Champ (Irish Potatoes)

ChampThe Irish Table
My friends, we are knee deep in March, which apparently means rain, basketball, and that day of green, otherwise known as St. Patrick’s Day.

For the record, I’m not really a beer kind of gal—though I did have a pint of Guinness at St. James Gate in Dublin years ago. Best pint I’ve ever had before or since. My guess is it was because I was in Dublin. Other than that, I just can’t do it, green or not. Which is why when I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I do it with food. (Imagine that…)

Nothing is more synonymous with Ireland than potatoes. The tragic history of Ireland and the potato is a major reason that we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in America. If not for the famine, we wouldn’t have as many Irish on this side of the pond. (I know, thanks, Captain Obvious…)

Potatoes have always been a friend of mine. I like ‘em mashed. I like ‘em baked. I love ‘em scalloped and I love ‘em French fried. Turns out, I like ‘em Champed too. Champ is a simple Irish peasant dish consisting of pouring scallion-infused, warm milk over mashed potatoes and served with a large dollop of butter melting on top. The butter is essential because Champ is supposed to be eaten from the outside with a spoon, dipping it into the butter in the center. Can I get an Amen?

I had Champ for the first time on the same Ireland trip I mentioned before. While it may not be the national dish of Ireland it is certainly top five. No matter where we went to eat, I ordered some on the side with my meal—I couldn’t get enough of it. It helped that there were so many different versions of the dish, each with a new ingredient to add. Though the original remains my favorite, Champ and Crispy Onions is probably a close second.

Champ (Irish Potatoes)
Adapted from Irish Traditional Cooking By Darina Allen
Serves 4 Read more…

Cashel Blue, Spinach and Smoked Salmon Tartlets

Go Green
To most people mid-March means St. Patrick’s Day. When they think about Irish food and drink, those same people generally think of potatoes, corned beef, cabbage, lamb and Guinness.

While those ingredients are frequently featured in Irish cooking, the Emerald Isle has so much more to offer. Their cheese alone could occupy most of your time—and don’t get me started on the charcuterie. The Irish know their way around a butchery. While traveling through Ireland years ago, one of the things that surprised me most was the incredible seafood. (I’m not sure why I was surprised. It is an island after all.) The seafood…it was sensational.

Mussels, Herring, Shrimp, Cod, Crab, Haddock, Skate and Salmon (both fresh and smoked) could be found on most menus along with many other native species. Fish was mostly prepared simply but elegantly, and with obvious skill. Occasionally, if you were lucky, you could find a seafood pie. (Yes, topped with potatoes). Yum!

This year for St. Patrick’s Day, set the green beer down and do something truly Irish like these Smoked Salmon tartlets from the cookbook The New Irish Table by Margaret Johnson. You’ll be glad you did. Erin Go Bragh!

Cashel Blue, Spinach and Smoked Salmon Tartlets
Courtesy of The New Irish Table by Margaret Johnson
Yields 30 Tartlets

Like oysters, which connoisseurs prefer in their most natural state, oak-smoked Irish salmon is often eaten simply with a squeeze of lemon and a slice of brown bread. But its flavor pairs so well with other ingredients, it’s no surprise to also find it in a pate, atop roasted potatoes, or combined with blue cheese and fresh spinach in these tartlets from David Foley, chef-owner of the Wild Geese Restaurant in picturesque Adare, County Limerick. Chef Foley fills handmade pastry cases with the mixture,but these use frozen filo dough shells. Read more…

Corned Beef

Corned Beef

Kiss Me, I’m Irish…Not Really. 

When we got married, my husband knew that he was getting a wife who could cook. What he didn’t know was that he was marrying someone who is culinarily (is that even a word?!?) nuts. If I find some celebration, cuisine or ingredient that fascinates me, fasten your seat belts! Like it or not, you are going on this ride of discovery with me as taste-testers, guinea pigs, or unsuspecting victims. This is how the Moroccan Dinner came to be. It is also why I have pickles of many shapes and flavors decorating my shelves—there are too many to eat. It is also why my bookcase is filled with books I may only take out once a year.

Here’s the perfect example: Monday is St. Patrick’s Day. So do I go out and celebrate like the rest of the world with green beer and shamrock shakes? Nope. That would be the normal thing to do…though normal is relative.

This year I am going to corn my own beef for our St. Patrick’s Day dinner. You may first ask yourselves “why?”. The answer is I am compelled to do it, and resistance is futile. The second question may be “Is this a request from my family?” No. “Is it for a school project about St. Patrick’s Day?” No. “Are you Irish?” Nope. I’m just nuts.

