Sunday, March 20, 2011

Irish at Heart

I have very little, if any, Irish blood. Tim, however, has a considerable amount, mostly from his paternal grandmother's family, and he embraces this part of his nationality, much like I do with the Italian half of mine. And so, ever since we were married, I have made a big deal out of St. Patrick's Day, making it his special day. As our birthdays are only one day apart, and he has always made that time of year all about me, I always felt he deserved this day!

When the kids were little, he used to pretend to go off on an errand, which in reality meant his traditional visit to an Irish pub, and we would decorate the house in typical St. Patrick's Day flair: green streamers, shamrocks, a wreath on the door, chocolate coins, you name it. Then he would arrive home, feigning surprise and we would sit down to an Irish feast.

Although we no longer decorate the house so elaborately, nor do we "surprise" him, the traditional Straight Family St. Patrick's Day dinner is still alive and well. In fact, the kids anticipate the meal the same way they do Thanksgiving. Over the years, the main dish has varied from Irish stews, to several different lamb recipes, to pot pies and even a steak and Guiness pie. But the sides and dessert have remained basically the same: praitie oaten, Irish soda bread (or Irish brown bread) and chocolate Guiness cake.

I found the recipe for praitie oaten years ago while doing a search of Irish recipes online. These are fried cakes made from smashed potatoes, oats, butter and salt, then fried in more butter. My family is obsessed with them. Although a breakfast food in Ireland, it quickly became the first required St. Patrick's Day dish. I make a ton of them and the kids have the leftovers for breakfast the next morning. These are pretty special. I am not a potato eater, but I can't resist them!

I used to make an Irish soda bread recipe that was passed along to me by an Irish-Italian friend I met when we lived in South Carolina. Dense and flavorful with caraway seeds and raisins, it was similar to a scone and great with coffee. The problem always was, that Tim and I were the only ones who liked it, and it seemed like a waste to make it. Additionally, it is made with white flour so eventually I stopped eating it. Now that Tim is on the healthy track with me, the Irish soda bread fell off the St. Patrick's Day tradition wheel. This year, I made an Irish brown bread that everyone liked, even Carly- who typically scoffs at whole grains. The recipe came from Epicurious, and the only change I made was that instead of using half whole wheat and half white flour, I used all whole wheat pastry flour. Here is a link to the recipe:

Despite the aforementioned healthy track Tim and I are on, no St. Patrick's Day would be complete without chocolate Guiness cake. This is definitely the best cake I've ever made, and is quite an impressive tower of indulgence. It is supposed to be a three layer cake, but this year for the first time, I decided to split the layers to make it six. The ganache is so delicious and beautiful, more layers of it can only mean more happiness. This recipe is based on a chocolate stout cake from Epicurious, but I have chosen some very specific ingredients. The recipe here will be my version. You can search for the original recipe at The cake is made with Guiness stout, of course, and two cups of Irish butter, simmered on the stove, then mixed with Dutch cocoa. This is mixed with your typical dry ingredients and sour cream. The ganache is made with heavy cream and Ghiradelli 60% chocolate chips. Absolutely heavenly. And worth the extra workout time the next day.

The main dish this year? Irish pot roast. It was great being able to start it on the stove and finish it in the crock pot, which kept me free to work on the other dishes. Since we didn't have lamb this year, which can be pricey, I splurged on the grass-fed beef. The pot roast was delicious, although the 4-5 hours on high was not long enough to ensure that all the meat would be tender. If I do this again, I'll cook it on low for 8-10 hours instead. Here is a link to the recipe:

Mary Sue Milliken and Suesan Feniger

3 large potatoes
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup rolled oats (I use 2 cups)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for frying (I used Kerrygold Irish unsalted butter)
Place potatoes in a bowl and wash under cold, running water until water runs clear. Place in a medium saucepan with 1/2 tsp. of the salt. Add enough water to generously cover. Bring to a bowl, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered until soft, about 15 minutes. While potatoes are warm, mash with a fork, in a food mill, or gently in a food processor.
Let potatoes cool a little, then mix in the oats to make a soft dough. Add the butter and remaining tsp. of salt and mix well. Roll dough to 1-inch thickness and cut out 3-inch biscuits with a round cutter.
Heat 1 T butter in a large skilled. Add half of the cakes and fry until golden brown on both sides. Repeat with remaining cakes, adding more butter when necessary. Serve warm.

based on a recipe from Bon Appetit magazine

2 cups Guiness
2 cups unsalted Irish butter (such as Kerrygold)
1 1/2 cups Dutch-process cocoa
4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 T baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sour cream
3 cups heavy cream
2 pkg 60% cacao chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three high-sided round cake pans. Line with parchment paper. Butter paper. Bring Guiness and butter to simmer in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in large bowl to blend.
Using mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on low speed, then fold until completely combined. Divide batter equally among pans. Bake cakes until tester comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer to rack, cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes onto rack and cool completely.
Heat cream in a saucepan until simmering. Whisk in chocolate chips until smooth. Refrigerate until spreading consistency.
Split each layer in half. Frost each layer and then frost sides and top. You will have just enough icing if you spread it thinly between layers.