Thursday, March 17, 2011

Irish Stew & Soda Bread

As we have been learning about different countries and trying their cuisines, I am trying to coordinate them a little bit with holidays around the world. So, last week we learned about Thailand and the surrounding countries (which, by the way, Thai food has got to be my most favorite food EVER!), this week we are learning about Ireland, and next week we are learning about Japan. Interestingly enough, we aren't learning about Japan because of the recent natural disasters that have taken place there. We had already planned on learning about Japan a week ago, but we ended up spending so much more time on India (something about watching Gandhi and Mother Teresa and so many dishes to try), and we were unable to get to Japan in time.

St. Patrick's Day. Having been to Ireland with my hubby a few years ago, I know that the shamrock, the leprechaun, and fairies are very much alive in Ireland. It is a beautiful country, with hills, instead of mountains, music wherever you go, and lots of yummy potatoes.

This week, I decided to try out 2 evenings of yummy Irish dinners. I would do more, but I am still trying to keep our weekly diet to 4 vegetarian dinners, which proves to be difficult with Ireland involved. I knew that I would need to make our traditional corned beef and cabbage on St. Patty's Day and my hubby kept talking about an Irish stew he remembered from our trip. So, I set out to find a good recipe book at the library.

When I went over the ingredients for the Irish stew, a key ingredient stood out.....lamb. I have never purchased lamb for cooking with. I started calling around to the local stores and finally found one that carried lamb. When I arrived, I asked where the lamb was. I was shown a tiny selection...ground lamb and lamb chops. My recipe called for a boneless piece of shoulder or neck. Thankfully, the butcher there took pity on me. He found a large (boned) piece of lamb, cut out the bone, and even diced it up for me. The best part, it cost me around the same price as ground beef would have cost. In fact, the only problem I had, was with my 16 year old daughter, who recently watched a documentary film on the inhumane treatment of animals in the food industry, and decided (once and for all, she has attempted it 2x before) that she is now a vegetarian. Having been a vegetarian for a year, myself, I want to support her in her cause, but the ba-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ing and her loud reminders of me killing an innocent lamb were a little bit annoying and embarrassing, to say the least. People in the meat department were taking a very long time deciding upon their own cuts....I'm sure the vegetarian display was part of that indecisiveness.

After having a conversation with my daughter about meat and why we have chosen to eat it at our home, I have come to a very important decision. I have decided that, when we finally do get into another home (after our travels are done), we will only eat the meat that we provide and kill. I know, it is harsh. Heaven forbid we actually have to know the animals that we eat. I'm not trying to turn my entire family into vegetarians, just trying to instill a sense of responsibility with what we choose to eat. Who knows where it will lead? I read a book last spring (Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter) , about an urban farmer, who kept a couple of pigs, some turkeys, etc. and grew a garden in the heart of the city. Her philosophies and some of the content of the book really struck home with me on how important it is that we are always thankful for the animals who gave their lives for our own livelihood.

Enough about the meat dilemma in our home (and many other homes around the world, I am sure). Here are the recipes for the Irish stew and the soda bread (the adaptations I made are italicized). The little recipe book these recipes are out of, is entitled, Cooking the Irish Way, by Helga Hughes.

Irish Stew
The original Irish stew recipes called for goat meat. Many years ago, lambs were more valuable for their wool than for their meat. In modern stew recipes, however, lamb is widely used. Recipes vary from county to county (and family to family). Some recipes call for barley as a thickener, some call for carrots for a sweeter flavor, while others include rutabagas, known in Ireland as purple or Swedish turnips.

4 potatoes, peeled, washed, and cubed
4 carrots, peeled, washed, and cut into chunks ( 32 mini carrots)
2 yellow onions, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices (1/2 an onion)
3 pounds lean boneless lamb (neck or shoulder), cut into 1/inch cubes (1 lb lamb)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (1 tsp dried thyme)
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary (1 tsp dried rosemary)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper

1. Spread half the potatoes on the bottom of the large pan. Cover potatoes with half of the carrots and onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add all of the lamb.

