Monthly Archives: October 2013

Irish Halloween Food

Halloween began as a pagan holiday in Ireland, Scotland and other Celtic countries.  Samhain (pronounced sow-in), marked  the end of the harvest and the end of the Celtic year. In a sense, Halloween is Celtic New Year’s Eve.

The Celts believed that on the last day of the year the line between this life and the afterlife was blurred and spirits moved freely between the worlds.  The presence of spirits made it possible to get a glimpse into the future and what lay ahead in the new year. Fortune telling plays a big part in Irish Halloween traditions.  Many Irish Halloween games and even food involve divination. Teenage girls throw apple peels over their left shoulder hoping the peel will form the initial of their future husband. Gold rings, coins and other charms that reveal the future are baked or hidden in special dishes eaten at the holiday such as barm brack — a fruit bread similar to the Italian panettone — and colcannon — kale or cabbage blended with mashed potatoes.  Whoever finds the gold ring in their slice of brack or serving of colcannon will marry within the year.  Finding the coin predicts future wealth and a thimble, poverty.

Although it is traditionally eaten at Halloween, I eat it through the autumn and winter.  It pairs well with a variety of dishes — corned beef, Irish bacon, roast pork and even salmon. Colcannon is one of my favorite comfort foods because I feel less guilt-ridden about eating mashed potatoes made with cream and butter if it serves as a delivery system for superfood kale.  Here’s a tip — blending nutritious kale with creamy mashed potatoes may help to introduce it to children and others who are wary of greens. Leftovers can be made into cakes and fried in butter, oil or — even better — bacon fat.


Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4



  • 2 cups chopped kale (12 to 14 stems), leaves removed from stems, washed and chopped
  • 2 large russet or other floury potatoes, peeled , washed and cut into quarters
  • 2 leeks, outer leaves removed, washed and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or cream
  • 2 tbsps. Butter
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Remove the kale leaves from the tough stems. Wash and chop. Cook for a few minutes in boiling salted water until the leaves soften. Drain and set aside.
  2. Peel and wash the potatoes. Cut them into evenly sized quarters and put them in a saucepan. Just cover with cold, salted water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then turn heat down, cover saucepan and simmer about ten minutes until the potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork but not mushy. Take saucepan off the heat. Drain the potatoes. Place them back in the saucepan. Cover the potatoes with a clean cotton dishtowel and cover saucepan. Place the saucepan over a very low heat for five minutes to dry the potatoes. Remove saucepan from heat.
  3. While the drained potatoes are drying over the low heat, place the chopped leeks and milk or cream in a small saucepan. Heat the milk, cook over a low heat for a few minutes to soften the leeks. Do not let the milk boil.
  4. Add the butter to the potatoes. Gradually add the milk and leek mixture (you may not need all of it) when mashing the potatoes.
  5. Blend in the cooked, chopped kale.
  6. The dish can be prepared in advance and kept warm, covered in the oven until ready to serve.


Cabbage can be substituted for kale. Scallions can be substituted for leeks. Leftover colcannon can be formed into cakes and fried in butter, oil or bacon fat.

Fourks Dinners pop up in Andersonville

 Fourks chefs

Fourks chefs Julia Ori, Matt O’Neill, Caiti Mateffy and Colleen Malone.

Last weekend, Svea, a Swedish diner in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago, was transformed by the magic of candles, strings of fairy lights and outstanding culinary talent into “Fourks” pop-up restaurant.  Friends Colleen Malone, Caiti Mateffy, Matt O’Neill and Julia Ori trained together at Kendall College culinary school.  Four times a year they get together to create delicious and interesting multi-course dinners united by a common theme such  as American diner favorites, Swedish dinner or Spanish tapas.   Fourks Dinners are lively BYO parties with guests filling the tiny Svea space with the happy noise of people enjoying a great meal and making new friends.

Last Saturday, the Spanish Tapas menu included carmelized onion shortbread with campo de montalban cheese, rosemary fig jam, and fried serrano; manchego cheese stuffed fried olive with roasted garlic yogurt;roasted delicata squash and sweet potato salad with arugula, watercress, carmelized pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds), shaved manchego, crispy pancetta, brandied raisins, and creme fraiche dressing; pan seared cod, saffron risotto croqueta, chorizo with sherry vinegar, and avocado mousse; roasted paprika chicken thigh with potato pave, fennel garbanzo puree, paprika sofrito, manzanilla olive, parsley, pine nut gremolata; concluding with banana flan creme puff with toasted almonds, spiced dulce de leche, graham cobbler crumble, and whipped cream.

