Black Velvet, the original Irish cocktail

Black velvet 004

 

This St. Patrick’s Day, if, like me, you have long outgrown crowded, rowdy bars serving Juvenile plastic cups of watery green beer, raise a glass to your Irish heritage with the original Irish cocktail.   I’m talking about Black Velvet, an elegant combination of Guinness or other stout beer with champagne, that was created in the late nineteenth century.  Like the little black dress, its sophistication lies in its simplicity.  It says that you know who you are and having nothing to prove.

The first time I drank Black Velvet was in rooms at midnight at Trinity Ball, the social event of the year at Trinity College Dublin.  I was also served the cocktail as an after dinner drink in Chicago at a party celebrating the birthday of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde.  To quote the great man “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”  I’ll drink to that. Slainte!

To make a Black Velvet, pour Guinness or other stout halfway up a champagne flute – tilt the glass toward you to preserve the creamy head of the beer – then fill the rest of the glass with chilled champagne.

Cashel Blue and Fig Shortbread

I find a well-appointed cheese board hard to resist.  By that I mean, not just a selection of different kinds of cheese, but nuts, jams, fruit and interesting bread or crackers. Even though I bake, I am always more tempted by salty, savory treats than sweets.  Last Saturday, I attended the annual Ireland Network Chicago Ball at the elegant Drake Hotel and was very happy that the Irish Dairy Board/Kerrygold provided a selection of wonderful Irish cheeses after dinner. I know this might seem freakish to  some of you chocoholics, but I actually passed on the chocolate mousse dessert in favor of a plate of cheese.    It reminded me that I recently experimented using Kerrygold’s Cashel Blue in a savory shortbread recipe.

I was recently intrigued by a recipe for Stilton sables (a fancy French word for thin shortbread biscuits) by Beca Lyne-Pirkis, one of the contestants in BBC’s “Great British Bake Off.”   To make it my own, I started with her basic recipe for the shortbread but substituted something Irish — Cashel Blue cheese — and something American – California black mission figs — for the British ingredients.   The dried figs benefit from being rehydrated for a few minutes before adding them to the dough.

I haven’t come across savory shortbread much in the States, but these tasty biscuits are a nice addition to a cheese board and are definitely worth trying.  They are also lovely served on their own as simple canapes when friends come round for drinks.  A bonus is the dough can be made ahead and frozen so you always have something on hand for unexpected guests.

 

Cashel Blue Cheese, Fig and Walnut Shortbread

Prep Time: 40 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: 25 shortbread biscuits

Cashel Blue Cheese, Fig and Walnut Shortbread

Ingredients

  • 4 oz. all purpose flour
  • 3 oz.cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 4 oz.cold Cashel Blue cheese, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 3 oz. dried Black Mission Figs, cut into small pieces
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 4 oz. walnuts, ground in a food processor

Instructions

  1. Soak the chopped figs for 10 minutes in just enough cold water to just cover them. Drain.
  2. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Put the flour, butter, cheese and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like large breadcrumbs, but be careful not to over mix.
  4. Add the chopped figs and egg yolk and pulse until the dough forms a ball.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly. Press it out to form a disk, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes. If not baking right away, at this stage the dough can be placed in a plastic freezer bag and frozen for future use.
  6. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  7. Grind walnuts in a food processor, then spread out on a large plate.
  8. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator. Place between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out to 1/4 inch thickness. Using a 2 inch round biscuit cutter, cut into rounds. Coat the rounds in the ground walnuts and place on the lined baking sheets.
  9. Bake for 16 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool slightly on the baking sheet before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.
http://40shadesofflavor.com/cashel-blue-and-fig-shortbread/
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Love at first bite — chocolate krispie hearts

Chocolate krispie treats were a staple of school bake sales when I was young — not surprising since they are easy enough for a middle schooler to make his or herself and don’t involve baking.  I’m surprised that I don’t often see the chocolate version in the states.

