I LOVE my Book Club. It forces me to stop drawing every now and then and read something other than Ten Handy Tricks with Photoshop and Five Top Trends for Summer. This month, I was the Book Club host and we read On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry. Even though the main character, Lilly Bere, left Ireland early in her life, I do love a theme, so I decided to base my meal on Ireland anyway. First of all, let me just say that when one googles Irish food, one discovers that there aren’t quite as many choices as say, Italian food, but we weren’t reading Summer in Tuscany, so Irish it was. I persevered, like the 1/16 Irishwoman that I am, and found a group of recipes fit for an Irish Queen. If you would like to prepare a little St. Patty’s Day dinner that is more than green frosted cupcakes with green beer, you might want to try some of these fun recipes. (Our menu still included beer, it just wasn’t green. Although, I guess you could certainly add a wee bit of green color to your ale.)
I was more than a little proud that I stumbled upon real – yes real – Shamrocks for my buffet centerpieces. I think I could have ordered take-out tacos and served them with my Shamrock centerpieces and have completely fulfilled my Irish theme requirements. But, my clovers only spurred me on to go Irish-crazy. I also created a group of green bouquets for the table using grocery store flower bundles … I will post my secrets to repurposing grocery store bouquets soon. Then I set out to cut about one million vegetables. It turns out that I had chosen dishes that all required lots of cutting. So, I began re-listening to the audible version of On Canaan’s Side (read with a lovely Irish accent) and began cutting away.
This is how my veggie-cutting duties started … a St. Pat’s lucky surprise! One of the carrots in my carrot bunch had a girlfriend! I thought these hugging carrots were a good sign that my Irish Stew would be a warm and cozy comfort-food winner.
And now, my confession. Okay, yes, I have been dying to get a slow-cooker, and yes, I am a new empty-nester, feeding a family of two instead of five, and okay, yes, yes, I admit it … I used my Book Club dinner as an excuse to by myself a bright shiny new slow cooker. Okay, there–it’s out. I feel much better. And, the good news is: it worked. The Irish Stew, (which I found from The Little Kitchen blog who created a slow-cooker version from the Drunken Irish Stew of the Crepes of Wrath blog), was heavenly. By the way, it’s called Drunken, because it is made with both a Guinness beer and red wine, but you don’t actually get drunk when you eat it (unless you drank too many beers while you were making it.) And, if you don’t have a slow-cooker, you don’t need to run out and buy one, like I did in my crazy moment of empty-nesting-induced slow-cooker obsession, because the second recipe above is made on a good old stovetop. (Below: chopped vegetables and 7 hours later: the slow-cooker finale)
The salad was a fascinating find. When I googled Irish salad, this one came up over and over created by many an Irish cook. The recipe I followed was Old-Fashioned Salad with Shanagarry Cream Dressing by Darina Allen (”the Irish Julia Child”) on the Food Network site. The most interesting note about this salad is the dressing, which is a little bit sweet, but balanced by tart vinegar and dry mustard. And, it’s served with the dressing on the side so the guest can add a little or a lot … I recommend ‘a lot.’
My favorite new recipe, and I might add the one for which I received many a compliment, was the Irish Soda Bread. I found several versions, but decided to go with a recipe by one of my favorite Food Channel friends, Ina Garten. The orange zest added a great little twist, and the texture was soft and moist on the inside, while crusty on the outside. (Most soda bread that we have tried is a little dry for my taste, so I feel like I have a new bread friend.) I did take a tip from my artist buddy, Laurie Wisbrun and cover the outside with a little melted butter right as it came out of the oven, and then sprinkled with a bit of kosher salt. (Thank you Laurie!)
P.S. You can see below that you don’t have to be a tidy cook to end up with a tasty result.
After we had filled our tummies with Irish fare, it was time to make room for Emeril’s Apple-Oatmeal Crisp with Irish Whiskey Cream. I think you can guess simply from this recipe’s title that it was to die for. One secret to its mesmerizing flavor: cardamom! (Also, I used pecans instead of walnuts, but I’m pretty sure you can use any kind of nut you want as long as you pile it high with the cream.) Unfortunately, I did not capture a picture of this decadent dessert before it was devoured, but below is the picture I took of our dinner table after uttering the words that my sweet Book Club friends are now used to hearing from me, “Wait, wait, don’t dig in until I take a picture for my blog buddies.”
So, if you would like to see some Irish eyes smiling, I recommend serving some of these recipes to your friends and family (and possibly buying that slow cooker you have always wanted if you are serving more than two, or even if you’re only serving two). And, as my Irish kinsfolk might have said, “may your day be touched by a bit of Irish luck, brightened by a song in your heart, and warmed by the smiles of the people you love.” ~an Irish blessing