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


  • 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


  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.
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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:

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




Easy Berry Shortcakes

I add a taste of Ireland to the classic American summer dessert of berry shortcakes, by substituting strawberry scones for the usual biscuit style cake.  This scone recipe is more cake than bread.  The lemon and turbinado sugar topping provides a satisfying crunchy contrast to the sweet, tender cake.  Very easy to make, they are beautiful enough for a special occasion brunch (I recommend strawberry shortcakes with mimosas.)  In June, when the first, jewel-like strawberries appear in the market, I make them with strawberries alone. For July 4th celebrations, I mix blueberries with strawberries and raspberries for a patriotic red, white and blue dessert.

Recently, they were my contribution to an impromptu barbecue at my friends Denise and Mike’s lovely lakefront home.   As the proud and exhausted parents of four month old triplets, Denise and Mike were sticking close to home, so friends brought the party to them.   We took turns feeding and changing the beautiful babies before sitting down to a summer potluck feast of grilled chicken and hot dogs, homegrown garden salad, cheese, wine and mixed berry shortcakes.

Berry Shortcakes

Berry Shortcakes


  • ½ cup chopped strawberries
  • 4 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsps. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 4 oz. unsalted butter cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (not nonfat)
  • Shortcake topping:
  • 2 tbsp. turbinado sugar
  • 1 tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
  • Fruit:
  • 4 cups mixed berries, (sliced strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 cups chilled heavy cream, preferably organic, whipped


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, combine the berries with the juice of 1 lemon and 2 tbsp. granulated sugar. Stir gently together until blended. Cover and refrigerate for ½ hour, stirring occasionally.
  3. Mix together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Rub in the butter until it looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in the egg. Stir in the chopped strawberries. Then fold in the yogurt to make a fairly wet dough.
  4. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface. With floured hands, shape it into a ½ inch high round. Using a 3 inch biscuit cutter, cut out eight shortcakes.
  5. Mix turbinado sugar and lemon zest together. Sprinkle over the top of the shortcakes.
  6. Place shortcakes on a greased baking sheet, bake for 20 minutes in preheated 400 degree oven until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean.
  7. Remove shortcakes from oven, transfer to a cooling rack for about an hour. If not using the shortcakes right away, store in an airtight container.
  8. To serve, slice each shortcake in half horizontally. Place shortcake bottom halves, sliced side up on a serving platter or individual plates. Top each with some of the berry mixture and whipped cream. Then top with the other half of the shortcake. Serve immediately.
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Sheila Boyle’s Chicken Liver Pate

My coworker Pete has begun a new practice of potluck lunches in the office to mark some kind of holiday or date.   Almost everyone participates and shows off either their culinary skills or a great food vendor in their neighborhood (thinking about Churro Factory, Yvette.)  It started last March with Pi Day, as in the number PI 3.14,.and has continued with real or imagined holidays (Mother Goose Day?)  This Monday we celebrated Bastille Day.  Pete asked me to bring in a French-Irish mashup.  I thought immediately about a recipe for chicken liver pate that was given to me when I was a university student by my Auntie Chrissie’s best friend Sheila Boyle, a wonderful home cook and lovely person.  That was more than 30 years ago and Sheila was making this recipe long before she passed it along to me.  It’s one of my mother’s favorites.  She requests it for Christmas and as a hostess gift for relatives during the holidays.  My Dublin friend Liz even bought me a special Christmas serving dish to encourage me to make it for Christmas parties.

Pate is  typically a French dish, but it’s very popular in Ireland.   You can even find it in little corner shops that have a deli case.  It’s not that difficult to make, but seems impressive.  I do think the quality of the chicken livers makes a difference, try to get organic livers if possible.   I’ve found supermarket chicken livers from the large national poultry producers to be a bit tasteless, but garlic, fresh herbs, and brandy boost the flavor so they will do in a pinch.

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Sheila Boyle’s Chicken Liver Pate

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Yield: Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer.

