Thursday, March 23, 2006

Fruit Bruschettas 

With spring here (ignore the snow on the ground - it'll be gone by morning), fruit will start ripening - strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, loganberries, cloudberries, plums, grapes, peaches, pears, apples - fruit season is upon us.

But in this transitory time between winter cozy eats and refreshing summer snacks, there's a desire for both cozy and refreshing.

So, we at the Cracked Cauldron Test Kitchen stumbled upon fruit bruschettas!

The discovery happened when I prepared bread for bruschetta and really wanted Devonshire Cream Tarts. So, halfway through making bruschetta, instead of topping it with savories, I slathered on a bit of dense full cream and topped it with some thawed berries from last year's harvest (blackberries and blueberries).

It was amazing - the cozy comfort of crisp bread, the rich cream, the sweet fruit - just a touch savory, and a touch sweet - and a lot decadent.

When the Cracked Cauldron opens, this will definitely have a place on our spring menu.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Irish Breads 

Today is St. Pat's Day, a day commemorating the end of Irish racism in America.

I know many people will consider it a celebration of St. Patrick and the works he reputedly did in Ireland. The Catholics celebrate St. Patrick's Day in austerity, as is proper, considering it falls during Lent.

But Americans view it differently. Once upon a time, the Irish were more vilified than any other group of people in America. Businesses held signs keeping them off the premises ("No dogs or Irishmen allowed". The Irish worked the worst jobs available in America. They did more than that, they worked at making themselves intrinsically American without giving up their roots. They embraced America with gusto. And, slowly, reluctantly, then with increasing enthusiasm, America embraced the Irish back.

Every race and group of people who feel discriminated against can look to the Irish to see how they overcame the worst sort of discrimination ever to become a glamorized and sought after group.

And to celebrate the amazing odds they overcame, I present to you a few of my favorite Irish recipes, ones I got when I was in New York decades ago, from an old woman who experienced first hand the cruel discrimination directed against her kind, and lived to see the exaggeration with which Americans now embrace St. Paddy's Day. It amused her, and she adored it, making a point of dressing from the skin out in green, and baking green shamrock cookies to give to neighborhood children, and Irish Soda Bread and Scones for her older neighbors.

Her cookies were nothing special - a shortbread with green food coloring and green icing cut into four leafed clovers. But, oh my! Gwennie's Soda Bread and her Scones!

Gwennie's Soda Bread

1 pound of soft white flour (made from soft summer wheat, not the hard red wheat used for most bread-baking)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
14 ounces buttermilk

Mix all the dry ingredients together, then quickly add the buttermilk - the less handling the better. It will be sticky. Place the dough carefully into a greased and floured pan (Gwennie used a pie tin, I use a clay bread cloche). Cut a cross in the top of the bread and cover it with another pan (I use the bread cloche lid). Bake the bread covered for 30 minutes at 425º, uncover it and bake for another 15 minutes.

Wrap the bread in a damp tea cloth to keep the crust from getting too hard. You're supposed to wait until the bread is cooled before cutting it, but - warm Soda Bread...who can wait?

Gwennie's Scones1/4 pound soft white flour
1/2 teasoon baking powder
1/4 pound soft butter
2 ounces sugar
1 egg, beaten and divided in half
2 ounces heavy cream
a Handful of sultanas or raisins

Mix flour and baking powder, then cut in the butter until the mix is completely butter-colored and flaky. Use your fingers for the best mix. Add in the sugar untilit's well incorporated. Now, add half the egg and all the cream. Add raisins or sultanas and knead for 5 minutes. It will be sticky, do not add additional flour to make it less sticky. Heat a cast iron skillet with a lid until very hot (350-375º). Shape the dough into a circle and cut into pie slices. Brush the tops with the remaining half an egg. Place the dough in the hot skillet and bake 5-7 minutes per side with the lid on. OR you can place then cut pieces of dough onto a greased baking sheet and bake it in a conventional oven at 375º for 15-20 minutes. I prefer the stovetop method.

Gwennie's Potato Farls2 pounds cooked, mashed potatoes (use a potato ricer for the best texture)
4 ounces white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Use freshly made and riced potatoes, and work in the flour, butter, and salt as soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle (experienced cooks can take the heat, and the hotter the mix is, the yummier the farls will be). Shape into 2 dinner plate sized circles, cut into quarters, and fry in a hot iron skillet with a bit of bacon grease or more butter fro about 3 minutes per side.

