Gotta confess … I don’t get St Patrick’s Day. I just don’t get it. First of all, St Patrick was English, which right off the bat makes him a highly unlikely candidate for Irish immortality. And while St Patrick’s Day has practically always been a holiday in Ireland, the concept of a parade and the slogan “kiss me, I’m Irish” are completely American. Granted, Irish-Americans make up the second largest ancestral group in this country (after German-Americans), but we’re still only talking about 12% of the country. So why don’t other ethnic holidays get the same amount of attention? Does anyone remember a particularly rowdy or noteworthy Columbus Day party? Why didn’t Fasching catch on around here? Or St Hubbin’s Day, where we celebrate quality footwear?
So you have a saint about which very little is known, to whom only 12% of us have a connection, and you have a mostly Catholic holiday that falls in the middle of Lent, and yet, it has endured.
Well, if you’re going to celebrate it, you have to celebrate it right. You have to know how to pronounce “slàinte,” to start with. (Trick question, as there are at least three correct pronunciations.) You have to know the Latin names for all of Ireland’s indigenous snakes. And you have to make something Irish besides pouring a glass of something from the Class VI store.
And here are a couple of things we’ve whipped up around here lately. Hoping I’m giving you plenty of time to get the grocery shopping done. Other than nabbing a brisket or some ground lamb, there isn’t much you really need that you more than likely don’t already have. (And, honestly, ground beef with a little ground pork makes a mighty fine shepherd’s pie.)
Irish Soda Bread
The simplest thing to make would be one or more loaves of soda bread. I didn’t realize there was controversy around soda bread, but I’ve recently been informed that quite a few people don’t like it. Which doesn’t make sense to me, because soda bread is just bread with baking soda instead yeast as the leavening agent. So, technically, soda bread is just bread. Now, you can add raisins and currants and use rye flour or barley flour and all of that, so I guess there are varieties that might not be ones cup of tea. So, just remember, if you don’t like raisin bread, don’t add raisins. Brilliant, eh?
So your basic soda bread is this simplest of simple recipes, courtesy Mary O’Callaghan from the Ballinalacken Castle Country House and Restaurant, in County Clare, on the west coast of Ireland. (Found in the March issue of Bon Appetit.)
Preheat oven to 425°F. If using a baking stone, pre-heat the stone as well. If using a baking sheet, either line it with parchment paper or lightly butter or grease a 9×9 area in the center of the sheet.
(What happens if you don’t pre-heat your stone? Well, this.)
Thoroughly mix both flours, then the sugar, and then the baking soda in 4-6 quart bowl. Add butter and cut in until it is reduced to pea-size pieces. Form a well and add the buttermilk, and then very gently stir until the dough forms.
Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead about 10-12 times until the dough comes together, and then shape dough into 9-inch round. Place dough on your stone or prepared baking sheet. Using a carving or baker’s knife, slice a large cross, 1/2 inch deep, all the way across the top of the dough.
Irish Stew and Cheddar Scones
This one takes a good hour and a half, but most of that time is just watching it simmer on the stove, which frees you up to make the scones, clean everything up, and set the table, so once dinner’s on, there’s nothing to do but sit back and enjoy it all.
2 pounds stew meat (beef or lamb), cut up into one inch cubes
1 large onion or 2 med/small ones
2 Tbs chopped garlic
2 Tbs tomato paste
1/4 cup flour
One bottle stout or porter beer
4 cups broth — 2 cups beef, 2 cups chicken
Thyme: either a couple of fresh sprigs or a shake or two of dried
*2 pounds potatoes (Yukon works best)
*1 cup carrots
*1 cup frozen peas
*1 cup savoy cabbage
(Adapted from Cuisine at Home.)
Season the stew meat with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven or large pot, brown the meat for 5-8 minutes on med-high in 1-2 Tbs of oil. Move it to a bowl (or a plate, but you want to catch and save any liquid from the meat for the broth) and drop the heat down to medium.
Add a bit more oil and saute the onion for 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and garlic, stir well and cook for 2 more minutes, until the paste darkens. Add the flour and stir until everything is evenly coated, and cook for 1 more minute. Then deglaze with your beer, scraping the bottom for a couple of minutes to free up the meat and onion bits from the bottom of the pot.
Most folks will tell you to use a Guiness, but this time I used an Odells Cutthroat Porter. Any dark beer will work, but avoid anything sweet (eg, your vanilla or chocolate stouts).
Once you’ve deglazed, add both broths, the stew meat and its juices, and the thyme. Simmer for one hour on low heat. (Now you can work on the cheddar scones and clean up a bit.)
Chop the potatoes and carrots. Stir in to the stew and cook for about 10-12 minutes (potatoes should be tender). Cut the savoy cabbage into slices and add with the peas, and cook for 5 minutes more.
2 1/2 cups flour (up to one cup whole wheat, the rest all-purpose)
2 Tbs sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
10 Tbs butter (keep it cold until you need it)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup minced chives
*1 cup buttermilk
2 Tbs water
1 egg whisked with 1 Tbs water
*or water and Saco cultured buttermilk powder
Preheat the oven to 375ºand line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. (Ahh, parchment paper… one of the world’s greatest inventions.)
Mix the flour, sugar, baking power and baking soda, and salt. Combine until evenly mixed. (If you’re using the buttermilk powder instead of real buttermilk, add that now as well.) Cut in the butter until pea-sized.
(Scott Peacock says to cut in the butter by hand, mashing it and tearing it between your fingers until it crumbles. I tried that but make too much of a mess. And I’m not a huge fan of pastry cutters, because I hate cleaning them. So I use my three dollar, all-purpose utility knife to cut the cold butter into tiny cubes and then mash it with a fork.)
Add the cheddar and chives (or a dash of onion and garlic powder, if you forget to get green onions) and then add the buttermilk and 2 Tbs water. Mix very gently, just until blended. Move the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and pat into a large square, 8-10 inches on a side. Cut in half both ways, and then cut each section in half both ways again. Then cut those squares into triangles. Place on the parchment paper and brush the tops with the egg/water mixture. Bake for about 25 minutes, until golden.
Clean up the kitchen, get back to the potatoes and carrots, and get ready for a slow dinner.