Sheila Boyle’s Chicken Liver Pate


  • 1 lb. chicken livers – well-rinsed (kosher or organic chicken livers are best)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 oz. butter
  • 1 oz. cream
  • Chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme, rosemary
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp. brandy or sherry
  • ¼ tsp. coriander seeds
  • 4 slices American bacon to line a loaf pan


  1. Pre-heat oven to Gas mark 4, 350 degrees Fahrenheit, 180 degrees celcius.
  2. Rinse chicken livers well. Cut off connective tissue. Put livers in blender or food processor on low for one minute.
  3. Add all other ingredients.
  4. Line a loaf pan with bacon slices. Add liver mixture. Cover with tin foil.
  5. Fill a larger pan or oven safe dish – large enough to hold the loaf pan and deep enough so that when water is added it can come up a quarter way on the loaf pan. Place larger dish on the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven. Place tin foil covered loaf pan into the larger dish. Bake for 1 to 1 ½ hours. The paté is cooked when it shrinks from the sides of the loaf pan and the juices run clear. You can also stick a sharp knife into the center, it will come out clean when the pate is cooked.
  6. Remove loaf pan from the oven. Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.
  7. Spread pate on toast and serve.


Use Kosher or organic chicken livers if possible, they have a better flavor.

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Secret of Chicago’s Top Chefs

Green City Market Cookbook


Chicago top chefs Rick Bayless and Stephanie Izard know that great cooking starts with fresh, seasonal ingredients.   They, along with many other top restaurants, shop at Chicago’s award-winning Green City Market, the city’s premier market for local and sustainable food.  The market’s first ever cookbook will be published this month by Agate Publishing of Evanston, Ill.  Organized by season, it includes recipes by Bayless, Izard and other leading lights of the Chicago food scene such as Carrie Nahabedian and Sarah Stegner.   Market vendors, customers and volunteers like me also contributed their favourite market inspired dishes.  I am still thrilled and astonished that my recipe for roasted asparagus lasagna made the book (it’s on page 34.)  I feel a little like a garage band whose song has been included in a compilation album with Bruce Springsteen and U2.

It’s an indispensable addition to the cookbook collection of anyone who likes to cook seasonally, shops at farmers markets or subscribes to CSAs.  The book will be released July 17 at the Chicago food event of the summer, the Green City Market Chef’s BBQ benefit.  It can be preordered on the Green City Market web site here:

This is me with my dish of roasted asparagus lasagna.

gcm cookbook selfie


Top Five Tips for Farmers Market Shopping

Top Five Tips for Shopping at Farmers' Markets

Top Five Tips for Shopping at Farmers’ Markets

After almost six years volunteering at Chicago’s Green City Market ( and many more years shopping at farmers markets, I like to think I know my way around them but I can still be surprised by something I’ve never eaten before.  This spring, for instance, a new vendor is selling black garlic, something I had never eaten or even heard of before.  It is fermented garlic and you can cook with it the same way as raw garlic, but it’s sweeter and milder.   Last Saturday, even parents wanted to try sorrel at the children’s tasting table because most of them had never experienced its unexpected flavour – like biting into a lemon.    Discovering and tasting something new is one of the best parts of shopping at a farmers’ market.  In this blog I’ve tried to include heirloom recipes using wild or forgotten ingredients you are unlikely to find at the supermarket — such as nettles or gooseberries — to share a little bit of the excitement of shopping at a market.  Here are my top tips to enhance your market shopping experience:

  1. Get there early.  Popular items such as eggs or the first asparagus or strawberries of the season go fast.
  2. Bring cash.  Small bills are appreciated.  Although more vendors these days are using the Square smartphone technology to process credit cards, most still only accept cash.
  3. Go with an open mind.   Walk around the market before shopping to see what is available and in season. Try something new.
  4. Bring your own shopping bags and containers for berries, tomatoes or other easily bruised fruit.  Bring an insulated bag or cooler to keep dairy products, eggs or meat cold.
  5. Ask questions.  If being organic or sustainable is important to you, ask the farmer about his or her farming practices.  If you don’t know what something is or how to cook it, ask the farmer or another shopper.  Most people shopping at the market love food and cooking and will be excited to share their knowledge.

Happy shopping!

About two weeks ago I stumbled on an article in a tech blog about an intriguing new product for bakers — an iPad connected kitchen scale that makes measurements and scaling recipes easy.  You can retire the calculator. I was surprised and excited to discover that the team behind this ingenious invention is Irish.   Check it out at   Until July 4, preorders get Drop for $20 less than retail price by clicking the access code below.

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Coffee-glazed Pastries with Whipped Cream

My favourite meeting spot when I am in Dublin is Bewley’s Oriental Café in Grafton Street.

Bewley’s  has been a Dublin institution since the late 19th century and its coffee and tea is sold throughout Ireland.  It still hand roasts all its coffee on site on the fourth floor of 78 Grafton Street.  Named “the heart and hearth of Dublin” by poet Brendan Kennelly, the Grafton Street café was the haunt of Irish literary greats such as James Joyce, Patrick Kavanagh and Samuel Beckett.  It’s a great spot to meet friends for a chat or to take a break from Grafton Street shopping.

