My mother loves holidays. She celebrates each of them with such joie de vie that, as an adult, I almost feel guilty for not turning my house inside out every month for some sort of special occasion. Every month we were either making decorations, eating tons of food, or going to some sort of church service to celebrate a special day.
The holiday my mother seemed to enjoy the most was St. Patrick’s Day. Oh, how she loved the food, the green, the Irishness of it all! My mother loves being an Irish American, especially being Irish Catholic. She is a Hill, and grew up on the South Side of Chicago in the 50’s where being Irish was like breathing air. I got the feeling celebrating St. Patrick’s Day brought her a sense of belonging, of being part of that Chicago community she grew up in while living in her new home state of New Jersey.
The day would usually start with mass for my mother, then a stop at the bakery for green bagels and what we would call “frogs” – chocolate cupcakes piled high with pink icing, then covered top to bottom with green magic shell. The baker would make a small incision in the top of the sugary icing blob that resembled a mouth and made little eyes out of black icing. Between you and me, they were disgusting, but my mother thought they were fantastic and bought them every year.
Dinner, of course, meant corned beef and cabbage. I know, I know, it’s not really the national dish of Ireland. But I totally love it. Like my mother, I find comfort in this simple dish that requires little cooking technique and costs practically nothing. As my husband says, “Take the cheapest piece of meat. Boil the hell out of it until it has no flavor, then serve it with the blandest root vegetables you can find.” (This coming from a man with the last name McGaughey.) That may be true, but dang if it still doesn’t taste great to me!
Every St. Patrick’s Day, my daughter and I head to the kitchen to make corned beef and cabbage with potatoes and carrots. She loves it as much as I do. And we’ve added our own traditions – Irish soda bread (she started making that on her own when she was 10) and Irish whiskey cake – something I added for the first time this year that was so delicious it has earned a spot on my St. Patrick’s Day menu. This year, my brother and his wife and daughter came to my house to celebrate the day with us. Interesting that they came the first year I made whiskey cake. Coincidence? I think not!
Last year, I had the joy of visiting my sister Jen who was living in the UK. My second day there we headed to Scotland for a weekend in Edinburgh. On the train, Jen mentioned, “You know, our name isn’t actually Irish. It’s Scottish. You’ll see when we get there.” And she was right. I found the following poem in a book on the Elliott clan:The double L and single T Descent from Minto and Wolflee, The double T and single L Mark the old race in Stobs that dwell. The single L and single T The Eliots of St Germains be, But double T and double L, Who they are nobody can tell.
So, maybe I’m only half Irish. But that’s okay. In my heart and in my kitchen, I’m as Irish as they come.
For the Corned Beef
It’s funny that I’m starting a food blog, and one of my first posts is a recipe not made from scratch and requires only that you drop some meat in boiling water. But it’s so good!
10 small red potatoes
5 carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch pieces
1 large head cabbage, cut into small wedges
3 medium yellow onions
Place corned beef in large pot or Dutch oven and cover with water. Add the spice packet that came with the corned beef. Cover pot and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer approximately 50 minutes per pound or until tender.
Add whole potatoes, onions and carrots, and cook until the vegetables are almost tender. Add cabbage and cook for 15 more minutes. Remove meat and let rest 15 minutes.
To serve, slice the corned beef across the grain. Arrange the vegetables and meat on a platter and dig in!
This recipe is from marthastewart.com. I used to always buy my soda bread from the store, but one year I figured if my ancestors could make it in a kitchen without running water, then I could make it in my modern home. Now my daughter makes it, and it comes out great every time.
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the pan
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup raisins
2 tbsp caraway seeds
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a baking sheet.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, raisins, caraway seeds, baking soda, salt and baking powder.
In a separate bowl, whisk buttermilk, eggs and 2 tbsp better.
Stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients to form a dough.
Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth, about 4 minutes. Add more flour as needed to prevent sticking.
Form dough into a 9-inch round; place on prepared baking sheet.
Brush loaf with the remaining 1 tbsp butter.
Here’s the best part – using a sharp knife, score a cross on top of the loaf. There are practical and superstitious reasons for this. On the practical side, the cross makes the bread easier to break once baked. Symbolically, the cross lets the devil out of the bread. Love those old cooking superstitions.
Bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 45-50 minutes. Cool on wire rack before serving.
I found this recipe on allrecipes.com. I love this site, especially the review section which can get rather catty at times. This recipe was very well received and tasted delicious.
2 cups golden raisins
3 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1/4 cup whiskey
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 lemon, juiced
Place the raisins, lemon rind, and whiskey in a small bowl and let them soak overnight.
Line the bottom of an eight-inch square cake pan with parchment paper that is buttered and dusted with flour.
Preheat the oven to 350.
Sift the flour, salt, cloves and baking powder into a bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat well. Quickly beat in the flour mixture. Stir in the soaked raisins.
In a separate clean bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff and fold them into the mixture. Pour this into the prepared pan and bake at 350 for 45 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Cool the cake thoroughly on a wire rack.
To make the glaze: Mix the lemon juice with the sifted powdered sugar and just enough whiskey and warm water so that you can drizzle icing over the cake.