Colcannon – A True Irish Dish

Since today is the original St. Patrick’s day for 2008 (the church moved it to Monday since it was interfering with their holy week), I thought I would celebrate by making something other than the typical Irish-American corned beef and cabbage. After reading a number of Irish country cooking books, it was clear that Colcannon is a very special dish as it is served serving the Lugnasa (August) Festival following the first harvesting of the new potatoes of the season. Often, this meal was started out with a saying, “Death to the Red Hag,” referring to famine.

colcannon

The dish is quite simple, consisting of leeks, cabbage, potatoes, butter, garlic, salt, ground pepper and mace. Simply braise the cabbage until tender and set aside. Boil sliced potatoes with the skins on until tender and set them aside. Clean and slice the leeks and place them in a saucepan, covering them with milk. Bring to a near boil and simmer until tender. Mash the potatoes and add the leeks and cabbage, but don’t mash the leeks and cabbage too much. Add the salt, garlic, mace, ground pepper and butter. Pour into an oven safe dish, make some kind of a neat design on the top and then broil until browned. Serve once cooled slightly.

My impression is that this is nothing more than mash potatoes with a bit of spice. I used a combination of allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon as I didn’t have any mace sitting around, so I think the spice was more intense than it needed to be. I would probably add a bit more garlic and salt, as well.  I might even try it with red cabbage and rosemary, which has more flavor than the white cabbage. Heck, I might even stir in some chopped Irish Boar sausages or corned beef for experimentation.

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My Cookies Won “Best Tasting Treat”!

Today at work, we had the first part of our department Cook-off series. The first competition consisted of Cookies, Confections and Brownies. While I thought hard about what I would make, I ultimately consulted my cookie bible, a recipe book called The Cookie Book. Since I waited until the day before to go shopping, I decided that the recipe had to be simple and have as few ingredients as possible.

After perusing some delicious sounding choices, I decided on a recipe called “The Old Cake Mix Cookie” (p. 317) which had three ingredients, with a cake mix at the core (in this case Triple Fudge). I decided to spice it up a bit with a little rum and chocolate chips. However, since Christmas is coming, I decided to add some crushed peppermint candies as well. Needless to say, these were a big hit and the judges loved them. What came out are really rich chocolate chocolate chip cookies with a wonderful mint after taste. I calling them Reindeer Patties.

cookies

Reindeer Patties
(makes 30 cookies)

1/2 cup salted butter at room temperature (you could use margarine, but come on, these are cookies!)
1 large egg at room temperature
One 18.5oz plain cake mix (for this recipe I used Betty Crocker’s Super Moist Chocolate Fudge cake mix, but you can expirement)
One 11.5 oz package of milk chocolate chips
3 peppermint candies, crushed (those little round ones with the red marks at the edge)

– Prehead oven to 350 degrees

– Put the egg and butter in a bowl. Mix it well, until creamy by hand or with an electric mixer if you are a wuss.

– Gradually add the cake mix, beating until it is very well blended. Note that the dough is going to get VERY stiff after half the cake mix has been added. If it gets too stiff, at a tablespoon or two of milk until all of the mix has been added. The trick is to not have too stiff of a dough and not too loose of a dough. I think I added about 4 or 5 tablespoons of milk to my dough, but the exact amount will vary.

– Add the chocolate chips and peppermints. Mix well.

– Using a teaspoon, place well-rounded drops of batter a few inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

– Bake in the preheated oven for about 12 minutes. They should be firm when touched lightly. Start checking for doneness around 10 minutes.

– When done, remove from oven and place cookies on a cooling rack.

– Once cooled, sprinkle the top of the cookies with some powdered sugar.

– Enjoy!

Recipe Experiment – Italian Breakfast Hash

Tonight, I decided to clean out the refrigerator/pantry. The goal was to have dinner on the cheap and experiment with an interesting mix of ingredients.  The selection I ended up putting on the counter was as follows:

Pancetta
Potatos
Fresh Sage
Italian Seasoning
Garlic Powder
Eggs
Provolone Cheese
Colby Jack Cheese
Avocado

What popped into my strange, crazy mind was some type of hash as I have been craving hash browns of late.  I began by slicing one potato into very small chunks so that they would cook faster.  I added these to a hot pan with some olive oil.

After a few minutes, I threw in the pancetta, set the flame to medium low and covered.  After a minute or so, I stirred the pot, adding some salt and pepper, fresh sage, Italian seasoning and garlic powder.  I really didn’t want to over power the dish so I added the herbs sparingly to taste. I then cranked up the heat and let physics/science do the rest.