(I split the veggies in half, put a ton of salt and pepper on them and stirred them. I then added the herbs and more salt and pepper to the lamb and mixed it around, before putting the lamb on top of the veggies, then repeated with the veggies on top.)

2. Sprinkle the thyme and rosemary over the meat. Arrange remaining onions over the meat. Finally, top with the rest of the carrots and potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Pour in enough cold water to cover potatoes plus 1 extra inch. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover pan, and allow stew to simmer for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until meat is tender. (1 1/2 hrs was about right for us)

4. Before serving Irish stew, stir well and season with more salt and pepper if necessary.

We doubled the adapted recipe I developed and it made enough for the meat-eating part of our family (7 of us) for dinner, with a couple of bowls leftover for the morrow. The only thing I would say, is that the Irish (and the rest of the UK, for that matter) seem to like their food rather bland for my taste. We added a lot of pepper and salt to our stew and it was delicious! Mm mm!

Soda Bread
Soda bread is a nutritious bread that is simple to make. In parts of county Cork, in southern Ireland, soda bread is still cooked the old-fashioned way in a bastable oven (a heavy-lidded iron pot) suspended over a peat fire.

2 c whole wheat flour
2 c white flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 c buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 375. F.

2. Sift both flours into a large bowl. Add salt and baking soda. Use both hands to scoop up dry ingredients, then open up fingers to allow mixture to drop back into the bowl. Repeat several times to help add air to the mixture.

3. Add buttermilk. Using your hands, quickly knead into a soft dough. If dough becomes too soft and sticky, add a little more flour, but work very quickly. With wet hands, shape dough into a round loaf. Smooth out wrinkles.

4. Sprinkle a baking sheet generously with flour and place dough in the middle. Use a sharp knife to cut an X about 1 inch deep on top of the loaf.

5. Place baking sheet on the top shelf of the oven. Bake for about 40 minutes or until golden brown.

6. Remove bread from oven and wrap immediately in a clean tea towel to keep crust from hardening. Allow to cool before serving.

We doubled the recipe, making two loaves (one is for tonight), and made it exactly as stated. It has a very distinct flavor and I really liked the way that this recipe turned out.

Tonight's recipes (for the corned beef and cabbage) are off of Good resource. ;)

Happy St. Patty's Day!
~.~ the purple sprout


The Purple Sprout is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to While I don't make any money off of these books, if you do happen to purchase something else on Amazon, while you are browsing, I may receive a small commission. It doesn't cost you anything more than if you had found these items on your own. It is just a nice way to say thank you for the FREE books provided. You will have whatever merchandise you love, we have a little pocket change, and Amazon has another happy customer. Win-Win-Win! ~.~ the purple sprout

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Falling in LOVE with Thai Food

Our family has been studying different countries and cultures over the past few months, which has included sampling different cuisines, all of which have been thoroughly enjoyed. We have had some great opportunities to try out new recipes and to learn more about people from around the world and look forward to learning more about many more cultures throughout this year.

The other day, as I was looking around Barnes & Noble, I came across some discounted recipe books. I went out on a limb and purchased a couple of them. I usually look up recipes on or just google until I find what I am looking for. For our International Studies Program this year, I have been borrowing a lot of library books on different countries' cuisines. I wasn't very impressed with the recipes I had tried, despite spending HOURS working on creating culinary surprises. So, out of desperation, I purchased a couple of books, which turned out to be a wise investment. The recipes we have tried thus far have been very easy to follow, taking less time than I am used to, and the results are FABULOUS! Because I have been so impressed with these books, I have decided to share one of them with you.

I will share a recipe out of this book. I know that once you have made it, you will have to buy this book, as well. This recipe is found on page 122.

Thai Noodle Soup

1 package (3 ounces) ramen noodles
12 ounces chicken tenders
2 cans (about 14 ounces each) chicken broth
1/4 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup snow peas
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 lime, cut into 4 wedges

1. Break noodles into pieces. Cook noodles according to package directions, discard flavor packet. Drain; set aside.

2. Cut chicken into 1/2-inch pieces. Combine chicken broth and chicken in large saucepan or Dutch oven; bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook 2 minutes.

