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Sunday Night Dinner

Well, we meant to post this recipe before St. Paddy’s day. However, the 17th came and went and we neglected to post it. Then we intended to put it up a couple of days after, while corned beef could still be readily found in local grocery stores.  But alas, we neglected to do so. Weeks passed, Jake and Brad moved back to France for the Spring and Summer months, and now here we are just in time for you to plan your feast for St. Paddy’s 2013!  Imagine, if you please, that it’s March of next year…

The annual obligation to cook corned beef and cabbage has arrived. While no self-respecting Irish person would be caught dead cooking corned beef and cabbage on March 17th, we in America (encouraged no doubt by the Corned Beef Industry and some kind of misguided affinity with the Irish) feel an obligation to do so. (Disclaimer: My mum was born in Waterford.)  It’s actually not a bad dish, especially if you cook it right, make colcannon to go with it, and use some of the “stock” to make a hearty soup for the next day.

One of the unfortunate things about blogging is that if you’re making a dish for a special occasion and want to photograph it, you either have to make it ahead and reheat it or else post it when it’s too late for anyone checking the blog to be inspired.  So maybe you want to cook corn beef at a time other than St. Patrick’s day or else remember the colcannon and soup when it comes around next year.

This is not a problem with cooking Irish Stew which is really the national dish of Ireland and which benefits from being cooked ahead. And of course it’s just perfect for the dying days of winter.

Corned Beef with Colcannon

Serves 4-6

For the Corned Beef:

Ingredients:

3-4 lb. corned beef

One medium onion,  peeled and halved

3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2″ pieces

2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2″ pieces

2 small turnips, peeled and quartered

1 leek, white part only (optional)

Trim off some of the excess fat.  Put it in a large pot, cover with cold water and bring to the boil.  Skim off the scum, add the little package of spices it usually comes with, and turn the heat to low.  How long you cook it will depend on its size, but it will probably take 2-1/2 to 3 hours. Check it from time to time.  About 30 minutes before it’s cooked, add the onion, the carrots, turnips, parsnips and the leek, if you have it. If you don’t like turnips and parsnips, you can still make the soup without them.  Remove the corn beef to a platter, cover with foil and let rest 15 minutes.  Slice into 1/4″ slices, place in the center of the platter and surround it with about half the carrots, parsnips and turnips.

For the Colcannon

Colcannon is apparently served mainly at Halloween in Ireland but it fits so perfectly with corned beef that I have adopte it for the occasion.  Not surprisingly, the Irish have lots of ways of cooking potatoes and this is one of them. It’s a mixture of creamy mashed potatoes and cabbage with lots of butter (which of course you can cut down on if you choose).

Ingredients:

4 large Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and quartered

1/2 cabbage, sliced fairly thin (or you can use kale)

1/2 cup milk, warmed

1/4 – 1/2 stick butter

4 green onions, finely chopped

1 tablespoon parsley

Salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes in salted water until cooked, 15-20 minutes.  Put them through a food mill or mash them until smooth, adding the warmed milk and half the butter.  Separately boil the cabbage for about eight minutes, drain it well and pulse it a few times in a food processor (or chop it finer).  Add it to the potatoes, along with the green onions and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pile it in a serving dish, making an indentation in the center into which you slip the remaining butter.  You may need to pop it into a microwave for a minute or two so that you can serve it hot with the corned beef and vegetables.

For the soup:

When you’ve removed the corned beef and half the veggies from the cooking pot, check the “stock” for saltiness. Depending on how salty the corned beef was and your salt tolerance, you may decide that it’s too salty to use.  But if not, get rid of about half the stock and blend up the remaining vegetables with the stock, adding enough water or milk to make a smooth cream.  Then, assuming you have some leftovers of corned beef and colcannon the next day, blend the potato/cabbage mixture into the soup, chop up the remaining corned beef, adding it to the soup and voila!, you have a perfect leftover meal.

Irish Stew

This celebrated – and delicious – dish started out as a meal for hard times, composed mainly of potatoes and scraps of mutton.  But as mutton is not widely available these days, even in Ireland, it has evolved into a simple lamb stew. Some add carrots, even turnips and parsnips, but I prefer it in its pure form with just lamb, potatoes and onions. These ingredients are layered in a heavy casserole and slow-cooked in the oven, allowing the flavors to meld and the cook to walk away and two hours later to have a mouthwatering meal.

