To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, we’re turning to Tom Hudgens’s new cookbook, The Commensense Kitchen, 500 Recipes and Lessons for a Hand-crafted Life, published last fall by Chronicle Books. A former professional chef, Hudgens now teaches cooking at College of Marin as well as keeps up with his blog, The Whole Hog, a foodie’s food blog. We caught up with him to learn a bit more about his passion for cooking and this Irish Soda bread recipe in particular.
Have you always loved cooking? When I was growing up in Texas and New Mexico, food was always a big part of every holiday. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love cooking. My mom has always been a wonderful cook, and my grandmother and aunts were, too. Although I was a professional chef for many years, home cooks have always been my chief source of inspiration. Many recipes in the cookbook are named after people: Joan’s Irish Soda Bread; Reatha’s Macaroni & Cheese; My Mother’s Enchiladas; Mama Nell’s Kentucky Bourbon Balls; Jack’s Buttermilk Pancakes, etc.
How long have you been at College of Marin? Three and a half years. I work in the instructional support office where we compile schedules and catalogs, etc. I began teaching cooking classes through College of Marin’s Adult Community Education division last summer.
How did you narrow it down to 500 recipes? Well, there are many ways to count recipes …! When I was writing the book, I tried to include my entire “repertoire,” with a special emphasis on what I cooked at Deep Springs, an all-male liberal arts college, where I was both a student and chef. I wanted the book to have a good mix of “everyday” and “special-occasion” recipes.
How did you find your Irish Bread Recipe? My friend and College of Marin co-worker Joan Rinaldi brings in this bread every St. Patrick’s Day as a treat for the whole office. I thought it would round out the array of recipes in the breakfast baking chapter, so I asked her if I could put it in the book!
What do you like to serve with this bread? When it’s warm out of the oven, this soda bread is great with just a cup of tea! But it would be delicious for breakfast with butter and marmalade, alongside soft-boiled eggs, Irish bacon, steel-cut oatmeal, I really like it toasted and buttered the next day. It makes excellent cream-cheese sandwiches, too.
Did it really take you 12 years to write the book? I worked on early (self-published) versions of the book during the three years I cooked at Deep Springs (beginning in 1998)—it was a gift to the graduates at Deep Springs each year — a cookbook to start them out on their adult lives! After I left Deep Springs in 2001, I set the project aside for several years, then resumed work on it in 2006. Chronicle Books accepted it for publication in early 2009, and it came out in fall of 2010. So, yes, the book took shape over a 12-year period, but it was about seven years of active work.
Joan’s Irish Soda Bread
Makes one large loaf
If you’ve never tasted caraway seeds in anything but rye bread, you’ll be surprised at their entirely different character, with raisins, in this lightly sweetened soda bread. For the most tender texture, don’t overmix the batter—combine the dry and wet ingredients just until there is no dry flour left. Joan, who makes many loaves of this soda bread every St. Patrick’s Day, mixes for only as long as it takes to say an “Our Father,” a “Hail Mary,” and a “Glory Be.”
3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 tablespoons canola oil or other vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups raisins
Heat the oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour two medium (four-cup) loaf pans. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk the buttermilk, eggs, caraway seeds, and oil together in a medium bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients, and sprinkle the raisins over. Sweeping your whisk thoroughly over the bottom of the bowl, mix the batter only until uniform; do not over mix. Scrape into the prepared pans and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the soda bread rest in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool.