Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Irish cooking

A number of years ago my mother recounted her adventure eating Irish food. She was in Ireland on a group tour. The food had not been memorable and toward the end of the trip they were craving something different so they went to an Italian restaurant. She ordered spaghetti and meatballs. The dish arrived—a pile of spaghetti and meatballs in the center of the plate, surrounded by mashed potatoes. So much for Irish food.

My opinion of Irish food wasn’t elevated much by all the women of Irish heritage who surrounded me when I was growing up. For over 30 years I was married to a guy who was 100 percent Irish. Not a drop of non-Irish blood sullied the family bloodline until he married me, a mongrel. My mother-in-law was a wonderful woman and she made great spareribs. But I recall one Thanksgiving looking at the table and seeing nothing green—there was a turkey, ham and roast beef, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, stuffing, and slightly burned rolls. I think there was a brownish jello mold.

My husband used to complain that I didn’t have the things in the refrigerator that his mother had. Like he could always open his mother’s refrigerator and find a plate of cooked meatballs, unimpeded by any kind of protective wrap. He always entered his childhood home through the back door to the kitchen and walked straight to the refrigerator. I just wasn’t a good wife or a real woman because of a cold meatball deficiency. It was grounds for annulment in the Catholic Church.

Yesterday my dear friend Trish made colcannon and sausages and brought them to my house. Colcannon is a traditional Irish dish that is a sort of cabbage and potato hash. The colcannon was yummy, but note that although it has a fancy Irish name it’s still cabbage and potato hash. What’s not to love about cabbage and potatoes fried together with butter?

For our Irish meal I made a new recipe for Irish soda bread that turned out well—slightly salty, slightly sweet, slightly caraway—and not dry like the commercial soda bread you buy at the market. And it’s easy—just requires a bowl and a wooden spoon, a quick stir, and pop it in the oven.

Irish Soda Bread

2 cups all purpose flour
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into cubes
2/3 cup raisins
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly butter a 8-inch-diameter cake. In large bowl stir together flour, 4 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Cut in butter with pastry cutter until coarse meal forms. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds. Make well in center of flour mixture. Add buttermilk. Gently stir dry ingredients into milk to blend. Do not over mix.

Using floured hands, shape dough into ball. Transfer to cake pan and flatten slightly (dough will not come to edges of pan). Sprinkle dough with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake bread until brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool bread in pan 10 minutes. Transfer to rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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