On the menu this week: Irish favorites! Unfortunately, I don’t have any family recipes from my Irish relatives, so the internet’s offerings were the best I could do.
A few weeks ago I made several Russian meals starting with black bread, which served as a “safe” food for my kids who are wary of new foods. I decided to take the same approach to Irish week and made Irish soda bread on the first day. I thought it was divine, but the kids were less enthusiastic about the raisins (except for one kid who ate only the raisins). I put in about have the recommended amount because I was worried they would be unpopular, but I suppose I should have left them out completely. This recipe bakes up like a giant biscuit, complete with cutting cold butter into flour and the addition of buttermilk. I slathered it in Irish butter and devoured it.
Shockingly, I was able to get Guinness from my grocery store and even the right quantity of meat for beef and Guinness pie. Stew is not my favorite, but every search for Irish food turned up stew recipes, so I gave this one a try. I doubled the recipe and served it in bowls with puff pastry shamrocks on top rather than covering individual pots with the pastry. I find that makes the pastry soggy on the bottom and it often bakes unevenly, so I prefer to cut up puff pastry and bake it separately on a silicone sheet. Brush it with egg wash and sprinkle with flake salt, then bake at 425 — the time will depend on the size of your cutouts so don’t go wandering off. This is how I make chicken pot pie as well, and I cut the pastry into fun shapes for the kids.
The stew itself was surprisingly good, and thickened up perfectly as it cooked. The beef could have cooked a tad longer to really get tender but the kids were threatening to mutiny if I didn’t feed them so I served it after the prescribed time was up. Whenever I think of stew I think of “bowls of brown” on Game of Thrones: a murky puddle of one-note ingredients. The Guinness and tomato paste really round out the flavor of this dish, making it superior to other stews I’ve made before.
Next, we had Potato Day. You can’t make Irish food without making potatoes, right? I’d made my own version of boxty (potato pancakes) out of leftover mashers a few days earlier, so I wanted something different. I found a recipe for colcannon potatoes and before you write angry letters, I learned from the comments on this recipes that it’s more traditional to use cabbage and not kale for this dish but I knew I was making cabbage the following day and a girl can only eat so much cabbage, okay? I am all about tradition and making meals the way they were meant to be prepared, and if you are using anything besides cheese and eggs to sauce your spaghetti carbonara you can just get right out of town, but I made an exception here. It was so worth it, because if I had used cabbage the dish wouldn’t have been such a vibrant green, and I wouldn’t have gotten the satisfaction of telling my husband the potatoes he was praising were full of his least favorite leafy green. Potatoes can be so bland, but these have garlic and green onions to punch them up. Make sure you use good butter since it will be one of the feature flavors here.
The only other meat I had available was a package of chicken thighs, so I searched online for “Irish chicken” and followed the seasoning instructions, but honestly this chicken is about as Irish as my tacky green manicure. It’s basically house seasoning and I suspect what makes it Irish is the suggested pairing with cabbage, but leave me alone with all the cabbage nonsense! I’m still recovering from the borscht I made weeks ago, so I could only emotionally commit to one meal that involved cabbage. The chicken was still good, but not authentic.
For St Patrick’s Day I made corned beef, and finally, cabbage. I couldn’t get what I needed to make my own corned beef so I had to rely on the pre-packaged version. It was better than I expected since I recently made a Jewish-style brisket that wasn’t very tender and the preparation is similar. If you’ve never had corned beef (shame on you) it’s like beef that’s been ham-ified: salty and tender and pink. I threw in some carrots but left out the cabbage because I had other plans. If you buy the pre-marinated version do not add any salt. That meat has already taken a salt bath to prepare it for cooking and it’s seasoned all the way through. You need to let it rest per the package instructions, so as with any meat that needs to rest and runs the risk of getting cold my advice is to keep the cooking liquid warm on the stove so you can either pour a little over the finished slices to warm them up or dip each slice in the hot juice before plating.
The cabbage was also a nice surprise, since I had very low expectations for what is essentially wet cooked lettuce. I chose a recipe that called for a pound and a half of bacon just to make sure it would turn out delicious and the cabbage took on an almost creamy texture. I didn’t have mustard seeds so I put a little whole grain mustard in and it was very complex without been too mustardy for my husband who hates the stuff. This recipe was easy and made a huge amount of food, but I would recommend ignoring the part that says to throw in the wet ingredients before the bacon is crispy, since mine never got any crispier.
For the grand finale I decided at the last minute to add a dessert. I happened to have a bunch of apples (though not the right kind, of course) and had seen several recipes for Irish apple cakes so I found one for which I had all the ingredients. The cake has cloves and nutmeg in it but I felt like it lacked sweetness. If your apples are not terribly sweet, you might consider upping the sugar in the cake itself, and make sure you include the optional custard sauce. Crème anglaise is basically ice cream before it’s frozen and really amps up the luxurious sweetness of this dessert. Also kudos to people who take action shots of food for a living — this picture was pretty stressful to capture! Because it isn’t overly sweet, it’s a pretty decent snack cake, and I caught my husband eating it for breakfast this morning so it’s fairly versatile and could stand in for a coffee cake.
Irish week has been a success, with the kids trying everything but the colcannon potatoes (they don’t like mashed potatoes and yes I’ve had them checked and they are really mine). It’s often difficult to experiment in the kitchen when you’ve got little ones at home, but the more I focus on presentation and offering one familiar dish at each meal, the easier it is to get them to the table. I’m looking forward to more spring produce that presents itself beautifully without much input from the cook.