No exaggeration, these treats came together in less than five minutes. They do take another 30 minutes to cool and set up. Stirring the mixture will be easier if you first grease a rubber spatula with butter or spray it with a canola oil baking spray.  I used milk chocolate chips because I already had a bag in my pantry, but you could certainly use dark or bittersweet chocolate.  Since it is Valentine’s Day, when the treats were cool, I made heart-shaped treats by cutting them out with a buttered a heart shaped cookie cutter.    This recipe makes about six hearts, depending on the size of your cutter, and you will have a extra krispie treats around the borders.  You can also just cut them into the more typical bars.  You will have more treats that way.

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Love at first bite — chocolate krispie hearts

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 6 chocolate krispie hearts, more if you just cut them into bars.

Love at first bite — chocolate krispie hearts

Ingredients

  • 6 oz. butter
  • 10 1/2 oz. (one bag) mini marshmallows
  • 10 oz. milk chocolate chips or grated dark chocolate
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 oz. puffed rice cereal such as Rice Krispies

Instructions

  1. Butter an 8 by 8 dish.
  2. Melt butter in a large saucepan.
  3. Add the marshmallows,chocolate and salt. Stir with a greased rubber spatula until all the ingredients are melted.
  4. Stir in the puffed rice cereal until all the grains are coated with the marshmallow/chocolate mixture.
  5. Turn out into the buttered dish, spread out evenly and pat down the surface until it's even.
  6. Let cool for 30 minutes.
  7. Butter the inside of a heart-shaped cookie cutter. When the chocolate krispie treats are cool, cut out heart shaped treats. You can skip the cookie cutter and just cut them into bars.
http://40shadesofflavor.com/love-first-bite-chocolate-krispie-hearts/

Top Chef Home Edition

This winter, in the 21st century equivalent of “hey kids, let’s put on a show”,  my friend Pete and his friends and neighbors in “Halsted Flats” — a very stylish apartment building on Chicago’s north side — have been holding their own “Top Chef” cooking contests prior to watching the latest episodes of “Top Chef Season 12.”  They recorded the weekly cook-offs on smart phones and posted short videos of “Top Chef Halsted Flats” on Tumblr: topchefhf.tumblr.com

I was surprised and honored to be invited to judge the final contest to decide the winner of “Top Chef Halsted Flats.”  What a fun night of great and inventive food and, of course, wine.  The Girl Power team of Julia and Jojo and the boys’ team of Peter and David engaged in a saucepan to saucepan battle for the title of “Top Chef.”

Top Chef Halsted Flats finalists, David, Pete, Julia and Jojo.

Top Chef Halsted Flats finalists, David, Pete, Julia and Jojo.

Pete and Julia.

Pete and Julia.

 

Julia and Jojo’s three course menu was inspired by the Spice Girls who also provided the soundtrack to the Girl Power kitchen.  Here’s the Girl Power menu:

Top Chef Boystown 047

In case you can’t read it, the first course was “scary” scallops with bacon and cream, “sporty” salmon with a soy and Dijon mustard glaze over “posh” squid ink pasta with truffle and champagne sauce with “Baby Ginger” chocolate and ginger spice cake pops with chocolate frosting paired with ginger beer.

Baby and Ginger Spice cake pops with ginger beer.

Baby and Ginger Spice cake pops with ginger beer.

Pete and David chose an Asian theme — pork pot stickers in a miso broth with ginger and lemongrass, Asian style stir fried pork in napa cabbage cups and an almond cookie with green tea-lychee ice cream, lychee and raspberry syrup.

Asian style pork cups

Asian style pork cups

More than the kitchens became heated.  The three judges engaged in lively discussions about the merits of each dish and the overall menus before awarding the title to Pete and Dave’s team.  Ultimately, the Girl Power team lost points for failing to take full advantage of the theme  they had chosen by not opting to include spices in each course.

Top Chef Halsted Flats winning team David and Peter in Peter's kitchen.

