From the Kitchen: Irish Food for Saint Patrick’s Day (Plus some tips for surviving a busy kitchen!)

Good morning, Internetters!

Last year, for St. Patrick’s Day, Michael and I went downtown to our favorite Irish pub and were disappointed. Because of the enormous crowds, special event tent, and all the “extras” for the holiday, their menu was very limited (they didn’t have our favorite items!) and all their food and drink was served on plastic dinnerware. We went to another place, but again, because of the large downtown crowds, parking was limited, service was extremely slow, and when we drove home, we had to be extremely cautious of revelers in the road. Don’t get me wrong: we had a lot of fun. But this year, we decided to go a slightly different route.

We stayed home.

To celebrate, we went all-out cooking (from scratch!) a feast of Irish food, including a delicious beef stew, colcannon (it’s like mashed potatoes with stuff in it), whole grain soda bread, corned beef egg rolls, “car bomb” brownies (they were layered cheesecake brownies with libations cooked in) and of course, lots of Guinness in all the dishes.

Unfortunately, we didn’t do our normal blog-friendly procedure of lots of blurry pictures of each step, but I can link to the recipes here.

We found most of our recipes on Simple Bites, a site with a lot of solid, wholesome recipes and advice for whole food eating. Most of these recipes were found via links on their site.

St. Patrick’s Day Irish-themed Dinner Recipes:

  • Guinness Beef Stew: This has a nice savory flavor, partly from the Guinness and partly from the use of caraway seeds. It makes great leftovers.
  • Colcannon: Mashed potatoes with cream, cabbage, and kale mixed in. It’s amazing how the vegetables cook down and become part of the texture of the potatoes. You can serve this in a bowl and pour the stew over the top.
  • Whole Wheat Soda Bread: This homemade bread is made without additional yeast, so you don’t have to wait for it to rise. It’s a dense but soft bread, great for sopping up stew, and any leftovers taste great microwaved with a lot of butter and honey. This was our first attempt at any sort of homemade bread, and it turned out pretty well.
  • Corned Beef Egg Rolls: This was the dish that our favorite Irish pub left off the menu last year, so I was determined to make our own this year. Serve with a Thousand Island dressing. I think this was my favorite dish.
  • “Car Bomb” brownies: These are cheesecake-topped brownies made with Guinness and a bit of Jameson whiskey. They are delicious. Warning: I have no idea how they got their little shamrock designs created so perfectly in the recipe. Ours ended up as blobs and sank into the cheesecake part. They still tasted great.
  • “Irish” Hot Chocolate: This is our own recipe. Make hot chocolate. Add some Irish Creme Liqueur. Top with fluffy whipped cream. Serve with brownies.

So, this post is, of course after St. Patrick’s Day, because we made the food a couple weekends ago. But don’t worry– you can make Irish food any time of year!

Yum! Photo taken from the recipe at Simple Bites.

Yum! Photo taken from the recipe at Simple Bites.

It surprised us how relatively inexpensive the ingredients are in many of these dishes, and we realized it’s because most of the ingredients are wholesome, simple foods: parsnips and potatoes, kale and onions, cheap stew beef. Again, I am reminded of the movie Ratatouille, when the food critic is surprised by the chef’s choice of dish because “It is a peasant dish!” Similarly, many of these foods are solid, rural farm foods. They are delicious, but not fancy, and starchy vegetables are not super expensive.

I think this is the most number of dishes we’ve tried to cook simultaneously in our tiny kitchen. It was kind of exciting, and I have some helpful tips for anyone who is new to the whole cooking-more-than-one-thing arena.

Tips for cooking a lot of food all at once:

  • Read all your recipes, all the way through, before you do anything. This gives you the chance to do many of the other items on this list.
  • Understand the time needed for cooking your recipes,  way ahead of the day of cooking. We almost missed the fact that the corned beef needed three full hours to cook. Luckily, we noticed the night before our dinner and were able to save ourselves the heartache of not having corned beef. Also, anything that requires the same cooking space, such as both a dessert and bread in the oven, will need to be coordinated.
  • Get prep work done ahead of time, even if it’s by chopping and prepping ingredients. These particular recipes seemed to include a lot of fresh vegetables, so by washing, peeling, and chopping all the ingredients and putting them into bowls the night before, we saved massive amounts of time the day of. You can extend this suggestion to getting entire dishes done the day before, or being diligent on other preparation tasks, such as the shopping.
  • Have your recipes all handy. This seems obvious, but when you’re working from five recipes at once, things can get pretty confusing. We printed ours out, taped them each to the kitchen cupboards, and labeled which dish each recipe was for in big, readable writing. That way, if we needed to check how long to put the soda bread in the oven while we were working on four other things, we didn’t have to hunt through a stack of papers or browser tabs in the midst of things. Everything was visible and hands-free.
  • Know what dishes and equipment you need, not just the ingredients. We had to call a friend to borrow their stock pot halfway through cooking because we had underestimated sizes and cooking times of our recipes. It might also help to have multiple timers on hand, or you might forget about one dish because the kitchen timer is on another one.
  • Keep your station clean! Especially in a small kitchen, there is no luxury for tripping over used ingredient bowls, dirty pots and pans, and extra cutting boards while you’re trying to use the counter space (or sometimes that equipment) for something else. If you have more than one cook, it can really help to have someone continually washing up (and putting away!) anything that you’re done with. Keeping the kitchen ship-shape will make it so much easier to find ingredients, utensils, recipes, and it will make kitchen safety easier, especially with multiple cooks.
  • Be flexible. It’s ok if one dish is done ahead of the others. Back burners and ovens can keep things slightly warm, if need be, and people can be patient. And if one dish is slightly overcooked or slightly cold, be forgiving. Cooking five recipes at once is a very different thing from cooking one or two, and it only gets better with practice.

Well, I hope everybody had a happy St Patrick’s Day.

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