Tuesday, March 16, 2010

St. Patrick's Meal, Thanks to Tom

I was in bed all weekend with a bug and spent too many hours watching a marathon of travel shows to Ireland on the local NPR channel.  I learned a lot about St. Patrick and Irish history as well as enjoyed seeing some of our favorite places, like Dingle.  Ireland is so lush and green. 

We had already planned to make a Sunday dinner of corned beef and Irish soda bread, but I didn't feel well enough to cook, so Tom kindly stepped in and made a delicious meal, including doing the shopping.  Thanks, Tom!

This meal wasn't heavy or greasy at all because it was boiled.  The vegetables were cooked perfectly, i.e., not mushy.  I even liked the cabbage.  The corned beef was tender and not dry. 

Last time Tom made this bread was 3/17/02.  Neither of us could remember exactly how it was going to turn out.  It is rather sweet, not like the basic brown or white soda bread that I saw on the travel shows, but very tasty.  Baking soda was revolutionary in early 1800's, and allowed the Irish to make bread without yeast, or having to knead.  They could make it in a cast iron pot at home.  Most did not have an oven then.

Sweet Irish Soda Bread
Recipe by Jill Novatt, a Food TV recipe
2 cups flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 T. sugar
2 T. cold unsalted butter
2 T. cold vegetable shortening
1 egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup currants
2 T. toasted caraway seeds
1 T. melted butter
1 T. sanding sugar (coarse sugar)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then mix well.  Cut the butter and shortening into small pieces and add to the flour mixture.  Using your fingers, work the cold butter and shortening into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Add the egg, the buttermilk, the currants and the caraway seeds and mix into the flour mixture until it is incorporated.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead gently until the dough forms a smooth ball.  Place the dough into a lightly greased loaf pan.  Score the top of the loaf with a very sharp knife.  Brush the top of the loaf with the melted butter.  Sprinkle with sanding sugar.  Place the loaf in the oven and bake for 40 -45 minutes or until golden brown.

For the corned beef, Tom chose a recipe from James Beard's American Cookery.  It is one of our go-to cookbooks.  It's a great reference to have on hand. We keep a copy both at home and at the lake. (fyi -It is readily available in used bookstores.) James Beard was amazing in his breadth of knowledge about food. His recipes are easy to understand and he provides lots of interesting tidbits of information along the way.

New England Boiled Dinner
adapted from James Beard's American Cookery

Piece of corned beef, preferably brisket, 4 to 5 pounds
6 white onions
4 to 5 small to medium turnips
6 to 8 potatoes
6 carrots
1 head cabbage
bouquet garni of spices (peppercorns, cloves, etc.) - came with corned beef

Wash the corned beef, place in a kettle of cold water, and bring to a boil.  Add bouquet garni.  Reduce heat and simmer 2.5 to 3 hours.  Add the onions and turnips and cook 30 minutes more.  Add the carrots and potatoes and simmer 15 minutes.  Add the cabbage, cut in quarters or sixths. 

When the meat and vegetables are tender, transfer the meat to a hot platter and surround with vegetables.  James Beard suggests serving it with horseradish or mustard.  This is also sometimes served with a sauce made of broth and melted butter.  And beets, cooked separately, were also added.

The bread was good the next day for breakfast and a snack.  It is more like a muffin loaf bread than regular bread, or plain soda bread.

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