Top Chef Halsted Flats winning team David and Peter in Peter’s kitchen.

In addition to bragging rights, the winning team won the chef’s aprons and a copy of Chicago’s very own Top Chef Stephanie Izard’s cookbook “Girl in the Kitchen.”

For those confident enough in their culinary skills to compete for the real title, Bravo is holding an open casting call in Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 11 for contestants for “Top Chef, Season 13.  Apply here: http://www.topchefcasting.com/

Belfast’s Vibrant Restaurant Scene

In a recent regular Travel Section feature “36 Hours”, the New York Times called a visit to Belfast “an eye opening experience in the best possible way” and praised its vibrant restaurant scene.  The writers gave shout outs to the Taste of Ulster sharing boards at Robinson and Cleaver, the Crown Liquour Saloon and Ox.  Click on the link to read the article and watch the video.

 

Hot toddy with ginger and lemon

I woke up on Sunday morning to this.

Snowy morning Feb. 1, 2015

Snowy morning Feb. 1, 2015

It got worse, the storm eventually dropped more than 19 inches of snow on Chicago.  It was “Superbowl Sunday”, but who really wants an ice cold beer during a blizzard or the next day spent digging out from the snowpocalypse? This is hot toddy weather.   To boost the drink’s heat index, I like to add a piece of crystallized ginger to the whiskey, water, sugar and lemon.  Hot whiskey is sometimes called  “Irish chicken soup” because it’s a folk cure for a cold or sore throat.  I’m not sure whether this hot toddy will cure a cold, but I guarantee that you will feel better after drinking it.

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Hot toddy with ginger and lemon

Hot toddy with ginger and lemon

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. Irish whiskey
  • 1 cube demerara sugar or tsp. brown sugar or honey
  • 1 piece of crystallised ginger
  • 1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Slice of lemon for garnish
  • 1 cup very hot water

Instructions

  1. Boil water.
  2. Add whiskey, sugar, ginger and lemon juice to a glass.
  3. Place a metal teaspoon in the glass to conduct the heat from the hot water away from the glass to prevent it from breaking.
  4. Add hot water to the whiskey. Garnish with slice of lemon.
http://40shadesofflavor.com/hot-toddy-ginger-lemon/

 

Roasted Salmon with Lemon Butter

One of my friends call this roasted salmon “the beautiful dinner.”    There is no doubt that this is a dish that rises to the occasion.  I’ve made it for a gathering to support a friend whose mother had passed away and more recently for a special birthday dinner.  Even the birthday girl’s husband — a notoriously picky eater who is usually just so-so about salmon — asked for second helpings.

Since the flavor of the salmon shines through this simple preparation it is important to buy the best salmon you can find.   In general, wild salmon will have the best flavor, but it is not available fresh year round.   When wild salmon is out of season, seek out a fish monger who sells sustainably farmed fish.  I recently found sweet, melt in your mouth, salmon from Loch Duairt, Scotland at Dirk’s Fish Market in Chicago.

I was inspired by a recipe for whole, baked salmon in Colman Andrew’s “The Country Cooking of Ireland.”  Since I don’t often see whole salmon in Chicago fish markets, I typically use a large salmon fillet.  I usually serve it with boiled new potatoes in their skins with lots of Irish butter or roasted fingerling potatoes and a spinach gratin.

Almost as delicious is leftover cold salmon for lunch the next day served with a peppery watercress mayonnaise.  Watercress is salmon’s natural partner — what grows together goes together.  As a bonus, the bright spring green mayo served with the pink fish is a beautiful plate.  To make the mayonnaise, puree a bunch of trimmed and finely chopped watercress in a food processor with two tablespoons of mayonnaise.   Stir the watercress puree into a cup of mayonnaise.

Roasted Salmon with Lemon Butter

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 4 serving

Serving Size: 3 inch/7.5 cm. per piece

Roasted Salmon with Lemon Butter

The flavor of the fish shines through this simple recipe, so use the best salmon you can find.

