Kitchen Shrink: How to be Irish for a Day

KITCHEN SHRINK:

Growing up I remember our family would celebrate St. Paddy's Day with a giant shamrock-shaped cake to pay tribute to Ireland's patron saint, as well as my baby brother, a laddie who was born on March 17. Along with our Celtic complexion, hazel eyes, and auburn hair, I always felt we had a little Irish in our DNA.

You too can pretend to be Irish for a day — speak with a lilty brogue while taking your Irish Setter for a walk in the moorlands. At home, set your table with fine Irish linen and Waterford crystal as you prepare an array of savory dishes, sweet delights, and hot and cold sips inspired by the Emerald Isle. Sláinte agut!

The top of the morning to you with a hale and hearty Irish breakfast including a traditional fry-up of eggs, bangers (sausages), black and white pudding, tomatoes and mushrooms in a shallow pan. Round it out with scones speckled with currants (see recipe BELOW) or a slice of dense soda bread slathered with pure Irish butter. Other faves include crispy potato pancakes called boxty, steel-cut oats, a rasher of back bacon, and stack of Guinness griddlecakes, washed down with a cuppa strong tea.

That should hold you till dinner when the feast begins with some mandatory dishes — it's the law — like corned beef and cabbage. This iconic comfort food can be prepared from scratch with a beef brisket (grass-fed and organic, where possible), that has been cured for three days in a brine of spring water, Himalayan pink salt and brown sugar, then boiled in a slow cooker with a medley of pickling spices like allspice berries, coriander, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, ginger and cardamom pods. Add chunks of cabbage and carrots during the last hour of cooking, and serve family-style with caraway rye bread, and malty Guinness mustard.

Other carnivorous offerings include Irish lamb stew with turnips, rutabagas, and potato dumplings in a robust stout sauce, Shepherd's Pie (a homey baked casserole of minced lamb, carrots, and onions, blanketed with mashed potatoes), and Irish pub-style meatloaf with ground chicken.

Ireland's also a pescavore's paradise with a treasure trove of fresh seafood plucked from the vast coastlines. Enjoy a fine kettle of fish with wild-caught salmon, halibut, black mussels and deep-sea scallops swimming in a citrus and Guinness-based broth. Classic crispy fish cakes blending cod or hake with redskin potatoes, and a bunch of herbs and spices make a satisfying appetizer or light main dish. While beer-battered monkfish and chips (fries) sprinkled with malt vinegar will surely hit the fish-lover's spot.

Vegetarian's can also indulge in traditional dishes like colcannon, a comfort casserole that marries mashed potatoes and parsnips with chopped cabbage or kale, scallions, and plenty of butter. Irish Skink (tastes much better than it sounds), a summer vegetable soup with rich cream and egg yolks is another meatless delight, along with a "Shepherdless" pie loaded with lentils, sweet potatoes and wild mushrooms.

Satisfy the Irish sweet tooth with Bailey's cheesecake, a chocolate hazelnut potato flan, blood orange custard with rhubarb compote, shortbread biscuits, Irish whiskey cake, or poached pears with Guinness glaze.

At last — "Up to the lips, over the gums" — wet your whistle with some heady Irish libations like a pint of Guinness, the Emerald Isle's beloved brew with a creamy foam, and tangy, toasty flavor. Chug down a stein, or use this iconic stout as the base for a pomegranate punch, Margarita, or Bloody Mary. Other potent potables include apple cider, sweet honey mead, and dessert-delicious Bailey's Irish Cream.

Or warm your cockles on a dreary March day with a glass of Irish Coffee invented in 1942 by intrepid barman Joe Sheridan at the Foyne Airport near Shannon to enliven the weary spirits of transatlantic passengers. A cup of hot coffee, a shot of Irish whiskey, and sugar, stirred and topped with cream.

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Recipe: Irish Scones

Ingredients: 2 cups unbleached flour; 1 teaspoon baking powder; 4 ounces Irish butter, softened; 1/3 cup brown sugar; 1 egg, beaten; 1/2 cup buttermilk or kefir yoghurt; 1/2 teaspoon almond extract; 1/2 cup currants, dried cranberries or cherries; 1/2 cup toasted, chopped hazelnuts or pecans; zest from one orange; pinch of salt.

Method: Preheat oven to 350 F. In large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt. Crumble butter into mixture until little pea-sized balls form. Add sugar and zest. Mix well. Add half the beaten egg, milk and extract. Blend in fruit and nuts until a soft, sticky dough forms. Turn onto floured board, and knead. Make two flat circles about 3/4 inches thick. Cut into quarters. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Brush with remaining beaten egg. Bake about 15 minutes until golden brown.

Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: kitchenshrink@san.rr.com and see more recipes at freerangeclub.com

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