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Potatoes Tantalize Combined with Bacon, Mint


The potato may be a New World food that only made its way to Europe in recent centuries, but the Irish have certainly made it their own.

In fact, a chapter of American history in the mid-19th century would not have been written if the Irish diet weren’t so dependent on potatoes. When the Great Famine wiped out the potato crop from 1845 to 1852, 1 million died and 1 million more left for life elsewhere, including the American shores, according to Wikipedia.

“The potato was introduced to Ireland as a garden crop of the gentry,” the site says. “By the late 17th century, it had become widespread as a supplementary rather than a principal food, as the main diet still revolved around butter, milk, and grain products. In the first two decades of the 18th century, however, it became a base food of the poor, especially in winter. The expansion of the economy between 1760 and 1815 saw the potato make inroads in the diet of the people and become a staple food all the year round for the cottier and small farm class.”

Potatoes have long been a staple of the Irish diet.

St. Patrick’s Day is a and a celebration of the Irish that is in all of us, here are three recipes featuring the mighty spud that are perfect for the holiday and year-round. We also include a Green Goddess dressing with its festive green color as a way of making your salad even more fitting for the day.

Beannachtam na Feile Padraig! (ban/ocked/tee nah fail/eh pawd/rig) That’s Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all.

Potato Onion Soup, Irish Style

Potato and Mint Salad

Bacon-Potato Salad

Green Goddess Dressing

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Dress Up Leftover Ham with a Whiskey Sauce


Have you ever wondered what to do with leftover ham? Here’s an Irish recipe with a stunning sauce.

Ham in Whiskey Sauce

2 tablespoons butter
4 ham steaks, about 1-inch thick
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon white flour
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup Irish whiskey
1/2 cup beef stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then brown the ham steaks, in batches, if necessary, for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove the ham from the skillet when done and set aside, covering the steaks with foil to keep them warm.

[amazon-product]081186670X[/amazon-product]Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the same pan, then add the onions. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the onions from the skillet with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Reduce the heat to low and sprinkle the flour into the pan, mixing it into the butter and pan juices. Repeat the process with the brown sugar, then add the whiskey and the beef stock and stir it in well. Whisk in the cream, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, put 1 ham steak on each of 4 plates, spoon a quarter of the onions over each steak, then gently pour sauce over the onions and ham.

Makes 4 servings.

From “The Country Cooking of Ireland” by Colman Andrews

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The Flavors of Ireland Fill Colcannon


Leave it to the Irish to come up with a one-bowl dinner that combines a rich and satisfying combination of pork, potatoes and kale or cabbage. The resulting magic is called colcannon.

According to Wikipedia, “An old Irish Halloween tradition was to serve colcannon with prizes of small coins concealed in it, as the English do with Christmas pudding. This is still done today and small amounts of money are placed in the potato.”

The dish is served there in autumn because that’s when kale comes into season, but we suggest it as an economical dish for St. Patrick’s Day with its streaks of green floating in the mashed potato mixture.

This is a dish that is great to play around with because you can use what ingredients you prefer or have on hand; and it still comes out great. So, try colcannon with ham or bacon or even Canadian bacon, which is closer to the Irish style of bacon. Use sautéed leeks or onion stirred into the mix or scallions as a garnish. Use the water from steaming the cabbage instead of milk (just keep the butter).

You can also serve colcannon as a meaty side dish or the main course of a meal. A green salad and a slab of brown bread – not to mention a pint of lager – would round out the meal.

Colcannon

1 pound ham, cubed
3 pounds gold potatoes
At least 1 pound green cabbage, shredded or chopped
1 1/4 cups milk (see note)
1 stick butter, cut in pieces
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 scallion, chopped, for garnish

Place the ham in a saucepan and cover with water. Boil for 45 minutes until tender. You may have to add more water. When meat is ready, drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, steam the potatoes 30 minutes or until soft. Peel the potatoes.

Steam the cabbage several minutes until soft. Reserve the water.

Heat the milk until hot but not boiling.