Ingredients

  • 2 lb./ 1 kg. salmon fillets
  • 1/4 cup/ 60 kg. Irish butter softened
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F/190 degrees C.
  2. With some of the butter, lightly grease a roasting pan
  3. Lay the salmon fillet on the greased pan.
  4. Drizzle the lemon juice over the fish.
  5. Dot with about 2 Tbsp. of butter.
  6. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes (8 to 10 minutes per lb./15 to 20 minutes per kg.)
  7. Season with salt and pepper.
  8. Cut into pieces about 3 inches/7.5 cm. wide.
http://40shadesofflavor.com/roasted-salmon-lemon-butter/

 

The Irish Secret to Mashed Potatoes

mashed potatoes 001

 

Although it seems like a simple, homey side, mashed potatoes are surprisingly difficult to get right.   I learned the secret to making perfect mashed potatoes in Ireland, and the Irish certainly know their way around spuds.  I am going to share it with you here.

Great mash begins with using the right kind of potatoes.  There are two kinds — floury and waxy — and they are not interchangeable.   The waxy potatoes are small, new potatoes that are perfect for recipes where the potato needs to hold its shape such as potato salad.  They are also good boiled or pan roasted.  For mashed potatoes, choose a starchy potato — in America that would be a russet (sometimes labeled baking potatoes in the supermarket) or a Yukon Gold.    Three large potatoes will make enough mashed potatoes for four people.  You will also need half a cup of whole milk or cream, two tablespoons of butter and salt and pepper.

Select potatoes that are unblemished and hard as rocks.  I prefer to buy them loose rather than in plastic bags because it’s easier to inspect them for blemishes or green spots.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into uniform quarters.  It’s important that the potato pieces are all the same size so they cook at the same time.

Wash the potato quarters and place them into a pot that is large enough for all the potato pieces to fit in a single layer.  Add enough cold water to cover the potatoes by half an inch.   Add a pinch of salt.  Put the pot on the stove at a high heat to bring to a boil.  When the water comes to a boil, turn the heat down and let the potatoes simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes until the potato pieces are soft in the center when tested with a fork.

Drain the potatoes.  Now pay attention, this is the secret to fluffy, floury mashed potatoes.   Place the drained potatoes back into the pot, cover with a clean, cotton tea towel, cover the pot and place it back on a very low heat for about five minutes to dry out the potatoes.

While the potatoes are drying, heat cream or whole milk and butter in a saucepan.  Warm the cream/butter mixture until the butter melts, but don’t let it come to a boil.

Turn off the heat under the potatoes.  Gradually add the heated cream and butter mixture — you may not need it all.   Mash the potatoes by hand with a potato masher — do not use a hand mixer or stick blender — or worst of all, a stand mixer.  All of them will turn the starch in the potatoes to glue.  When the potatoes are mashed, taste them and season them.   Since the potatoes were cooked in salt, you may only need to add pepper.  If serving the mashed potatoes family-style in a large bowl, make a well in the center of the potatoes and add two tablespoons of butter.

Bakewell Tart

For the last few years, my friend Anne has been reminiscing about the Bakewell Tart that her Irish auntie makes and hinting that it might be nice if I put my pastry skills to use by recreating it here in the States.  Bakewell Tart is an old-fashioned English tea time treat that combines flaky pastry with almond cake and jam.  Raspberry jam is traditional, but you can use any kind of jam you like.  While it is perfect as it is with afternoon tea, it can be dressed up with freshly whipped cream and berries for a lovely dessert.

For Anne’s birthday last week, I surprised her with a homemade Bakewell Tart.  I found a simple recipe on the BBC food site.  Here I’ve translated the British terms into more familiar American names for ingredients and equipment.  I always think about blackberry recipes at this time of the year — the peak time for foraging for blackberries in Ireland. – so I used a tablespoon of blackberry jam in place of the raspberry.  (Here is an easy recipe for refrigerator blackberry jam.)

