Sheepherder’s bread

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NOTE: I’m reposting a few of my favorites from PortlandPeeps onto this blog for safe keeping. This was originally posted in February 2012.

I never tire of the stories my husband shares about his childhood. When he was just ten years old, his father died unexpectedly, leaving his mother with four young children. In spite of the hardships that followed, many of my husband’s fond memories revolve around the delicious homemade foods his mother made. One of those memories was of a shepherd’s bread, and the tradition his family practiced whenever it was served. This slightly sweet bread was baked in a cast iron Dutch oven, leaving circular indentations from its lid on the top crust. Before my mother-in-law served this bread to her family, she gave their loyal border collie the first slice.

When I asked my mother-in-law for this family recipe, she included a 1976 article from Sunset magazine where I learned about its history. Her shepherd’s bread was originally baked by the Basques, people who live in a tiny region that straddles the border of Spain and France.

“Tending their flocks in the remote Western rangelands, Basque sheepmen had to cook for themselves, and they had to make do with a minimum of portable cooking equipment. A Dutch oven became essential for cooking hearty soups and stews — and even for baking bread. They buried the pot in a pit full of hot embers.”

“A poignant camp custom: Before serving, a herder would slash the sign of the cross on top of the loaf, then serve the first piece to his invaluable dog.”

Many years later, some Basques still bake these dome-shaped loaves of bread, but now they do so at home in their conventional ovens. The recipe my mother-in-law used was one that was supplied to Sunset magazine by Anita Mitchell. Anita won the bread-baking championship at the National Basque Festival in 1975.

To make this bread, you’ll need a 10-inch covered Dutch oven (I used my 5.5 quart Le Creuset).

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Mixing ingredients for bread dough is so satisfying! If you look closely, you can see bubbles from the yeast mixture working its magic.

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This is after the second kneading, and before the dough rises slightly higher than the Dutch oven lid.

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This is what the bread should look like when you take it out of the oven. Tap the bread. Does it sound hollow? It’s done!

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If you used a cast-iron Dutch oven, you’ll have circles from its lid on the top of your loaf, which would make this even more beautiful!

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My favorite part! Bailey got the first slice. She’s so cautious — she sniffed it, licked it, gently took it from my daughter’s hand, then placed it on the porch and looked up at Isabel with those sweet, innocent brown eyes as if asking for permission to eat it.

Here’s the recipe:

Sheepherder’s Bread

Makes 1 very large loaf

3 cups very hot tap water
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 packages active dry yeast
About 9 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

In a large bowl, combine the hot water, butter, sugar and salt. Stir until butter melts. Let cool to warm (110° to 115°F) Stir in yeast, cover and set in a warm place until the mixture is bubbly, about 15 minutes.

Add 5 cups of the flour and beat with a heavy-duty mixer or wooden spoon to form a thick batter. Stir in enough of the remaining flour (about 3 1/2 cups) to form a stiff dough. Turn dough out onto a floured board and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes, adding flour as needed to prevent sticking. Turn dough over in a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down dough and knead on a floured board to form a smooth ball. Cut a circle of foil to cover the bottom of the Dutch oven. Grease the inside of the Dutch oven and the underside of the lid with vegetable oil.

Place dough in the pot and cover with the lid. Let rise in a warm place until dough pushes up the lid by about 1/2 inch, about 1 hour (watch closely).

Bake, covered with the lid in a 375° oven for 12 minutes. Remove lid and bake for another 30-35 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap it. Remove from oven and carefully turn loaf out onto a rack to cool.

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My favorite St Patrick’s Day dinner

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In Ireland, corned beef and cabbage is about as Irish as spaghetti and meatballs. It turns out this peasant corned beef and cabbage meal is just an American way to celebrate Irish heritage. So, if you’re planning to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a traditional non-Irish dinner Monday, I have a few recipes you should try. For those of you who have been following me forever, (thank you!) this will be a familiar post. Every year, I alter my recipe just a little, and it just gets better, so I wanted to share the latest with you.

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First, you need to buy the best piece of corned beef you can find. This is of utmost importance to the entire meal, so splurge on a roast that’s the real thing. We’re fortunate to have several stores nearby that sell local beef. Beef from cattle raised without growth hormones or antibiotics on farms where they graze on natural native grasslands, pastures and forests. My favorite local store is New Seasons Market, and this is where I buy corned beef. Their corned beef is a beef brisket that is not overly salted or seasoned.

I’ve often wondered why some meats sold as corned beef are red and others gray, so I emailed the friendly people at New Seasons to find out. Within 24-hours, I received a message back from Daniel Menashe, a customer advocate at the market, who took me to beef school.

According to Daniel, “Red corned beef is a more modern invention. It’s the result of adding potassium nitrate or sodium nitrite to the meat in order to preserve the red color. It may look prettier, but some folks take issue with the safety of these compounds, and most chefs and gourmands feel that they can rob the subtlety from a cured meat.” “Our corned beef is classic gray and proud of it.”

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At New Seasons they use beef brisket because it’s the most tender and well-marbled.

He also explained where the term corn comes in. “The corn in ‘corned beef,’ doesn’t refer to the New World grain, but rather an Old English term for salt — a corn of salt used to mean the same thing as a grain of salt.”

To sum it up — “Brisket is best. Go for the gray. It has nothing to do with corn.”

Now that you know everything you need to know about corned beef, pick up a 3 lb. piece of gray beef, perfectly cured with herbs and spices at your favorite local store. The best way to cook it, in my opinion, is slowly in a Dutch oven.

