Mar 102013

Corned beef and cabbage

For years after striking out on my own, I had a dilemma on my hands: being the great-grand-daughter of Irish immigrants, I absolutely love a good corned beef and cabbage on St Patrick’s Day, but I’d be lying if I said I could make a decent one back then. I tried a new cooking method every year, and every year it was the same story: just barely-avoided unmitigated disaster. But really, let’s face it: how could I possibly hope to achieve success when I was starting with a highly-questionable hunk of preternaturally pink meat and (more often than not) throwing it in a pot of water to boil. Of course I was doomed (doomed!) to fail!

But a couple of years ago, someone cut from, well, exactly the same cloth as me posted a recipe on NPR’s Kitchen Window. It was all about how to cure your own beef brisket and included not a small amount of nose-super-high-in-the-air food-snobbery (which I usually try to suppress, but let’s face it, it’s always there) and a hefty amount of embracing the art of cooking with booze. This, I thought to myself, could be the end of my woes!

So, about a week out from the venerable holiday, I set out to find myself a beef brisket — a plain ol’ one that hadn’t been subjected to salt-peter and god-knows-what other chemicals along with the traditional corned beef spice-packet. And it was nearly bloody impossible! It seems that in March, almost all of the beef briskets get processed into corned beef and it can be extremely difficult to find one au naturale (well, as au naturale as super-market beef gets — oh, and there’s that food-snob I was warning you about!). So don’t be afraid to ask the butcher if there are any squirreled away in the back, and don’t be surprised if the butcher tries to hand you a package of corned beef.

So two years ago, I tried this out for the first time. The beef didn’t get to cure for the full week (see: it’s hard to find a beef brisket a week before St Patrick’s Day), but it was still fully delicious. It was also easier to execute than I had ever imagined. I had a group of friends over for dinner and we polished that sucker off. I’m not gonna lie: it was impressive. I had intended to use the left-overs in Reuben sandwiches, but I wasn’t too upset about it since my lack meant that the party had been a success. Last year, we repeated the recipe (though I started looking for briskets much earlier that year) and since I was pregnant at the time, the booze that was in this recipe (which had of course been de-alcohol-ized by cooking) was the only beer I had (sadness!). That year, though, the left-overs were plentiful due to fewer guests and more meat and the Reubens flowed (more on that in a later post). This year’s brisket is already curing on March 3rd and I can’t wait to taste it again. So won’t you join me in forgoing creepy pink meat and finding out how easy it can be to make something utterly superior, even if you’ll be too toasty on Irish Car-Bombs to notice.


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Mar 082013

Irish-American soda bread

This time of year, Irish soda breads start popping up in bakeries everywhere. They are either dry and chalky or delicious and decadent, in which case they obviously contain relatively expensive ingredients, which is pretty improbable in a bread ostensibly born of frugality at the hands of Irish potato farmers. More irritating to me, however, is the fact that most of the loaves you find in bakeries are obviously yeasted, which, I mean, come on, really? It’s soda bread, as in baking soda. Harumph.

So while this recipe is clearly not authentic (why hello there, butter and sugar and eggs! Fancy meeting you here!), at least it makes no pretenses about what it is. It’s not a loaf of yeast bread that has been formed into a boule and slashed (slashed! Just try doing that to a soda bread batter!), and the recipe helpfully includes the descriptor “American,” cluing you into the fact that peasant food it’s not. Authentic it may not be, but honest it surely is.

Irish-American soda bread

Because of that, I like to think that this is a bread that my maternal grandmother would approve of. She was 100% Irish and took delight in her heritage. When I think of the time spent in her house when I was young, the Irish proverbs are one of the first-and-foremost elements in the settings of those memories. So when my Mom was visiting me over St Patrick’s Day in 2008, we decided to honor Muggsy and try several new recipes for the holiday. The results had highs and lows: we swore off ever again making pistachio cookies that had instant pudding in them (they had a really unpleasant mouth-feel) but this recipe became an instant favorite. I always make it along with my corned beef and cabbage and serve it for dessert. The left-overs make an excellent breakfast bread. So, from my Irish family to yours (whether you’re Irish or not), I hope you enjoy this bread and that it makes you feel a little greener this St Paddy’s Day!

(Note: I had been preparing to make this recipe in just a few days’ time when I learned that I’d have to cut out dairy for my daughter’s sake. I was a bit devastated because I’ve literally been looking forward to this bread for months, but not being one to slink away with my tail between my legs, I resolved to adapt it for my new dietary restrictions. I admit that I was skeptical going into the mixing and baking but was very pleasantly surprised when I finally tasted it. It’s a very close facsimile of the original and far exceeded my expectations. If you’re sensitive to dairy, please do give the dairy-free version at the end of the recipe a try and let me know how you like it.)

Irish-American soda bread

Click for the recipe →

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