I’m not Irish, but being from this province I consider myself adopted into the clan for celebrating purposes tomorrow. Even if you are a firm believer that no good food came out of Britain, you have to give a nod to the Irish.
Irish brown bread
Bread baking in the kitchen makes any day a holiday, but this one makes it St. Patrick’s Day and no other. It’s easy, as bread goes, and very flavourful.
If you want to start your day as Irish as possible, make a cheese sauce with the best and oldest cheddar you can find and pour it over a slice of toasted and buttered brown bread. On this special day it isn’t cheese on toast, it’s Irish Rarebit.
If you can, make the effort to find stone-ground whole wheat flour. It’s available in bulk food stores and in the specialty grains or imports aisle of large grocery stores. If you can’t find it, the bread will still be excellent made with regular whole wheat.
1 tsp. granulated sugar
2 cups warm water (divided)
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 tbsp. molasses
3-3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tbsp. salt
Dissolve sugar in 1 cup of the warm water. Stir in yeast and set aside in a warm place until foamy and frothy and thick. Stir in molasses and another 1/2 cup of the warm water.
Place flour in a large mixing bowl and whisk in salt. Add yeast mixture and stir until the dry ingredients have absorbed the liquid. Continue to add the remaining warm water until you have a ragged, moist dough. Pour into a well-greased 9 by 5-inch loaf pan and cover with plastic wrap.
Allow to sit at room temperature until nearly doubled in size — how long that takes depends on how warm the room is.
Place immediately in a 450 F oven and bake for about 50 minutes, or until golden brown.
When you take it out of the pan, tap the bottom — a cooked loaf will sound hollow. Cool at least a little while before cutting.
I cook extra potatoes and cabbage any time they are on the menu so I have enough to make colcannon the next day. We more often than not called it cabbage hash when I was growing up, and if we had any salt beef to stir in, all the better, but with or without meat, this old Irish dish is worth the effort. This amount should serve 6 people but it never does.
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp. each butter and vegetable oil
1 lb. cooked cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 lb. cooked potatoes, peeled or unpeeled
1/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp. each salt freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
Fry onion in butter and oil in a large frying pan for a minute or two. Stir in cabbage and cook until onions are soft and starting to brown. Mash potatoes and stir into onion and cabbage mixture. Add milk, salt and pepper. Heat through and serve.
Naturally, if I have leftover turnip or carrot, it goes in as well, either chopped or mashed depending on my mood.
Potato and leek soup
Enjoy this classic anytime, but it tastes better on St. Paddy’s Day. This makes a substantial first course for a special dinner, or a great lunch with buttered brown bread. If you decide to garnish with bacon, it absolutely has to be real — if you’re thinking about artificial bacon bits then it’s best to leave them out of this soup. This is plenty to serve 6.
2 large leeks
1 lb. yellow-fleshed potatoes
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp. butter or margarine
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 fresh or 4 dried bay leaves
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 tsp. each salt and white pepper (or to taste)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup crispy bacon bits
Discard the tough dark green tops of the leeks — you can keep them for a stock or soup base if you like. They also freeze well for that purpose, but they are inedible as a vegetable.
Slice the leeks in half lengthwise and put them, cut sides down, on your cutting board. Slice them thinly into half-moon shapes and put in a large bowl of cold water. Swish them around vigorously to get all the sand out from between the leaves.
Repeat once more (or twice if they seem gritty), then lift them out of the water, leaving any remaining dirt behind. Set aside in a colander to drain.
Peel and dice potatoes. Add potatoes, onions and drained leeks to butter in a Dutch oven and cover.
Cook over low heat, stirring from time to time, until onions are tender — don’t let them brown. Add thyme, bay leaves and broth and simmer, covered, about 30 minutes or until everything is tender.
Discard thyme stalks and bay leaves and blend — an immersion blender is great for this — and strain if you want a really smooth soup. Stir in whipping cream and salt and pepper to taste.
Bring back up to heat but don’t boil. Stir in parsley and serve with bacon bits garnishing each bowl.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in
St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her
c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.