March 10, 2014

You may not be able to travel to the Emerald Isle this St. Patrick's Day, but your taste buds can. Celebrate St. Patrick's Day by cooking up a few new recipes. Your family will thank you for the Irish-inspired dishes and maybe the "luck of the Irish" will be headed your way.

Potato and Leek Soup

Potato soup is old-fashioned, creamy comfort food. Irish American Mom is a blog written by a mother from Ireland now living in The United States. One of the recipes she brought with her is what she calls "one of the very best potato soups."

2 large leeks

1 to 1 1/4 lbs of potatoes (3 medium)

1/2 large onion

1 oz butter

2 thyme sprigs (fresh)

2 bay leaves

4 cups vegetable stock

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)

1/2 teaspoon white pepper


1 to 2 tablespoon chopped chives (to garnish)

1 to 2 tablespoon bacon bits (to garnish)

Chop the leeks. Wash them very, very well in a bowl of water, allowing the grit to fall to the bottom of the bowl. Lift the sliced leeks into a colander to drain. Rinse well and pat dry before using.

Dice the potatoes and onion. Melt the butter in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the leeks, potatoes and onions, stirring to coat them in melted butter. Turn the heat to low. Cover the pot and allow the vegetables to 'sweat' for 15 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes to prevent burning.

Add the vegetable broth, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, salt and pepper. Turn up the heat and bring to simmering point. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes until vegetables are tender. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs.

Blend the soup until smooth with an immersion blender or in batches using a food processor or blender. Add the heavy whipping cream and stir into the soup. I use a half cup, but if you really like creamy soup, use up to 1 cup of cream.

Serve hot in soup bowls. Garnish with bacon bits and chives if desired.

Slow-Cooker Corned Beef and Cabbage

Corned beef and cabbage is a classic Irish meal. Our family has always eaten it around St. Patrick's Day. It's a meal I look forward to every year.

My mom, Ann Wilson, has two tricks up her sleeves to make the perfect Irish dinner. She tops the meat with chili sauce along with the spice packet that comes with the brisket before cooking it and she sprinkles a little bit of caraway seed onto the steamed cabbage before serving.

We cook our corned beef in the oven according to package directions, but if that doesn't work with your schedule, use your slow cooker instead.

4 large carrots, peeled and cut into matchstick pieces

10 baby red potatoes, quartered

1 onion, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces

4 cups water

1 (4 lb) corned beef brisket with spice packet

6 oz beer

1/2 head cabbage, coarsely chopped

Place the carrots, potatoes and onion into the bottom of a slow cooker, pour in the water, and place the brisket on top of the vegetables. Pour the beer over the brisket. Sprinkle on the spices from the packet, cover, and set the cooker on High.

Cook the brisket for about 7-8 hours. An hour before serving, stir in the cabbage and cook for 1 more hour or steam separately. Add butter if you wish and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Irish Soda Bread

Maybe you've thought about trying your hand at making Irish soda bread. Simply Recipes has an easy way to bake a loaf to serve alongside corned beef or potato soup.

4 to 4 1/2 cups flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

4 tablespoons butter

1 cup currants or raisins (optional)

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 3/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Whisk together 4 cups of flour, the sugar, salt, and baking soda into a large mixing bowl.

Using your (clean) fingers (or two knives or a pastry cutter), work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal, then add in the currants or raisins.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add beaten egg and buttermilk to well and mix in with a wooden spoon until dough is too stiff to stir. Dust hands with a little flour, then gently knead dough in the bowl just long enough to form a rough ball. If the dough is too sticky to work with, add in a little more flour. Do not over-knead. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and shape into a round loaf. Note that the dough will be a little sticky, and quite shaggy (a little like a shortcake biscuit dough). You want to work it just enough so that the flour is just moistened and the dough just barely comes together. Shaggy is good. If you over-knead, the bread will end up tough.

Transfer dough to a large, lightly greased cast-iron skillet or a baking sheet (it will flatten out a bit in the pan or on the baking sheet). Using a serrated knife, score top of dough about an inch and a half deep in an "X" shape. The purpose of the scoring is to help heat get into the center of the dough while it cooks. Transfer to oven and bake until bread is golden and bottom sounds hollow when tapped, about 35-45 minutes. (If you use a cast-iron pan, it may take a little longer as it takes longer for the pan to heat up than a baking sheet.) Check for doneness also by inserting a long, thin skewer into the center. If it comes out clean, it's done.

Baking Hint #1: If the top is getting too dark while baking, tent the bread with some aluminum foil.

Baking Hint #2: If you use a cast-iron skillet to cook the bread in the oven, be very careful when you take out the pan. It's easy to forget that the handle is extremely hot so be sure to put a pot holder over it.

Remove pan or sheet from oven, let bread sit in the pan or on the sheet for 5-10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool briefly. Serve bread warm, at room temperature, or sliced and toasted. Bread is best when eaten warm and just baked.

Irish Trifle

For dessert assemble an eye catching trifle. The flavors of orange and lime are a delightful way to top off your Irish-inspired meal.

1 pound cake loaf

3 cups orange sections, divided

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

4 eggs, separated

6 tablespoons orange juice

6 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon grated orange rind

2 teaspoon lime juice

Cut pound cake into large cubes, place in 2-quart bowl. Place 1 1/2 cups orange sections over pound cake. In the double boiler, mix together sugar, salt and flour. Beat in egg yolks, orange juice, water and lime juice. Place over boiling water and cook, stirring constantly for 10 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly. Remove from heat and stir in orange rind. Cool.

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold into orange custard mixture. Pile on top of prepared pound cake and sections. Arrange remaining orange sections around edge of bowl. Chill for 1 hour. Garnish with whipped cream and candied fruit.

Note: May add orange marmalade to cooled thickened mixture for sweeter taste.

Makes 8 servings.