I When I was a student at Trinity College Dublin many years ago, I treated Bewley’s Westmoreland and Grafton Street cafes like my sitting room.  Countless confidences were shared and romances begun and ended over “white” coffee (café au lait) and cakes. My favourites were almond buns and coffee slices.  Here is an easy recipe for the coffee slice — a coffee-glazed puff pastry with fresh whipped cream — using store bought puff pastry.

If you like this recipe, please share it and if you make it, please let me know how it turned out. You can be notified when I update this blog by clicking the “Follow” button below.

Coffee-glazed Pastries with Whipped Cream

Prep Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Yield: 8 slices

Coffee-glazed Pastries with Whipped Cream


  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 tbsp. (15 ml) coffee syrup
  • 1 tbsp. (15 ml) cold water
  • 6 tbsp. (90 g) confectioner's (icing) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) raspberry jam


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit/200 degrees Celsius.
  2. Line a heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface to 15 x 12 inches. Cut pastry lengthwise into three 12 x 5 inch strips. Transfer two of the strips to the baking sheet. Dock each strip all over with a fork. Freeze for 10 minutes.
  4. Bake pastry strips until golden and puffed -- about 15 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven and place on a rack to cool.
  5. Using a long, serrated knife, trim top side of the pastry strips so they are flat and event.
  6. In a small bowl, stir coffee syrup with cold water and confectioner's sugar to make a spreadable glaze. Add a little more water if the glaze is too thick.
  7. Using an offset spatula, spread the coffee glaze on the bottom of one of the pastry strips.
  8. Whip cream thickly.
  9. Place second pastry strip on a work surface. Spread jam on the pastry. Top with the whipped cream. Cover with the coffee-glazed strip -- glazed side up. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
  10. Using a serrated knife, cut pastry into eight slices.
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Who is America’s Top Irish Chef?

2013-09-09_1378748959Chef Cathal Armstrong


Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, VA.

Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, VA.


I am very proud that one of America’s top chefs is Dublin born Cathal Armstrong, owner of seven restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area and a James Beard nominee. I have been reading about him and his recipes in national food magazines such as “Food and Wine” for years.  I promised myself that the next time I was in the Washington, D.C. area I would make my way to Old Town Alexandria to eat at one of his restaurants.   Last week, I was fortunate enough to eat at the two restaurants named for his children — the counter service “Eamonn’s, a  Dublin Chipper” and the very elegant Restaurant Eve.  “Food and Wine” called him “a one-man urban renewal engine” for revitalizing the Alexandria restaurant scene using French techniques and local produce.  Friends who live in the area confirm that food options in the historic D.C. suburb were dull before he opened his first restaurant ten years ago.  I admire his commitment to the environment by cooking with local, sustainably sourced ingredients — going so far as to plant a garden at his restaurant — and only using environmentally friendly products at this establishments.  He was recognized by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for establishing an organization called Chefs as Parents to promote healthy school lunches.

With its $120 dinner tasting menu, for me Restaurant Eve would normally rank as a special occasion restaurant.  Fortunately, it offers a fantastic deal at lunchtime in the lounge — the “lickety-split” lunch is an unbelievable $14.95 for two courses.  I ate a velvety asparagus soup made with local, first of the season asparagus, shallots, cream, wine and olive oil  that was spring in a bowl and very tasty pork rillettes with a grainy mustard sauce and toasted baquette.

Asparagus soup from Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, Va.

Asparagus soup, Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, Va.

There was quite a crowd in the lounge even after 1 p.m. on a Thursday. Because I was alone, they were able to squeeze me in at the bar.  Supporting my theory that this is often the best seat in the house, a conversation with my dining neighbor, a Restaurant Eve regular, led to an introduction to Chef Armstrong who signed my copy of his cookbook, “My Irish Table.” Co-written with David Hagedorn and published by Ten Speed Press, it includes his take on homey and sophisticated Irish dishes along with recipes from Restaurant Eve.  For more information on the book see the web site:

This past weekend I tried his very easy version of the classic Marie Rose sauce — an indispensable component of the Dublin Bay Prawn Cocktail.   The rosy sauce is simply mayonnaise, ketchup and lemon juice.  It’s a wonderful accompaniment to seafood.  I don’t understand why it’s not served more often in the States. I substituted large, gulf shrimp for the Dublin Bay prawns.   I can’t wait to try his other recipes and report back here.

More information about Chef Cathal Armstrong, Restaurant Eve and his other restaurants is available at