3. Add carrot, snow peas, green onions, garlic and ginger. Reduce heat to low; simmer 3 minutes. Add cooked noodles and cilantro; heat through. Serve soup with lime wedges.

Prep and Cook Time: 15 minutes
Makes 4 servings

We made this last night, doubling the recipe. Everyone who ate it, absolutely LOVED it. We agreed that we will try it vegetarian-style next time, omitting the chicken and using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. Maybe we'll use some mushrooms. And we will be buying the 10 cent ramen noodles, instead of the more expensive ones. Also, we will be quadrupling the recipe, it was gone so fast. Don't forget to squeeze your lime over the soup right before you eat it!

We also made the Thai Coconut Iced Tea, which was composed of coconut milk, jasmine tea, and a pinch of sugar. We are a HUGE tea-drinking family, so it was a beautiful complement to our meal.

When you do purchase your own book, I am sure you will want to try out some more of these yummy Thai recipes. These are a few others that we have tried this past week that were rated 9+ and 10 by our family:

Thai Pizza (page 114)
Scallops, Shrimp, and Squid with Basil and Chilies (page 166)
Thai Coconut Iced Tea (page 132)

Next week, we will be learning about Japan...I'm so excited to try out some of the yummy Japanese recipes out of this cookbook! :)

~.~ the purple sprout

The Purple Sprout is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to While I don't make any money off of these books, if you do happen to purchase something else on Amazon, while you are browsing, I may receive a small commission. It doesn't cost you anything more than if you had found these items on your own. It is just a nice way to say thank you for the FREE books provided. You will have whatever merchandise you love, we have a little pocket change, and Amazon has another happy customer. Win-Win-Win! ~.~ the purple sprout

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Healthy Adventure: Family Cook Book

This past Sunday was the last day of our family using our 8WMP over an 8 week period of time. It was fun to see that I could actually follow the plan and that my kids and husband liked 99% of the food. During that 8 weeks, we did have a week-long vacation, which was easier to deal with than I thought it would be, but still took a little bit of adjusting. We have also occasionally gone out to restaurants as a family, to celebrate different cultures and our birthdays.

My hubby and I thought it would be fun to delve into international studies this year, focusing on different countries and their customs, famous people, and cuisine. We began with Russian and the surrounding countries in January. We had a fun time celebrating the Chinese New Year in February. We have thoroughly enjoyed learning about Tibet and India. I love the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, and Mother has been a real treat for me. This week, we are beginning to learn about Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia (and the other smaller countries in that general area). I have really enjoyed learning how to make international foods, and it has been nice having my 8WMP altered to meet the needs of our studies. I have continued having the kids help me with the preparation of our meals. Having extra hands does take more time sometimes and it can be frustrating. But, overall, it is nice to have them developing skills that they will all need to have, while having fun sharing recipes (old and new) and talking about life.

Family Cook Book
The past few weeks, I have been busy preparing a gift that I have always talked about giving our children...a Family Cook Book. It is going to take a bit more work, but once it is done, it will be easy to add to and to share with our kids. I know how frustrating it has been to have to hunt down recipes, creating and recreating meals throughout my adult years. I had no idea how to cook, when I was first married. It was embarrassing and difficult for me to learn, while I was trying to adjust to newly married life and then raising a family. I wish I would have had at least a handful of recipes or some cooking skills before I moved out on my own. It may not have solved all of my issues, but it certainly would have made it easier in so many ways.