Using a stand mixer, add the potatoes and butter and mash until well incorporated and lumps removed. While that is mashing, add the milk slowly until well incorporated. Add the cabbage first, then the ham. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with scallions.

Note: You can make a lower-fat version of this by using the warm water from the steamed cabbage instead of the milk.

Makes 6 main course servings or 12 side-dish servings.

Adapted from “Tyler’s Ultimate”/Food Network

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Griffin to Go: Meeting One Goal, Keeping Up With Another


Last summer I made a goal. After seeing the movie “Julie & Julia,” I told myself I was going to cook my way through an entire section of a cookbook. The book I chose was the “Avoca Café Cookbook,” a treasured volume I had picked up in Ireland a few years ago, and the section was on soup. (Click here.)

It took several months and not a lot of discipline on my part, but I’m happy to report that the last new soup has been made and consumed – and it was as good as the best of the lot.

I learned as much about making soup as I learned about one kitchen’s approach to this labor of love. Quite a few of the recipes begin with softening an onion in olive oil, which provides a natural sweetness. A good vegetarian stock is added later and magically, the flavors blend together, changing with each ingredient.

But most of all, the recipes were simple and straightforward, not fussy yet full of flavor. If this is what Ireland treasures, then it shares something wonderful in common with that other “I” country in Europe: Italy. The emphasis is on layering a few fresh ingredients in a manner in which they all complement each other, so you can enjoy the best that nature has to offer.

Recipe: Cauliflower Cheddar Soup

It could be something as comforting as cauliflower and cheddar or something as offbeat as parsnip, rosemary and olives.

Along the way, I revisited some old favorites, such as Courgette and Almond, just to make sure they were as good as I remembered. I also was forced to revisit a few vegetables, such as turnips, that I didn’t care for as a child and have largely avoided as an adult. (I still don’t care for them, but soft baby turnips have a more pleasant flavor than their rock-hard adult cousins.)

Some of the journey was frustrating. I had had a stand of lemongrass in the backyard, but the ugliest of winter freezes took care of that. So I had to buy fresh lemongrass from the market for the Sweet Potato and Lemongrass soup. (I also didn’t have time to visit an Asian market, so I probably paid twice the price for the stalks I needed.)

Recipe: Courgette and Almond Soup

Most of the recipes were vegetarian, a few were even vegan. The lone exception was a Tuscan Bean Soup that required bacon in it. And what an impact that bacon had on the final product! After the first taste of the meat boiled into the broth, I could understand why a few – not all, mind you – of my vegan friends will have the occasional piece of pork. I will remember the richness and depth of flavor it brought to the soup and use that in other ways.

I made the most of these soups during the worst of the winter, when I had a seasonal job. To save money, I would bring a jar of soup each day and pop it in the microwave. The aroma of Potato and Fennel Soup or Aztec Corn would fill the break room and often drew questions from co-workers who wanted to know where I’d bought it.

The last recipe in the section was Mixed Mushroom, which I made with button caps, brown mushrooms and portobellos. Rich and creamy, it was a fine end to a most tasty experiment.

Recipe: Aztec Corn Soup

Another goal I wrote about recently was planting a garden so I could enjoy some freshness from my own backyard.

I’m happy to report that the radishes, lettuces and arugula I planted survived the snow/sleet/slush that fell several days after planting. It’s almost time to thin some of the sprouts, which will make a great addition to a salad.

In the meantime, the potted tomatoes are thriving. I know some friends who have planted theirs in the ground already. I’m not quite ready to do that, but I do have them clustered in near the backdoor so they can get some light.

Recipe: Mixed Mushroom Soup

I also planted a pair of olive trees I picked up at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard. I planted the arbequina, which should survive our freak freezes and bear fruit in a few years. I would appreciate that. The loquat tree I planted eight years ago is only now ready to bear fruit, and I fear I lost some of this year’s potential harvest to the cold.

But that’s the nature of gardening, isn’t it? We never know what nature has in store for us, no matter the goals we set.

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‘Avoca Café Cookbook’


dscn1446I have never wanted to cook all of the recipes in a single cookbook. Even a favorite like Simon Hopkinson’s “Roast Chicken and Other Stories” contain sections I wouldn’t go near. Who needs five recipes for calves’ brains, especially when their sale is outlawed in this country?

