Traveling the world through cuisine

Everybody's Irish on St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's Day

I’ve always found it a strange irony at how the Christian observance of Lent always begins a few weeks before the annual celebration of all things Irish, St. Patrick’s Day. The notion of devout Christians taking on fasts and sacrifices just before a late-winter holiday of excess is a bit of a strange joke.

Regardless of how Christian you might be, St. Patrick’s Day is the ideal time to wear your green, drink a little too much, and especially sample the cuisine of Ireland. I’ve spoken before of how Irish and English cuisine gets a bad rap, but with every new dish I learn I find a wonderful flavor in the culture.

Today I’ve got two recipes for you that can turn your St. Patrick’s Day into a true feast for your palette. We’re going to begin our menu with the home-baked goodness of Irish Soda Bread. I first encountered the bread when I would see very cheaply-made loaves at the grocery store. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally tried homemade soda bread, and it was love at first bite.

The uniqueness of soda bread is quite obvious. It uses baking soda to help the dough rise as opposed to the more traditional yeast. It has a crusty exterior with a softer, semi-sweet interior. You can go sweeter or more savory with your bread as you see fit, as some will serve Irish Soda Bread as a treat with coffee.

Now the one big issue I’ve found in making soda bread is in the choice of pan (or no pan). My first attempt at making the bread was in your traditional loaf pan, which ended up giving me a unevenly-baked bread with a heavy soda taste. Thankfully, a good friend helped me with a few tips and thus my final recipe was perfect. I had forgone the pan and decided to make it more Artesian-style, which helped bake it evenly.

Here’s my recipe:

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of flour
  • 1 tsp of baking soda
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups of buttermilk

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375°.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, sugar, and salt.
  3. Cut the butter into small pieces and stir them into the dry ingredients until mixed well.
  4. In a second bowl, beat the eggs with the buttermilk.
  5. Sir in the buttermilk/egg mixture into the dry ingredients until they are moistened and liquids have been absorbed.
  6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  7. Place your dough on the baking sheet in a large circle or oval roughly 4-5 inches high.
  8. Cut a 1/2-inch slit on the top.
  9. Bake the bread 35-40 minutes, or until it passes the toothpick test.
  10. Remove from oven and allow bread to cool on a wire rack for roughly an hour.

Quick Notes

Make sure the butter is well blended, but not totally mixed in.  The butter will form moisture pockets that will make your bread lighter and more pillowy.

Best to stir the dry/wet ingredients together with a spoon or spatula that has been moistened with water.  This will keep your dough from sticking to the spoon or spatula.

I personally prefer to make Artisan-style bread on a sheet, but many will also bake their bread in a cake pan.  I did originally try a loaf pan, but ended up with an unevenly-baked bread that had a heavy taste of baking soda. Be careful if you want to try a loaf pan.

Variations

Many will increase the sugar to 1/2 a cup and add in raisins, making it more a dessert.  I've actually substitued Stevia In The Raw for the sugar on one attempt and had success.

The flour you can also variate. Try spelt flour for less carbs, or use three cups of whole wheat flour with one cup of all-purpose flour for a whole wheat bread.

Serving Suggestions

This bread is wondrous warm with a nice butter spread on it, or with your favorite jelly/jam/preserves. It also works nicely with any thick stew or soup you desire.

If your bread becomes stale, try heating it up for a minute in the microwave to soften, then toast in a toaster oven for added crunch.

Moving on to our main course, I want to take you to the heart of Ireland known as Dublin. A port city that gave the world Oscar Wilde, U2, and Bram Stoker; it’s more famous for it’s prime export, Guinness Stout.

Guinness StoutIf you’ve never had Guinness, it’s worth trying once in your life. However, I’ll confess it’s not a beer I favor. It’s a stout, which is a darker, more richer form of ale. The flavor is heavy and bitter, thus why I usually see Guinness as an acquired taste.

Despite that my mouth doesn’t salivate at the thought of a cold pint, I do find Guinness to be an ideal alcohol to use in many dishes because of it’s richness and bold bitter flavor. Look around online and you’ll see loads of recipes for just about anything using this stout as an ingredient.

Today we’ll use Guinness to make a hearty stew containing beef, carrots, parsnip, and a turnip. If you’ve never eaten turnips before, don’t be afraid. They have a very mild flavor, and a texture similar to most root vegetables you’ll encounter. In all honesty, you might mistake them for potatoes when eating this dish.

Let’s get to it then…

Guinness Beef Stew

Guinness Beef Stew

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs of beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) of butter
  • 1/4 cup of canola oil
  • 4 medium-sized yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 cups of beef stock
  • 1 tall can (14.9 oz) of Guinness stout beer
  • 5 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 turnip, peeled and cut into chunks
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Pat the beef dry with paper towels.
  2. Season the beef with salt and pepper, then dredge in the flour.
  3. In a Dutch Oven or stockpot melt the butter with the oil on medium heat.
  4. Working in small batches, brown the meat on all sides in the oil/butter mixture for 5-6 minutes. Set aside.
  5. Place the onion into the remaining butter/oil/beef drippings and cook until soft.
  6. Return the beef to the pot with the onions.
  7. Add in the beef stock and Guinness beer. Stir.
  8. Turn your heat up to high and bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low.
  9. Simmer the mixture for an hour until the beef is nearly tender.
  10. Add in the carrots, parsnips, and turnip.
  11. Continue to cook the stew until the vegetables are tender and the liquid has thickened.

Quick Notes

Patting the beef dry with towels will ensure a nice browning, as opposed to a pot full of liquid with steamed beef.

If at the end of simmering the vegetables your liquid isn't thick enough, use some cornstarch (or flour) mixed in cold water to thicken.

Serving Suggestions

Best way to serve the stew is with potatoes. Boiled or mashed is the traditional, but I used slightly-roasted ones in my serving.  You could also try this stew with rice or pasta.

A heary slice of Irish Soda Bread is a wonderful addition to scoop up sauce.

Tags: Irish, soda bread, Guinness, beef stew, St. Patrick's Day

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