If that menu whets your appetite, the next Fourks Dinner is scheduled to be January 25, 2014 when the chefs will prepare their interpretation of a Chinese New Year feast. Check the Fourks Dinner page on Facebook for updates, previous menus and information on tickets.



Pumpkin and Cider Griddle Bread (Farls)

This recipe, adapted from Guardian food writer Dan Lepard’s  acclaimed “Short and Sweet, the Best of Home Baking,” combines a traditional Northern Irish and Scottish griddle bread known as a farl with popular American fall flavors. It’s a savory, not sweet, pumpkin bread with a gnocchi-like texture..

Farl is an old Scottish word for a quarter, In the days before ovens, bread was baked in a griddle over an open fire and traditionally cut into quarters or “farls” before cooking.  Use a heavy bottomed pan such as a cast iron frying pan.

I departed from Lepard’s recipe by adding pumpkin pie spice to the dough.  The prepared mixture from my local spice store included Saigon and Indonesian cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, mace, allspice and cloves.

Pumpkin and Cider Griddle Bread (Farls)

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 8

Pumpkin and Cider Griddle Bread (Farls)


  • 150 g/half a large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 250 g/8 oz. cooked, mashed pumpkin
  • 50 ml/ 1/4 cup hard cider
  • 250 g/8 oz. all purpose flour, plus 2 tbsp. extra for shaping
  • 75 g/3 oz.grated cheddar
  • 1 tsp. table salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • unflavored vegetable oil such as grapeseed


  1. Put onion and butter in a saucepan on a low heat with the lid on for 5 minutes until it sizzles. Turn the heat off and leave it to steam for another 5 minutes.
  2. Tip the onions and juices into a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly with all the other ingredients except the vegetable oil to form a soft dough.
  3. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Divide in two. Flour and roll each piece to 1 cm/1/2 inch thick. Cut into quarters.
  4. Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed skillet until it's hot, but not smoking. Using a spatula, place 3 or 4 farls into the pan,leaving enough room between them to flip them. Keep the heat low so it takes about 4 minutes for the farl to become brown and crisp on one side. When brown, carefully flip farls over using a spatula. Fry the other side until it is also crisp and brown. Then cook the remaining quarters.


If using fresh pumpkin, use two small, sweet pie pumpkins. Wash and cut in half. Scoop out the seeds. Place the pumkin halves flesh side down on a rack over a baking sheet. Roast in a preheated 400 degree oven until the pumpkin flesh is soft and dark orange, about 40 minutes. Let pumpkins cook before scooping out the flesh.



A Reason to Love Lattes

I was unexpectedly free on Wednesday morning because I am locked out of work due to the government shutdown.  On my way to the Green City Market in Chicago’s Lincoln Park,  I stopped for a latte at Elaine’s coffee shop in Hotel Lincoln where I was surprised and excited to see Irish singer-songwriter and Oscar winner Glen Hansard of “Once” fame ahead of me in the line. I celebrated my birthday last June with a picnic at his Millenium Park concert with the Frames. I told him how much I had enjoyed the show and the eerie finale when they played the “Ould Triangle” as the fog  from Lake Michigan enveloped the stage.  He said that it was certainly one of the band’s most memorable shows.  “Once the Musical” opens next week at the Oriental Theater.  Watch videos of songs from Glen Hansard’s new solo album”Rhythm and Repose” at:[1]


Bumping into Glen Hansard reminded me of the lovely Millenium Park picnic I shared with friends last summer. The spread included Irish snacks such as mini sausage rolls (recipe posted here and salmon pate with brown bread.  This simple salmon pate recipe is from Darina Allen’s “Simply Delicious” cookbook and RTE television series of the same name.  Since sweet Irish salmon is not available here, I added more lemon juice and salt and pepper to boost the flavor of the pate.

Salmon Pate

Yield: 6 servings


  • 4 oz. cooked salmon without skin and bone
  • 4-6 tbsps. softened Irish butter
  • 1/4 tsp. finely chopped fennel frond
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 clove of garlic, crushed
  • salt and white pepper to taste


  1. Blend all ingredients together in a food processor or mash together in a bowl. Place the pate in a bowl, decorate the top with fennel fronds. Refrigerate for about an hour before serving.


Serve with slices of Irish brown bread, toast or crackers.

This is a good way to use up leftover cooked salmon. Irish butter is higher in fat, more golden in color and richer in flavor than American butter.