We ate the tart at a Labor Day/birthday celebration cookout at Anne’s brother and sister-in-law’s house.  Many of the guests had never tasted this tart before, but liked it enough to ask for the recipe so here it is.  You will need an eight inch tart pan with a removable bottom.  I usually buy ground almond meal in the nut section at Trader Joe’s.  It can also be ordered online from baking products providers such as King Arthur Flour.  If you are new to pastry, the shell is first baked “blind” which simply means that it is baked first without filling to cook the pastry.

If you make the tart, let me know how it turned out.  As always, if you like this post, please share it.

Bakewell Tart

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Yield: 6-8 slices

Bakewell Tart

Ingredients

    Pastry:
  • 175g/6 oz plain flour
  • 75g/2 1/2 oz chilled, unsalted European style butter
  • 2-3 tbsp cold water
  • Filling:
  • 1 tbsp blackberry (or other) jam
  • 125g/4 1/2 oz unsalted butter
  • 125g/4 1/2 oz superfine (caster) sugar
  • 125g/4 1/2 oz ground almonds
  • 1 organic egg, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 50g/1 3/4 oz flaked almonds
  • Icing:
  • 80g/2 3/4 oz confectioner's (icing) sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp cold water
  • Equipment needed:
  • 20cm/8in tart tin with removable bottom

Instructions

    Pastry
  1. Measure the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the water, mixing to form a soft dough.
  2. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface and use to line a greased 20cm/8 in tart tin with removable bottom. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.
  4. Line the chilled pastry with foil or parchment paper and fill with baking beans. Bake blind for about 15 minutes, then remove the beans and lining and cook for another five minutes to dry out the base.
  5. Filling
  6. Spread the base of the pastry with a generous tablespoon of jam. It will seem like it's not enough jam, but it is. Too much jam will seep into the cake.
  7. Melt the butter in a large pan, take off the heat and stir in the sugar. Add the ground almonds, egg and almond extract. Pour into the pastry shell and sprinkle over the flaked almonds.
  8. Bake for about 35 minutes. If the almonds are browning too quickly, cover the tart loosely with foil to prevent them from burning.
  9. Meanwhile, sift the confectioner's sugar into a bowl. Stir in cold water and transfer to a piping bag. If you don't have a piping bag, use a plastic storage bag and cut off one of the corners to make a piping bag. It works just as well.
  10. Remove tart from oven when cooked. Pipe icing over the top in a zig-zag pattern.
http://40shadesofflavor.com/bakewell-tart/

 

Coppola is big fan of Irish ice cream

In an interview in the Wall St. Journal last week,  Francis Ford Coppola let the cat out of the bag about Irish ice cream.  The “Godfather” director said “The most underrated destination is: View PostIreland. It’s a beautiful country, and the people are extraordinary. They have such a wonderful literary tradition, one of warmth and humor. Also, Irish ice cream is among the best in the world, which no one knows.”  Read the full article here: online.wsj.com/articles/francis-ford-coppola-talks-travel-1407436237.

Irish ice cream and other dairy products are made from milk from cows that can graze outdoors almost year round.

When we were teens, my friend Maire had a summer job in the kiosk at Portmarnock beach — a blue snack shack at the steps to the most beautiful beach in the Dublin area.  The most popular item was a “99” — a creamy swirl of whipped, aka soft serve, ice cream (always vanilla) in a wafer cone topped with Cadbury’s Flake, a flaky stick of milk chocolate.  Although we weren’t paid to be there, as teenage girls we spent a lot of time at the kiosk on sunny afternoons.  It was the primo spot to see which boys were at the beach that day and, of course, eat ice cream.

Cadbury’s chocolate is not manufactured in Dublin anymore, but you can still buy Flakes in Irish import stores or online and make your own version of a “99.”  If you don’t have soft serve, crumble the flake over regular freezer case ice cream for an Irish summer treat.

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'99' ice cream