If I make 10 recipes from a cookbook and like eight of them, I think I’m doing exceptionally well. Is that a waste of money? Not to me.  One  good meal is worth the price of the book that a recipe or two helped produce.

That said, there is one book in my collection that I have returned to repeatedly. It is the “Avoca Café Cookbook,” written by Hugo Arnold with Leylie Hayes.

I picked it up several years ago after eating at the cafe, which is near the eastern coast of Ireland. Friends and I had gone there for lunch one day on our way to Dublin from the charming village of Bunclody. I had partied a bit heavily the night before, and my head and stomach were not cheered at the thought of food, to put it mildly. But one taste of how fresh everything was — and on a cold February day, no less — and I perked up a bit.

I was pleased to find a copy of the cafe’s cookbook for sale, one that included our weights and measurements in addition to metric. (That’s getting harder when you go abroad these days.)

Once home, I tried to recreate some of the magic I had tasted and found it in almost every soup recipe I tried. Green Bean and Coconut. Petit Pois and Mint. Spiced Lentil and Lemon. Each one quickly entered my repertoire of recipes that I have returned to.

I now have to have Baked Garlic and Onion Cream soup at least twice each winter. And I make Tomato, Celery and Apple soup year-round. Even one of the recipes that sounded a bit bizarre — Parsnip, Rosemary and Olive soup — proved a keeper once I had tasted it.

In addition to having gorgeous photographs, "Avoca Cafe Cookbook" has large margins, so you can take notes on any of the recipes you try.

In addition to having gorgeous photographs, "Avoca Cafe Cookbook" has large margins, so you can take notes on any of the recipes you try.

It wasn’t until I had made the 10th or 11th soup from the book that I realized all of the recipes in this section were vegetarian, which is not something I generally seek out. In fact, soup to me had always been something made with chicken stock, if not turkey stock or beef. I even have bacon stock in my pantry, which should not surprise anyone who knows me.

It was about the same time that I set a goal for myself that was similar to Julie Powell’s in “Julie & Julia.” I was going to make every soup recipe in the book. That’s 17 recipes, and I’ve hit 14 so far. It’s not the season for White Winter Vegetable soup, and I still haven’t seen too many turnips I want to cook.

But I have enjoyed the Cauliflower Cheese soup for its unbeatable mixture of onion, potato and cauliflower mixed with butter, half-and-half, cream and aged cheddar. Tomato, Lentil and Orange soup was bright and clean, as was Roasted Carrot and Red Pepper. Sweet Potato and Lemon Grass was soothing and gave me a good excuse to use some of the lemon grass in my backyard.

I have also tried a number of other recipes in the book, from Beef and Guinness Stew (the whole cookbook is not vegetarian) to a Mediterranean Tart with roasted vegetables. There’s plenty of margin room on each page to write notes on, which is great because some of the terms used in Ireland don’t always translate to our American soil. “Monkey nuts” are “peanuts,” and in the following recipe, “courgette” is “zucchini.”

This is a summer treat, especially for those with a garden full of zucchini.

dscn1240Courgette and Almond

1/2 ounce butter
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 potato, peeled and chopped
3-4 cups vegetable stock
3 medium courgettes (zucchini), finely chopped
1 ounce ground almonds
4 ounces (1/2 cup) heavy cream, plus extra for garnish
4 ounces (1/2 cup) milk
Toasted slivered almonds, for garnish

[amazon-product]095381520X[/amazon-product]Melt the butter in a large pan, add the onion and potato, and cook over a very low heat for 5 minutes. Add 3 cups stock, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the potato is cooked. Add the courgettes (zucchini) and more stock, if need, to cover. Bring back to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. As soon as the courgettes are cooked, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the ground almonds, cream and milk. Purée in a blender, then reheat gently and season to taste. Serve topped with a few toasted slivered almonds and a swirl of cream.

This soup can also be served chilled.

Adapted from “Avoca Café Cookbook” by Hugo Arnold with Leylie Hayes

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