Once the potatoes were cooked to my liking, I added two eggs and stirred.  While the eggs were cooking, I sliced up the two types of cheese into small chunks and tossed them in.    I turned off the heat and covered the pan.  While the cheese was melting, I diced up the avocado into small cubes and set aside.

Once the cheese melted, it was time to serve.  What resulted was a big sticky mess that really didn’t look all that appetizing. Of course, you can’t judge a book by its cover!  I took a large spoonful and dropped it into a bowl.  I then dropped the diced avocado over the top and plopped down in front of my computer for a taste test!

Well… it certainly tastes better than it looks.  The italian seasoning and light garlic flavor complemented the potato well. The sage was one of those mysterious flavors that really makes you think, “what is that flavor”.  The pancetta added some great contrast to the potato, both in terms of texture and flavor.  The best of all was the pop that you got with the avocado.  As much as it seemed out of place in the dish, I really think it came out the star ingredient.

What would I change?  I would add some different herbs, maybe some basil. In addition, I would cook the potatoes a lot longer until they were crispier.  I would also hold off on putting in so much cheese, especially the provolone.  I might even add some type of vegetable to it, perhaps a bell pepper or even asparagus.  Some seeded tomatoes might even put this one out of the ballpark.

Overall, I give this experiment a thumbs up.  This combination of ingredients would not have been my first choice, but with some creativity, dinner came out as a new experience and there are a fewer things in the refrigerator.

I call it Italian Breakfast Hash because of the pancetta and herbs I used and hash is usually served at breakfast, at least in the US.  You could easily swap out the pancetta for American style bacon or sausage. Although, you might have to reconsider the herbs you add.  I don’t sage would be good with bacon.

I encourage everyone to try this type of experimentation. Not only do you learn more about how to cook certain foods, but you can get to know which ingredients compliment each other.

Pancakes with a healthy twist

I am a huge fan of really good, homemade pancakes.  I will admit that I grew up on the Bisquick version, but after leaving home, I found it cheaper to make my own from scratch.  For many years now I make the pancakes according to the “Pancakes, Griddle Cakes, or Batter Cakes” recipe found in the Joy of Cooking.  When these are right out of the pan with a little butter (real butter) and a bit of authentic maple syrup, I am in another world.  But then, my doctor suggested eating more fruits and whole grains and called my weekly pancake celebration a heart attack waiting to happen.

Part of the solution that I came up with was to cut back my pancake celebrations to once or twice a month.  This way, they are a little more special.   The other part was to add some fresh fruit to the recipe and add some whole grain wheat flour.

Here’s what I found that makes a great pancake (this is a half recipe as it is just me and makes about six pancakes):

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup stone ground, whole grain wheat flour (make your own if you can)
1/2 + 3/8 teaspoon of baking powder
1 slightly beaten large AA egg
1 – 1/2 tablespoons melted Canoleo (you can use butter or your favorite butter substitute)
1/2 cup milk
A few drops of vanilla flavoring
1 handful of fresh, organic blueberries
1/2 handful of chopped peaches

As most pancake recipes, mix the dry ingredients and sift.  I then put the egg and milk together in a measuring cup and beat while the Canoleo is melting.  Then combine the egg/milk mixture with the butter and add the vanilla.  Set both dry and liquid mixtures aside.  Chop the peaches.  Mix the dry and liquid mixtures together quickly, then add the fruit and stir.  I usually like to let my batter sit in the refrigerator for a few minutes, but you can start cooking immediately on a hot griddle.  Flip when the bubbles appear and before they break.  Cook until golden brown and top with your favorite toppings.

I really enjoy the blueberries and the peaches together.  The whole grain flour, with the fruit, make this much healthier than the original.   Note, if you want more whole grain, simply cut back the all-purpose flour and add more whole wheat flour.  I don’t recommend using all wheat flour.

Happy eats!

Home-Made Chili… what’s good?

Lately, I have been getting more into slow cooking meals, such as stews, chilis, and my favorite, chicken marengo. Last weekend, I made a large pot of chili using a recipe I found in the Joy of Cooking. However, being the crazy chef that I am, I aways put a twist on the recipe. Along with the ground beef, I added some Italian sweet sausage and marinated pork (marinade was olive oil, garlic, and chili powder). I will say that these were extremely successful additions, especially the Italian sausage.

What I would like to know is (if you don’t mind sharing), what additions have you made to your chili recipes? What is your trick to making the best chili… you know that chili that you take to the backyard potluck and within a few hours everyone is standing in line for the bathroom type chili?