Sunday, March 10, 2013

Irish or Not: It's a Day to Eat a Lot!

As we all take part in our wearing of the green on St. Patrick’s Day, all eyes turn to festive parades complete with Irish step dancers, high school marching bands, fire fighter companies, bagpipes, concertinas and Irish flags and shamrocks.  Shamrocks everywhere!  All noses and palates then turn to Irish stouts, corned beef and potatoes.  Let’s face it folks, the traditional notion of boiling the green right out of the cabbage leaves the house smelling less than appetizing, and the flavor is, well, no better.  The traditional Irish American St. Patty’s Day spread consisted of the entire meal boiled for hours in one pot: the corned beef, the cabbage, carrots and potatoes.  Not exactly tasty eats.  In my eighteen years of cooking, I have never once served up this blandness on what is supposed to be a festive holiday. 

Corned beef is just flavorful, fatty goodness, and the leftovers provide satisfying sandwiches the next day.  This is the one course of the meal where I opt not to deviate from the package’s cooking instructions.  Serve the corned beef with a couple of high-end condiments such as a good mustard and a creamy horseradish. 

There are so many ways to serve up potatoes, for instance.  You could open the meal with a piping hot bowl of steaming Yukon gold potato soup, for example.  Mashed potatoes can be prepared in a host of variations, from basic mashed potatoes with a heaping amount of parsley whipped in to give them a green tint, to potatoes mashed with some additional winter root vegetables such as parsnips, turnips and celery root.  How about potatoes au gratin with a cheddar sauce?  A stellar option is the crispy golden potato pancakes that I put together last year.  You can serve them up this year, using the recipe below.

Next we have the cabbage.  There are a couple of options.  One is to slice the raw cabbage thinly, until the entire head is left as a pile of shreds, and then sauté them in a skillet in some olive oil until the cabbage is crisp-tender and still green.  Season it with salt and pepper and that’s that.  You can also think outside of the box.  Brussels sprouts resemble what exactly?  Baby cabbages!  Last year I served a bowl of lightly steamed little green orbs with a cheddar beer sauce that Brian whisked up. 

When it comes to carrots, please don’t boil the life out of them.  Arrange baby carrots in a single layer on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven at 450-degrees for about a half hour, turning once during cooking time, or until they have started to caramelize.  You can also peel and cut some parsnips to similar sized pieces, and toss them to roast in the same pan with the carrots.  If you happen to be seeking the simplest dinner preparation, boil the corned beef in one pot, and then arrange all of your vegetables together in a large roasting pan and roast them in the aforementioned manner.  You can combine the carrots, parsnips, turnips, Brussels sprouts, baby potatoes and even beets.  Use any veggie combo you like, as long as the requisite carrots, potatoes and baby cabbage is included in the mix, you won’t be in festivity violation.

If you are hosting a simple gathering without the corned beef dinner, pull your fondue pot out of the deep, dark recesses of your highest kitchen cabinet.  Gather your guests around the kitchen’s island or coffee table and treat them to a cheddar-beer fondue.  For dippers, set out baby carrots, baby potatoes, Brussels sprouts and broccoli and cauliflower florets.  A second classic nibble to serve comes in the form of smoked salmon, served with thin slices of red onion atop horseradish-brushed slices of bread.  Offer some winning Irish brews to accompany such as Brooklyn Brewery’s Irish Stout and Sam Adams Irish Red.  For my Long Island readers, be sure to pick up a growler of Long Ireland’s Celtic Ale for a rewarding beer tasting experience.

Dessert can be as simple as some Irish coffee, crowned with a generous dollop of whipped cream and served with shamrock-shaped sugar cookies that have been sprinkled with green casting sugar.  If you are indeed up for some baking time - St. Patrick’s Day does fall on the weekend this year, after all – consider some chocolate cupcakes with green mint frosting or molten chocolate cakes containing Crème de Menthe in the batter.  Bailey’s Irish Cream, it’s not just for sipping anymore; it is now a star flavoring ingredient in cheesecakes and homemade ice cream.  Lastly, an slice of old-fashioned unleavened Irish Soda Bread slathered with a good artisan butter hits the spot with a steaming cup of Irish breakfast tea.  This bread is also perfect for breakfast on the big day, as well as an afternoon treat.

Crispy Gold Potato Pancakes

8 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
2 large onions, peeled
4 eggs, beaten
6 tablespoons flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
8 tablespoons butter (1 stick) (or more, depending on the size of your pan)

Using a box grater or a food processor fitted with the steel, grating disc grate all of the potatoes and the onions.  Line a colander with a dish towel.  Transfer the shredded potatoes and onions to the prepared colander and set the colander in the sink for about a half-hour. 

Wring the towel tightly, squeezing out as much excess moisture as possible.  Transfer the potatoes and onions to a mixing bowl.  Add the eggs, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper.  Stir until combined.

Heat 2 tablespoons in an extra-large skillet, frying pan or griddle (if you have a panini press that has griddle plate attachments, that’s a perfect option).  When the butter is melted and the pan is hot, drop a ladle of the batter into the pan.  Do this with as many as can fit in the pan without them running together; three usually works.  Allow to cook for 3-5 minutes, until the underside appears golden and crispy, and then flip them with a spatula, cooking the other side for another 3-5 minutes.  Remove from the pan and place on an ovenproof serving platter in the oven on the warm setting (the lowest that your oven will go!).  Repeat, starting with melting another 2 tablespoons of butter and ending by adding the cooked pancakes onto the platter in the oven, continuing until all of the batter has been cooked.

Remove the platter from the oven, give one last sprinkle of salt and then serve.

Irish Soda Bread

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon Cointreau (orange liquor)
3/4 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 375-degrees.  Grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment paper.

Using the paddle attachment of a mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour and the mixture resembles large crumbs.

In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, beat the buttermilk, egg and Cointreau together with a fork until blended. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Add the raisins and continue to mix until they are incorporated throughout the dough.

Turn out the dough onto a very well floured surface, knead the dough a few times and then shape it into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared baking sheet.  Using a very sharp knife, slit an X on the top surface of the loaf.  Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean when inserted into the middle.

St. Patrick’s Day is a day to eat, drink and be merry.   It’s a perfect excuse for a mid-March party to cast aside the last of winter’s doldrums.  Dress the table in green linens, and dress yourself in your favorite green apparel.  Imbibe some good Irish-style craft beer, and when you begin to see leprechauns, it may be time to dig into the pot of corned beef or cheddar beer fondue before you start chasing imaginary rainbows in search of the legendary pot of gold.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


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