By Polly Keary, Editor St. Patrick's Day got its start 400 years ago as an Irish religious holiday, but in recent decades it's taken a decidedly more secular turn, often more a celebration of Irish pub culture than the 5th century saint for whom it is named.
But in spite of its rather boozy observances in bars, it is also a very fun family holiday, with lots of opportunities for special meals that celebrate Ireland's native green and its culinary traditions. And of course, some recipes marry both spirits and cuisine, adding Irish libations to earthier dishes.
Here are some of the Sky Valley's favorite St. Patrick's Day delicacies, easy and fun to make and even more fun to eat with the family.
St. Patrick's Day Pancakes Sandy Meyer of Monroe is about as busy as a person can be; she's a wife and a mother of four kids, as well as a real estate agent. In spite of the demands of family and career, she is also a devoted cook, and in January, she launched a food blog called Scratch This w/Sandy.
The blog, which racked up 1,000 followers in its first month, is already loaded with recipes accompanied by step-by-step photos of the cooking process. Meyer last week posted several recipes for St. Patrick's Day, including Irish soda bread, chocolate-dipped mint chocolate chip cookies, and these pretty, speckled St. Patty's Day Pancakes.
St. Patty's Day Pancakes
By Sandy Meyer
This is what you will need:
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup melted butter
green food coloring
mini chocolate chips
1. Add 1/4 cup vinegar to the 1 1/2 cups milk; let sit 5 minutes.
2. Combine your dry ingredients in a mixing bowl; 2 cups flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. salt.
3. Mix 2 eggs and melted 1/4 cup butter together.
4. Make a well with your dry ingredients and pour your wet ingredients in. Mix with a wooden spoon; do not use a whisk. You don't want to over mix this; just combine it all together. It's okay to have lumps.
5. Add the green food coloring. It doesn't take but a few drops.
6. Pour batter onto a medium-high skillet and sprinkle with mini chocolate chips.
Flip and cook other side for a minute. Serve warm!
See this and more recipes at http://scratchthiswithsandy.com.
Guinness Pot Roast
Mitch Ruth, owner of Ruth Realty in Monroe, also likes to cook.-áThis is one of his St. Patrick's Day specialties.
It features Guinness beer, an Irish dry stout originating in Dublin in the mid-18th Century. It is now brewed in 60 countries and sold in 100, but although the headquarters have moved to London, it remains quintessentially Irish, and is the single best-selling alcoholic beverage in that country.
The brewery is also historically important in Ireland. In the 1930s, it was the seventh-largest company in the world, and employed thousands. It was heavily embroiled in the country's unceasing religious tensions, as well, at one time hiring only Protestants and firing employees who married Catholics.
Today, the company still brews some of its beer at the original Dublin brewery.
Guinness is often included in St. Patrick's Day recipes, but there's a reason for the ingredient beyond adding Irish credential to a dish. Beers are popular in recipes for the subtle sweetness and grainy flavor they impart, as well as additional body from the yeast. Guinness is especially well-suited to cooking, because it is lower in hops than many lighter beers. Brews high in hops can become unpleasantly bitter when reduced by long cooking. Guinness also has a high amount of roasted malt and barley flavors, which add a robust smoothness to dishes.
4 lb. beef rump roast
3 tbsp. coarse ground pepper
3 tbsp. garlic salt
3 cups Guinness beer
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups cut carrots
2 green bell peppers, sliced thin
3 large potatoes, cubed
1 tsp. white flour
Heat oven to 350
Rinse roast and pat dry. Mix pepper and garlic salt; rub onto all sides of roast. Place roast on bottom of clay or metal roasting pan or Dutch oven pot.
Add oil, bay leaf, Guinness and 1 cup of water. Roast covered for 90 minutes; add vegetables, then roast uncovered for 30 more minutes. Remove meat and veggies. Allow meat to sit while making gravy.
Pour liquid from pan into small saucepan and heat to near boiling. Add flour slowly to 1/2 cup cold water while mixing constantly. Add slowly to gravy, stirring constantly. Reduce to simmer, stir until thickened.
Note: After two hours of cooking, only about 5-10 percent of the original alcohol will remain, meaning that the recipe will contain an alcohol content lower than that of O'Doul's nonalcoholic beer (.4 percent)
Best enjoyed with freshly-baked Irish Soda Bread. -á
Irish Brown Bread
By Polly Keary, Editor
I was lucky enough to visit Ireland a few years ago. While there, I tried every uniquely Irish dish I could (word to the wise, a full Irish breakfast of brown bread, egg, Irish bacon, white sausage, black sausage and fried tomato will leave you feeling as if you ate the frying pan, too.) Of everything I tried, the thing I loved the most was Irish brown bread.
Irish brown bread was ubiquitous in grocery stores and bakeries there, but it was unlike any bread I'd had before. My mom made Irish soda bread that I liked a lot when I was little, but this was quite different. It had a nutty flavor and a nubby texture that were irresistible.
I liked it so much I rearranged my suitcase to fit a loaf in it to take home. When I ran out, I found that Irish brown bread is nearly impossible to find in the United States. In today's day and age, when everything is usually available to one who shops hard enough, I was intrigued by the bread's unavailability and did some research into what makes Irish brown bread so unique.
I learned that the difference is in the flour. Irish flour is made of soft wheat strains that grow well in Ireland, made yet more distinctive by the soil and climate of Ireland. It's low in gluten, and most resembles pastry flour. Some soda bread is made with white flour, but mostly it gets its color and flavor from wholemeal flour, also slightly different than American whole wheat.
The wholemeal flour of the United Kingdom is slightly courser than most whole wheat flour, and lends unmistakable texture to the Graham cracker-like English tea biscuit and to Irish brown bread. In the absence of Irish wholemeal, whole wheat pastry flour is the closest substitute. But it's worth the trouble and expense to procure the real thing.
The most popular Irish flour is Odlums and can be ordered on foodireland.com for about $6 for two kilos, or about four and half pounds, plus shipping. It takes about five days to reach Washington. Also try http://www.kingarthurflour.com.
So important is brown bread to the cuisine of Ireland that there is an entire society dedicated to the preservation of the traditional recipe, which members emphatically state does not include raisins, icing, orange zest or other flavorings often found in modern cookbooks.
Finally, the bread is, in its purest form, not baked, but rather cooked in a heavy skillet, Dutch oven or on a griddle. When cut into quarters, or at least slashed crosswise across the top for easy breaking into quarters, the quarters are called farls.
Here is the recipe in its simplest and most traditional form.
Ulster brown bread farls
8 oz. Irish wholemeal flour
2 oz. Irish white flour
1 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
Mix dry ingredients; add enough buttermilk to make a soft dough. Turn it out onto a floured surface; shape it into a round about eight inches across and cut into quarters, or farls. Heat a heavy, flat-bottomed pan until a scattering of flour toasts golden, then put the dough in and cook on each side for about 10 minutes.
For the last word in authenticity, then prop the pieces against each other with the edges down in the pan for 10 minutes to brown the sides, a process called "harning." Serve hot from the pan, or to reduce the soda flavor, wrap in a tea towel before serving.