I am excited to be able to give my own children a book full of all of our family's favorites, along with pictures of the kids preparing those meals with me. I know that they won't all love every meal that we eat as a family, and they may not appreciate it as much as I would have, but I will have given them something useful. Hopefully, someday, they will remember that I spent time with them, teaching them all I know, and enjoying the preparation of our sustenance. It has been quite fun, thus far. This next 8 weeks, I am still going to be taking photos and spending at least 4 days a week, preparing meals with my kids. I have been trying all sorts of vegetarian dishes and have even found a few that the family liked. I have given my hubby Sunday dinners to prepare, alternating with the kids (which I absolutely love, on so many different levels :).
Here are some suggestions for documenting meal preparations and recipes with your own kids:

1) Choose dishes that you are already familiar with to start out with. There is nothing like having a frustrating, rushed, or bad turn out...when you are trying to make family memories. Figure out which jobs your child(ren) can work on by themselves and spend time teaching them the other jobs, as they reach the appropriate age, so that they can help out and learn even more.

2) When you do attempt new recipes, especially more difficult ones, allow for more time and don't let your own expectations ruin the experience for everyone. Remember that it is not how the food turns out, as much as how your little ones turn out. Your Chinese dumplings may fall apart, the mashed potatoes may look more like sludge, but if you have a smile on your face, your children will remember the lessons learned and still feel loved. I know that I have had to learn this one through much trial and error. I am a perfectionist and detest failure. I am learning to let go of all of my expectations and allow my relationships to be nurtured, in the process. I vow to smile and laugh more at our mistakes, no matter how exhausted I am.

3) Explain EVERYTHING, even if you think they have already heard it before. Repetition is the greatest factor in learning kitchen skills. Explaining that the mashed potatoes shouldn't be stirred once they are boiled, until the water is drained, may seem redundant. But when you are drinking your mashed potatoes later, you will remember the reminder to constantly explain everything. ;)

4) Have your camera ready to take photos of every step of the process, with lots of shots with your kitchen helpers...they will appreciate this silly procedure someday. I promise. Be ready to have to wash your hands every few minutes, as you go from preparing food to taking a photo, back and forth, and back and forth. Also, I like to take a picture of the ingredients at the beginning (if I remember to). Then I take a picture of the final product on a plate/in a bowl, once it is ready to be eaten.

5) Splurge and get an expensive fruit or try an exotic recipe every now and then. Your kids will appreciate the fact that they can say that they tried it, even if it was only once or only happened once a year. Another reason to try as many things as possible, is that there is a lot of a people's history tied into their food. With our family eating more international foods lately, we have had many opportunities to talk about cultures while eating...which I love!

6) If it is your own recipe, which you have never actually written down before, take notes as you go. I like to make sure I type up my recipes within 24 hours, while it is still fresh in my mind. Nothing worse than trying to put photos in at a later date, and not having a clue what steps you are missing or how much of each ingredient you used. If the recipe is from the Internet, a friend, out of a book, or etc., make sure you give credit, where it is due, for the original recipe, even if you altered it. My general rule is, if I changed/added/omitted more than 5 items, it is now my own recipe. I don't know if it is kosher to do this, but I feel that it is fair to call it my own, especially if I found several recipes by different authors that are almost identical.

7) As always, take into consideration, each child's 1Food and, try to plan the meals that they are going to want to help you prepare. I let my older two boys help me choose which dishes they would like to prepare. Also, when trying new foods, remind family members of green eggs and ham. There have been quite a few dishes that I was worried about, but each one was devoured and loved. Occasionally my hubby does have some sarcastic remark about not having meat in our meals, but I know that he loves the idea that we are eating healthier and hope that he remembers that it is because of his high cholesterol and family's prevalent diabetes that I began on this adventure. ;)

I am excited to create this Family Cook Book. After much debate, I have decided to print out each individual page, created in and slip these pages into sheet protectors, in a 3-ring binder. I will make one for our entire family, to use right now. Then I will just make a copy of the document for each child and bind it, when they prepare to leave our home. Between now and then, we will be adding new recipes, altering old recipes, and developing stronger relationships.....and documenting it all for later use.
Hope you are having a great time, on your own adventure!
~.~ the purple sprout

p.s. I will be sharing the final weeks of my Healthy Adventure, once I have my Family Cook Book completed. Can't wait to share them with you!