It's not traditional, but I love eating Potato Farls with chilled applesauce. My children prefer it eating it with sour cream, scallions, and sprinkles of broken bacon. And I have friends who will eat it only with ketchup. Gwennie liked hers dripping with butter.

Gwennie didn't make or like Bubble and Squeak because she said she'd grown to hate the taste of cabbage. It was pig food when she was a child, and she resented having to eat it because there was precious little else.

But I'm German, and we adore our cabbage, we do, so I also love Bubble and Squeak. I don't make it the way the British or the Irish do, I make it German-style.

Bubble and Squeak

6-8 rashers of bacon (a rasher is a slice)
2 pounds cooked, diced, left-over potatoes
1 pound leftover steamed cabbage, sliced or chopped
1 large onion, diced
3 leftover cooked bratwursts, sliced

Fry up the bacon, and remove the cooked bacon to use in something else. Sautee the onions in the bacon grease. Toss the onions with the cabbage and put back into the skillet. Toss to coat with the grease. Add butter if it looks too dry. Now, toss this with the potatoes and sliced bratwursts. Press into the remaining bacon grease and butter (make sure there is some by adding more butter or leftover bacon rgease from previous meals), cover and cook 20 minutes, until it's set and the bottom is lightly browned and getting crispy.

Serve with German mustard.

This is my favorite way to make and eat it. It's filling, it frugally uses up leftovers without looking like any of the previous leftover food (important in families that hate leftovers), and it's relatively quick (with leftovers, you can make it in less than half an hour).

Enjoy your day, however you do or don't celebrate it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Fixed, Toxic Employees, and Food 

The computer is now fixed, and we are re-installing software and recovering recipes and such. 99.9% of our data were backed up on both hard copies and floppies. We had to install WordPerfect instead of Word, and not all the backed-up files on floppies are converting nicely. The hard copies, of course, have to be re-entered by hand. So, now that hardware issues are resolved, we can once again pursue on-line our path towards opening the Cracked Cauldron.

The camera has been repaired, so we have one less expense by not having to purchase a new one. And we discovered Blogger has a new way of embedding pictures, so we have to learn that, too. Not that that will be hard - software is by far the easiest thing to fix and learn on computers (at least for me).

Manager completed her studies with one company for budget adjustments and payroll, and is now working with a different company to gain experience in billing, collections, and management - she is being trained to head a department and then will train her replacement so she gets both management and training experience.

She's already learned a few things about toxic employees and how one such employee can almost destroy a small business. I won't name names because I don't know them, but there was an employee at the small business where she's interning who was so toxic the company suddenly started experiencing a very high turn-over rate in employees, so much so that they were losing business. When this employee quit in a snit fit, the owner learned just how she'd manipulated other employees into leaving, and how she managed to lose them some accounts. Those accounts are returning now that the toxic employee is gone. It was a pretty graphic lesson in paying attention to sudden changes in employee behavior.

I'm glad it's one she learned at some one else's expense - and doubly glad that the business she's mentoring with has also learned its lesson and is stronger for it.

Of course, mentoring there also means a new group of guinea pigs and a new demographic for the established recipes we have.

She's doing this in Edmond, and we've had people ask about us opening the Cracked Cauldron up there. We've been hesitant because conducting the research and taste testing there would have been beyond us financially if we didn't have a paying reason to drive that far every day. Since she now has a paying reason to go to Edmond every day, she can conduct the research during lunch and after work before heading home.

We'll see how the demographics and research play out. We did our market research for that section of Oklahoma City for almost 2 years before we even decided it might be a worthwhile venture - changing venues isn't going to be much faster. We take risks, but they are well considered ones and ones which have a better than average ability to succeed.

Just consider us prudent risk-takers.

With a warm winter, we haven't done as much with the winter soups as we'd intended. However, there's a Indian Taco Competition that I have entered. I make an exceptionally good fry bread, and the topping is made from tepary beans and corn, densely seasoned with buffalo and goat meats and wild herbs, then garnished with lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese.

I'll post the recipe whether it wins or not, but not until after the competition.

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