaurants and deli shops serve sandwiches, and bread for the table to sop up great olive oil and used as a vehicle for the most wonderful Salumi & Formaggi in the world.

A sample of how the bread is used for sandwiches - yum!

A sample of how the bread is used for sandwiches – yum!

we could have chatted with John all day but I could see that Siobhán was fading again and figured the thing to do was to eat something robust washed down with a nice glass of wine (at least that’s what I was craving). I put our name down at La Pizza & La Pasta and we continued to explore the market until I got a friendly text that our table was ready (clever idea).

This strange lemon is called The Buddha's Hand. it has no pulp and is used for garnishes and zesting. It is also used to make great candied peel.

This strange lemon is called The Buddha’s Hand. it has no pulp and is used for garnishes and zesting. It is also used to make great candied peel.

Siobhán bought some lovely jams for her hubby Philippe and bought me a gift of nougat (I love Torrone!) which I have a healthy weakness for. By the time we sat down we were both ravenous and had a meal I will remember forever. I ate pizza with my friend in a place I love, and it was hard to fathom that this simple meal would be our first and last together for another long time. It is not often that we can manage to do this, living on different continents with our own very separate lives and schedules, so we ate and drank with  immeasurable appreciation.

clean plates all around!

Clean plates all around!

As I rode home on the bus in the early evening I felt tired and a little like my whirlwind trip to the city was more like a dream than reality. But then I rummaged in my bag and found my giant Torrone nougat bar and it quieted the sting of sadness I felt upon leaving my friend, all the way home.

Classic Italian Torrone