Serves 4

Ingredients

6 smallish Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4″ thick

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

2 pounds lamb shoulder, bones removed and cut into 1″ cubes

Salt and pepper

A few springs of fresh thyme, about a tablespoon

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Layer about a third of the potatoes in the bottom of an oven casserole, then half the onions, followed by all the lamb.  Season well with salt, pepper and the thyme. Continue with the rest of the onions and the potatoes, seasoning as you go. The reason why you want a thicker layer of potatoes on top is that the bottom layer will mostly disintegrate, forming the body of the sauce, while the ones on top will mostly retain their shape.  Pour over water to cover by two-thirds(about 2 cups).  You can now either bring it to the boil on the top of the stove and then put it in the pre-heated oven or, if your casserole doesn’t like direct heat, just pop it straight into the oven.  Check after an hour and reduce the heat if it’s bubbling too rapidly.  It should take about 1-1/2 hours by the first method and up to a half hour longer by the second.  

You can serve the dish at once, bubbling hot from the casserole, or reheat it the next day when it will be even more flavorful.

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I just read that Super Bowl Sunday is the second largest food consumption day of the year in the U.S. (Thanksgiving being the first.) It must certainly be the unhealthiest: a license to indulge in the greasiest, saltiest, most calorific, cardiac-arrest-inducing offerings without guilt, all in the name of a football game. (We’re huge football fans around here.) No grilled chicken breast-Caesar salads but rather Buffalo chicken wings with blue cheese sauce, ribs, chips and dips, and, of course, chili. Not to be left out, I offer my recipe for both chili and a four-layer dip (seven layers have too many flavors, we think) which we have always called Plate o’ Slop.  This could, of course, be scooped up with carrot and celery sticks, but it really is much better mounded atop the best tortilla chips you can find. (We favor these.)

Plate O’ Slop

Serves: However many, until gone

Ingredients:

For the bean layer:

3-15 oz. cans black beans

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped (do 3 at once, one each for the beans, salsa and guacamole)

Juice of 1 lime, salt

For the tomato salsa:

6-8  tomatoes (the ripest you can find), cubed

1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped 

1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped mild onion, red or white

Salt, pinch of sugar

1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped

For the guacamole:

4 ripe avocados

1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped

1 jalapeño pepper, chopped fine

1 tablespoon lime juice, salt

To assemble:

1 8 oz. pot sour cream

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

The ingredient list is long but there is a lot of overlap and, if you use a food processor, it comes together in no time at all.

For the  bean layer:  Put them in a pot with all of their liquid, the cumin, chili powder, and garlic.  Cook for about 10 minutes until the flavors are blended and most of the liquid has evaporated.  Mash the beans against the side of the pot or put the mixture in the food processor and pulse three or four times until you have a spreadable mixture – about half beans, half thick puree. 

For the tomato salsa:  Mix all the ingredients.  Let drain in a colander until ready to assemble the dip.

For the guacamole:  Either mash the avocados coarsely and add the rest of the ingredients or pulse everything in a food processor, stopping short of having a smooth mixture.

Assembling the dip:  Spread the beans on the bottom of an approximately 9″ x 12″ dish.  Cover with the drained salsa, then the guacamole, then about a 1/2″ of sour cream.  Sprinkle with the cilantro and devour.

Chili

There are probably more “award winning” recipes for chili than any other food item in existence, and people tend to think their recipe is the best. I don’t have any such illusions, but mine is fairly flexible in its ingredients, relatively easy to make, and has pleased family and friends for about 50 years. With regard to its “heat “and that of the dip, I leave it to you to decide how spicy you want things to be, particularly if kids are involved. You can always add hot sauce or extra chiles. As for the chocolate and the beer, I list them as optional because while I do think they add richness and complexity, if you don’t have them on hand you will still have a very flavorful chili without them.

Ingredients:

2 lbs. regular ground beef (20% fat)

1 pound lean ground pork (or use 3 lbs. ground beef)

1 cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon garlic, chopped fine

3 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon salt

1-28 oz. can tomatoes, chopped

1-12 oz. can dark beer (optional)

3-15 oz. cans red kidney beans

1 oz. dark chocolate (optional)

Brown the meat in 3 batches over medium heat, draining each batch of most of its fat after browning. (I just tip them into the same colander, saving about a tablespoon of  fat for the onions.)  Cook the onions until softened (about 5 minutes) then add the garlic, the meat, all the spices and the salt.  Continue to cook and stir over medium heat for a few minutes until the meat has absorbed the spice flavors.  Add the tomatoes and the optional beer (or replace it with water).  Make sure the liquid just covers the meat mixture, adding more water if necessary.  When it comes to the boil, turn the heat to low and let it simmer for at least an hour, adding more water as needed to keep the liquid level just covering the meat.  It is important to taste as you go, making sure that it has the heat and chili flavor that you want, as well as enough salt.  Chili powders vary a great deal so you may want to add more at an early stage, or more cayenne, or a chopped jalapeño or two. 

