Traditional Irish food

ADRIENNE FREEMAN Contributing Writer Published March 15, 2012 at 3:43 a.m.
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— Dust off your “Kiss me, I’m Irish” T-shirt and make sure the medicine cabinet is stocked with antacid, because St. Patrick’s Day is Saturday.

The day that was traditionally celebrated in Ireland as a religious holiday in honor of its namesake, the patron saint of the country, has exploded in popularity since jumping the Big Pond. Irish-Americans in the Chicago area are credited with spreading the frenzy in the late ’60s to early ’70s by dyeing the Chicago River green and hosting one of the country’s largest parades.

Arkansas even has a claim to fame in the St. Paddy’s Day mania with Hot Springs hosting the First Ever Ninth Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade on the 98-foot-long Bridge Street. This year’s parade will be held at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

But what is a party without food?

Traditional Irish food usually features local vegetables and the often scarce meats that were available to the poor farmers. In the early 19th century, the large Irish Catholic majority were denied the right to buy land or pass it down in the family, so thelarge clans were forced to find crops that would grow on the small farms, many times less than a quarter of an acre, and feed a large family.

Potatoes provided many of the basic nutrients and would grow prolifically in the lessthan-desirable soil. Meats were considered a luxury and weren’t plentiful, so the home cook had to be inventive in stretching the meager ingredients to feed their large families.

These recipes utilize simple ingredients and cooking techniques that result in delicious dishes for your own St. Patrick’s Day get-together. Although corned beef can be prepared by roasting or boiling, try a pressure cooker for superior tenderness. A crock pot is also a terrific way to prepare the succulent, briny roast that is great with cabbage or on a sandwich with melted Swiss cheese and mustard.

CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE (Adapted from the Presto Pressure Cooker directions and recipe booklet. If you have an electric cooker or a different type, always follow your manufacturer’s directions.) Ingredients: 3 pounds corned beef 2 cups water Seasoning packet provided with corned beef; or 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 bay leaf and 12 black peppercorns 5 small red potatoes 3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces 1 head cabbage, cut into 8-10 wedgesDirections:

Pour 2 cups water into pressure cooker. Position the cooking rack or steamer basket in cooker. If using seasoning packet, add to the liquid. If not, rub garlic powder into all surfaces of corned beef. Place corned beef on cooking rack or in steamer basket. Add bay leaf and peppercorns. Close cover securely. Place pressure regulator on vent pipe and cook for 55 minutes at 15 pounds pressure, with the pressure regulator rocking slowly. Cool pressure cooker at once by running cool water over entire sealed cooker.

Add the vegetables to the cooker and simmer uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes until vegetables are fork tender.

CABBAGE ROLLS For the sauce: 3 tablespoons olive oil 2 medium onions, chopped 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, with their juice 1/4 cup red wine vinegar 1/2 cup sugar (or sugar substitute, such as Splenda) 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground blackpepper 1 large head green cabbage For the filling: 1 pound ground chuck2 large eggs, lightly beaten 1/3 cup diced onions (about 1/2 a medium onion) 1/4 cup plain dried breadcrumbs 1/3 cup uncooked brown rice (you can use white if you prefer) 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper Directions:

Start a large pot of water boiling. You will be dropping the whole head of cabbage in, so make sure your pot is adequate.

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onions and cook over medium-low heat until they are completely soft and translucent. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

For the cabbage leaves, it is easier than it sounds. You want to soften the leaves so that they can be removed whole with as few tears as possible. Remove the entire core from the cabbage with a paring knife. Immerse cabbage in boiling water. It should take only 2 or 3 minutes for the cabbage leaves to begin softening. As soon as they start separating from the head and become flexible, remove leaves with tongs, setting aside to drain on paper towels. Depending on the size of the leaves, you will need 8 to 10 leaves for the recipe. When all leaves are softened, use a small, sharp paring knife and remove the tough triangular rib at the bottom of the leaves to make it easier to roll up.

For the meat filling, combine meat, eggs, onions, bread crumbs, rice, thyme, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a glass baking dish, add enough sauce (approximately 1/3 to 1/2 cup) to lightly cover the bottom of the pan. In the palm of your hand, shape 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the meat filling into a small egg shape. Place it on the prepared cabbage leaf and begin rolling up, while tucking in the sides as you go. (Roll, tuck, roll, tuck.) Place the rolls,seam side down, on the sauce and continue the process until you use all the filling. You should have 6 to 8 rolls. Cover with the remainder of the sauce and bake covered for 45 minutes until the meat is cooked through and the rice is tender. Serve hot.

QUICK SHEPHERD’S PIE (Adapted from a recipe by Rachael Ray, the Food Network) Ingredients: 3 cups mashed potatoes - instant,ready-prepared refrigerated or leftovers are perfect 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 2 pounds ground beef 1 carrot, peeled and chopped 1 onion, chopped 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1 cup beef stock or broth 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce 1/2 cup frozen peas 1 teaspoon sweet paprika Directions:

Prepare mashed potatoes and set aside to come to room temperature.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to hot pan with beef. Season meat with salt and pepper. Brown and crumble meat for 3 or 4 minutes. Add carrot and onion to the meat and cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Make the gravy in a second pan, melting butter and whisking in flour. Cook 2 minutes, then briskly whisk in broth and Worcestershire. Continue cooking 2 to 3 additional minutes to thicken gravy. Add gravy to meat and vegetable mixture; stir in peas.

Preheat broiler to high. Fill a small rectangular casserole (7-by-10-inch or 8-by-8-inch) with meat and vegetable mixture. Spoon potatoes over meat evenly. Top potatoes with paprika and broil 6 to 8 inches from the heat until potatoes are evenly browned.

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