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Comfort food to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day
The arrival of March means we just have to hang in there a tiny bit longer until we move into spring on the 20th. Most of us are beyond burnt out from cold, damp and windy seasonal weather that by now has become a real downer. Along with the mood-elevating effect of warm temperatures and sunny blue skies, there’s nothing like a little whimsy in the air to brighten things up — the kind that Saint Patrick’s Day brings our way. How can anyone of any age not be charmed by the enchantment of fairies, leprechauns and the big unifying embrace from a holiday that says, “Everyone’s Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day.”
In celebration, I’ve come up with some Irish-themed dishes to serve at a dinner party: old-school faves that not only honor St. Patty’s Day, but are also the essence of comfort food, sure to warm your family and friends from the inside out and get everyone in an Irish state of mind. Both recipes can be prepared a couple of days in advance, so by the time the party starts, it will appear to your guests as if you had some Irish magic on your side.
Hearty beef stew with a variety of vegetables is a meal in itself, and this particular one has a wonderful, rich flavor. A chilled crisp romaine lettuce salad tossed with green-goddess dressing, along with some fresh, warm Irish soda bread, will complete and complement this stew perfectly. For dessert, this particular bread pudding is everything a bread pudding is meant to be: thoroughly moist and lightly dense, with a scrumptious flavor that isn’t overly sweet. I served it to someone who claimed he didn’t like bread pudding until he had this one and it was love at first bite — that’s how crazy good it is.
Last year, my January and March articles included Irish soda bread recipes that are both very easy to make (without yeast or rising time required). Irish soda bread is the perfect accompaniment to this stew for soaking up its delicious gravy. Be sure to do it justice by serving Ireland’s Kerrygold brand butter and their fabulous Dubliner cheese to go with it. You can find each of those soda bread recipes online by visiting www.mi-reporter.com and putting my name in the search section located at the upper right-hand side of the page.
Irish Beef Stew
Serves 6 to 8
¼ cup olive oil
2 pounds well-marbled beef stew meat (cut into 1-inch pieces)
6 - 8 large garlic cloves (minced)
6 cups low-sodium beef stock
1 cup Guinness beer
1 cup good red wine
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1½ tablespoon brown sugar
1½ tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 large bay leaves
3 tablespoons butter
1 large onion (chopped)
1 - 1½ cups mushrooms (stems trimmed, then sliced)
2 - 2½ pounds russet potatoes (peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces)
1½ cups carrots (peeled and cut into ½-inch slices)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
1/3 cup corn starch
1/3 cup beef stock (taken right from the pot)
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
Fresh Italian parsley (for garnish)
Rinse the beef under cold water and pat dry. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy soup or stew pot on medium high. Lightly salt the meat and brown in the oil, careful to make sure the meat has enough space in between pieces and is browned on all sides for about 5 minutes. You might have to do this step in a couple batches. Add the minced garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in the beef stock, Guinness beer, red wine, tomato paste, sugar, thyme, Worcestershire sauce and bay leaves. Bring this mixture to a boil; cover and reduce to medium-low heat; simmer for 1 hour, occasionally stirring.
While the meat is cooking, peel and cut the vegetables. Heat the butter in a medium-sized sauté pan on medium-high heat; add the onions and cook until softened, then transfer to a bowl and set aside. Using that same pan, sauté the mushrooms on medium-high until lightly browned, adding more butter or olive oil if needed; set aside.
After the beef and broth have been cooking for an hour, mix the cornstarch with 1/3 cup of the hot beef stock from the pot with a fork in a small bowl, making sure it’s completely smooth. I will test it with my finger to make sure there are no
lumps. Pour the cornstarch mixture into the stock pot and stir well for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the kosher salt and ground pepper. Add the carrots, potatoes, onions and mushrooms, and cook for another 45 minutes to an hour or until the carrots and potatoes are very tender. Don’t add the frozen peas until about 5 minutes before the end of cooking time and before you’re going to serve it, so they retain their bright green color. Remove bay leaves prior to serving and adjust seasoning to your preferred taste. Serve in bowls and top with chopped parsley. This stew can be prepared two to three days in advance and gets even better over time.
Irish Bread Pudding with Caramel-Whiskey Sauce
Serves 8 to 16
Ingredients for bread pudding:
12 slices stale egg bread (or dry out in the oven set at 300 degrees)
5 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean
1 cup sugar
¼ cup Irish whiskey
Ingredients for Caramel-Whiskey Sauce:
1¼ cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons water
½ cup butter (at room temperature)
1½ cup whipping cream (at room temperature)
¼ cup Irish whiskey
Directions for pudding:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle. Generously butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Cut bread into ¾-inch squares; set aside. There is no need to remove the crusts. Place the milk in a large sauce pan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape its seeds into the milk along with the pod. Heat the milk on high, and just before it comes to a boil, turn off the heat and stir in the ¼ cup whiskey; remove the vanilla pod and set aside.
Beat the eggs with the sugar in a large bowl. Temper the eggs by adding ¼ cup of the hot milk in the egg mixture and blend well; stir in another ¼ cup before adding the rest of the milk. Fold in the bread pieces and let stand for 15 minutes, periodically stirring to make sure all the bread is soaked well with the egg and milk mixture. Pour into the baking dish and bake for 45 to 50 minutes.
Directions for sauce:
Place the sugar and water in a small sauce pan, stir just to blend, then cook over high heat to caramelize, just until it turns a (golden) brown color. Reduce the heat to medium-high, stir in the butter and whipping cream and keep stirring until it’s all blended well, which might take several minutes, so be patient. Reduce the temperature to low and cook until it begins to thicken for about 7 to 10 minutes, stirring often. Don’t worry if it seems too thin; it will thicken more and faster as it cools. Turn off the heat and stir in the whiskey. You can also add more of it to your preferred taste. I increased the amount of whiskey in this step because I found it cut the sweetness of the sugar, and the sweetness of the sugar cut the strength of the alcohol flavor.
Slice and serve the bread pudding warm with warm sauce spooned over it. The pudding and sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for two to three days, and both reheat beautifully.
Enjoy and may the luck of the Irish always be with you!