Drain and rinse the beans and add them after the meat has cooked for an hour. 

Add the chocolate about 10 minutes before the end of cooking (earlier, it won’t add much to the flavor).

I like to serve the chili with rice and have bowls of guacamole, salsa, and sour cream available for garnish (you can make extras when making the Plate o’ Slop), but I recognize that these might not be your first choice.  So feel free to serve your chili with grated cheese, chopped onion, tortilla chips, corn bread, or whatever else suits your fancy. 

Today we had an amazing, simple lunch on the patio.  Even though we’re into November, this is about as close to a perfect Summer day as we get in San Francisco: Blue skies, 70-odd degrees with just a slight hint in the air of Fall to come.

This morning while passing through the UCSF hospital after an appointment  we came upon a Farmer’s Market right there in the lobby  (only in San Francisco, you might say, and apparently only on Wednesdays). Crates of beautiful veggies, all organic and bursting with freshness. We swooped on the heirloom tomatoes, big bunches of basil and coriander, baby new potatoes, green beans and, best of all, ears of corn picked this morning, the vendor assured us.

We raced home to throw the corn on the stove and made some of our favorite coriander butter in the pestle and mortar to douse it with. (It’s very easy to make: Pound 1/4 cup of coriander with a large pinch of salt to form a paste, then add 1 oz. of butter and keep pounding until it’s a lovely green and easy to spread. If you like it spicy, add a few drops of the bright green Chile Habanero sauce which you can find at most supermarkets.) We sliced up a few of the perfectly ripe tomatoes – not squishy as Heirlooms often are – anointed them with basil, a splash of our olive oil from Provence, a smidgeon of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and dug out the last of the chevre we’d brought back from France and plopped in the middle of the plate. With some crusty bread to mop up the juices, we toasted the end of summer with a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

The rest of the basil was of course perfect to make pesto for our favorite pasta dish from Genoa. A local pasta called trenette is mixed with baby new potatoes, either just boiled or par-boiled and fried until a bit crisp in olive oil, cooked green beans, as much pesto as you think you need, and lots of Parmesan. Although it might seem odd to add potatoes to pasta, the different textures work wonderfully. This is a very old dish – it was eaten by Ligurian monks in the 15th century as a Lenten dish – which has become quite popular lately. However, in most recipes I read, the pasta, potatoes and beans are cooked in one pot and I think trying to get everything to come out cooked just right is way too difficult. It’s not much more trouble to cook things separately and better results are assured.

As for the pesto, I love to make it in the pestle and mortar (yes, I’m a P & M freak!) because the flavor and texture are better, but if you don’t have one, the food processor does a perfectly acceptable job. I don’t put pine nuts in this pesto because I don’t think they add to it, but of course you can if you’re so inclined. I also add the parmesan separately, grating it on top of each serving at the table.

Pasta Pesto with New Potatoes and Green Beans

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3/4 lb. linguine, spaghetti, or pasta of your choice

12 baby new potatoes (preferably red) 

1/2 lb. green beans

2 packed cups basil, large stems removed

1 large clove garlic

salt, pepper, olive oil, parmesan

Make the pesto: Either pound the basil, salt and garlic in a pestle and mortar to form a paste and then add enough olive oil (about 6  or 7 tablespoons) to make a thick emulsion, or do the same in the food processor without letting the pesto become too smooth.

Bring a pot of water to the boil, add the potatoes and cook until almost done (about 15 minutes), or until fully cooked if you don’t plan on frying them. Drain. Cut the potatoes in half  and  fry them in olive oil on medium-high heat until brown and crisp.

In a separate pot of boiling water, cook the beans uncovered (to preserve their color). Cooking time will depend on how large and fresh the beans are, but 5-8 minutes should do it. Drain.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water, according to the package instructions.  (I find that although we like our pasta al dente, packaged pasta instructions generally underestimate the cooking time by about 2 minutes.) Drain well.

Finally, put the beans, potatoes and pasta in your serving dish, add the pesto, and mix together well. Allow each person to grate fresh parmesan and pepper on top as they like.  Enjoy!

Sam adds: I make this dish often because it’s so easy and is the favorite of more than one of us. I always fry the potatoes (never just boil them) and I like to add extra pesto and veggies to the mix. For example, I would add 3/4 lb. of beans, 16 potatoes, and 3 cups of basil.  (Of course if you up the basil to 3 cups, you’ll have to adjust your olive oil and garlic accordingly: 8-10 tbsp. of oil and 1 1/2 cloves of garlic.)