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St Paddy’s Day dinner

3 lbs corned beef
24 oz Guinness (or other stout beer)
2 leeks, sliced
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 green cabbage, sliced into 8 wedges
12 small red potatoes
Bunch of carrots, with tops snapped off
Bunch of asparagus, washed and snapped
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
1 Tablespoon dried basil
Sea salt
Horseradish for serving or creamy horseradish sauce (see recipe below)

Place beef, sliced leeks and garlic into a large (7 quart) oven-proof dish and add enough beer to cover the meat. You may need to add some water to fully cover the meat. Place a lid over the dish and place into a 325°F oven for about 3 hours. Add cabbage wedges and bake for 30 minutes, or until the cabbage is soft.

Place the potatoes, carrots and asparagus into a large baking dish, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle on some sea salt and the parsley and basil. Roast in a 325°F oven for at least an hour, or until veggies are tender. You can also throw these items in with the meat and cabbage for an hour or so if you wish. My husband has a thing about carrots cooked with meat, so I roast them separately to accommodate him. I actually prefer this method now.

Lay out the vegetables onto a serving platter. Slice the corned beef, against the grain into thin slices and top with some of that delicious cooking liquid. Serve warm.

Oh, and this soda bread is an absolute must served alongside…

The following recipe is the original Irish soda bread from Grand Central Baking Company, a fabulous local bakery here in Portland.

Grand Central’s Irish Soda Bread
Makes 8 pieces, or two large rounds

4 cups + 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 Tablespoons orange zest
2-1/4 teaspoons caraway seeds
3/4 cup currants
14 Tablespoons (1-3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons buttermilk, divided
Egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 Tablespoon water and a pinch of salt)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a high-sided mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in orange zest, caraway seeds and currants.

Dice butter in 1/2-inch cubes. Use your hands or the paddle attachment to mix butter into dry ingredients until the texture becomes mealy. Cover mixing bowl with plastic wrap and chill overnight, or proceed with the recipe.

Add 3/4 cup buttermilk all at once, mixing just until the dough comes together, 30-35 seconds. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to incorporate any dry ingredients and add remaining buttermilk.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 2 chunks. Gently shape the pieces into dome-like disks and score each one into quarters.

Place disks on the baking sheet and brush liberally with egg wash. Put the baking sheet in the center of the preheated oven and bake 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until disks are shiny and golden brown.

Creamy horseradish sauce
Makes 1 cup

1/3 cup cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup prepared horseradish
1 T. Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste

Whip the cream until soft peaks form. In another medium size bowl, combine the mayonnaise, horseradish, and mustard. Fold in whipped cream, and sprinkle in some salt and pepper. Stir well.

Voila! Just add good friends. And Guinness!

And just in case you’re wondering…
IT’S PADDY, NOT PATTY. EVER.
SAINT PATRICK’S DAY? GRAND.
PADDY’S DAY? SURE, DEAD-ON.
ST. PAT’S? IF YE MUST.
ST. PATTY? NO, YE GOAT!
Paddy is derived from the Irish, Pádraig: the source of those mysterious, emerald double-Ds.
Patty is the diminutive of Patricia, or a burger, and just not something you call a fella.
There isn’t a sinner in Ireland that would refer to a Patrick as “Patty”. It’s as simple as that.
Source: paddynotpatty.com

Lá Shona Fhéile Pádraig! Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Oh my, sweet potato pie!

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Raise your hand if you’ve never had sweet potato pie. Much like pumpkin in its consistency, sweet potato pie is custard-like and creamy, but the spices in this recipe create a dessert that is nothing short of heavenly. Trust me on the coriander… I hesitated on that one too.

In my family, no one likes to break tradition (except yours truly), and this pie seemed to set off some alarms. Or maybe it was the color, or the thought of a soggy crust (which this does NOT have)… either way, I got to take most of it home from our family Christmas gathering. Yeah! More for us!

Sweet Potato Pie
(thank you to Joy the Baker (and her Dad) for sharing the filling recipe)

1- 9″ pie crust (chilled)

2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
2- 5oz cans evaporated milk (1 1/4 cups evaporated milk)
3 large eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla

Boil three sweet potatoes, with their peeling on, in a covered pot over medium heat, until the sweet potatoes are very soft and tender. Test with a sharp knife. If there is any resistance, boil until a knife penetrates the potatoes smoothly. Remove potatoes from the water and let them cool. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel potatoes, cut into chunks and place in a large bowl or food processor. Mash potatoes thoroughly until completely smooth.

Measure two cups of the sweet potato mash and place it into a medium sized pan with the packed brown sugar, all of the spices, salt, the 1/2 stick butter, and one 5 oz can of evaporated milk. Cook on low for about 5 minutes, whipping with a wire whisk until butter and brown sugar are completely melted, and the mixture is blended, smooth and just beginning to bubble. Remove from heat and let cool in the pan.

In a medium sized bowl, beat the three eggs with a fork. Add the second 5oz can of evaporated milk, granulated sugar and vanilla to the eggs, and continue beating until creamy. Pour the cooled sweet potato mixture into the egg mixture. Blend thoroughly with a whisk and refrigerate mixture overnight or use immediately.

Pour into a 9-inch prepared crust.

Place a cookie sheet into the oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place pie directly onto preheated cookie sheet, and bake for 10 minutes to set the crust, and to keep it from getting soggy.  Turn the oven down to 325 degrees F. and bake for another hour. The crust should be brown and the sweet potato mixture will be puffed up, but still slightly wiggly in the center. After 1 hour, remove pie and place onto a wire rack to cool. The pie will firm up more as it cools.

Serve room temperature with whipped cream.

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