I get these ideas in my head about wanting to taste things the way they are supposed to taste, the way they were originally prepared back in the day when you walked out into the pasture to get that night’s dinner, and before mass production was an option. I become obsessed with authenticity. So when I can’t find someone who makes things the “right” way, I give in to my psychosis and make it myself. This is why I’m corning my own beef.

It used to be that butchers would make their own corned beef and people would buy it by the pound—and not just on St. Patrick’s Day. For years we made it here at the store, until people just stopped eating corned beef regularly. Of course the last of our guys to do it took the recipe with him when he left.

I am trying a corned beef recipe I found in Michael Symon’s book Carnivore. It may not be “super authentic” but it’s my first go ’round. Next time I can be psycho authentic chick. It’s nitrate free (which is always a good idea) so the meat won’t have the usual pink hue. I am looking forward to the results and the corned beef hash.  Read more…

Avocado Gelato

Avocado GelatoBrain Freeze

For at least a month I’ve had ice cream on the brain. The world of ice cream has just become SO interesting. The flavors available are much more creative. Honey Lavender anyone? Candied Kumquat? People are taking the art of ice cream to a whole new level. The funny thing is, I seem to be on some sort of ice cream carnival ride because interesting ice cream just keeps popping up in my life when I least expect it.

My recent ice cream odessy started when I discovered these really yummy ice cream bars at our local hispanic grocery store. Every time I am in that store, after picking up some of the world’s freshest tortillas, I buy a few. (You know, for the kids. wink, wink.) They are Mexican Paletas made out of super fresh and all natural ingredients. The flavors range from Strawberries and Cream to Guava and Tamarind. Not to mention Spicy Mango and Corn. Totally refreshing and a great treat.

At a recent Cookbook Club Dinner, we were treated to some fabulous Avocado Ice Cream made by the same company as the ice cream bars. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Avocado Ice Cream? Hmmmmm. That’s kinda pushing the boundaries of the ice cream comfort zone. I am here to tell you it’s tasty. It’s really tasty. It’s creamy, sweet and so good on a hot day. Even my 9 year old loves it. He chose the Avocado flavor over the Mexican Chocolate. What kid passes up chocolate? Crazy…

The other day I found myself walking down the street with some time before an appointment, so I wandered around and did a little window shopping. I noticed a new creamery selling small batch artisan ice cream. I stepped inside to see what flavors they had. I was floored. While the traditional Vanilla and Chocolate was available, they also had a variety of interesting flavors that changed daily. My choice that evening was the Thai Iced Tea ice cream which was phenomenal. But, Thai Iced Tea? Huh?

Most recently at the store, we had the pleasure of tasting a new product that is made locally called Genuto. It is a dairy-free 100% nut based “ice cream” and it is FANTASTIC. As an unrepentant lover of fat and other things that are bad for me I was super surprised at how good this was. You would never know that there was no cream in this. It’s totally nuts. Yes, pun intended. The Lemon Almond was my favorite.

I have been having so much fun on this adventure and I encourage you to go on an ice cream adventure of your own. Whether you make it or buy it, do yourself a flavor (ha ha ha) and seek out the unusual. You will be glad you did.  Read more…

Beef & Guinness Stew

Happy St. Patrick's Day Beef and Guinness StewTen years ago I was lucky enough to travel in Ireland. I loved it: the people, the places, the pubs. Irish people know how to celebrate each day, and live life to it’s fullest.

When I travel, it is all about the food. (Who am I kidding? When is it not all about the food?) You learn a lot about people, their history, and their culture, by what they eat, while at the same time tasting things that you might not otherwise encounter. (I’ll tell you about the scary French dining experience in another post.) The first thing to come to mind about Ireland is usually not the cuisine. Beer and whiskey, yes. Food, no, unless it’s potatoes. I have to say while traveling around the Emerald Isle, we ate darn well. Extremely fresh lamb and fish, artisan Cheeses and tasty desserts were all readily available, and sometimes in the most unlikely places.

While doing the pub crawl in Dublin, I was determined to find a traditional Beef and Guinness stew or to die trying. My traveling companions and I had a difference of dining philosophies. I wanted traditional Irish meat and potatoes 24/7. They wanted vegetarian. Challenging to say the least. Strangely, I never did find my Beef and Guinness Stew, but I have cooked many versions of it since.

Here is one of my favorites adapted from Irish Traditional Cooking by Darina Allen. Try it instead of Corned Beef this St. Patrick’s Day. And if you ever get the chance, go eat your way through the green hills of Ireland. You’ll be glad you did.  Read more…