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Feeding the Famished O'Foodie

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Written by Peggy Fallon   
Thursday, 11 March 2010

ImageI received this assignment by default. Well, okay, maybe I sort of begged for it. St. Patrick's Day is the only time of year when my people take center stage. Both of my parents emigrated from Ireland in the 1920's, so my 5 siblings and I are first generation Americans and 100% Irish. Forget the stupid green beer, the "Kiss Me I'm Irish" buttons, the sappy music, dancing leprechauns, and spirited parades down rainy city streets. I just wanna eat (See my St. Patrick's Day menu below).

This is the day when everybody can be Irish. I can't blame all the poor unfortunates for climbing onto our bandwagon-it really is a wonderful heritage, if I do say so myself. Centuries of political oppression spawned a dark sense of humor that lives on to this day. Never mind our characteristic lack of height, predisposition toward freckles, and lifelong addiction to sunscreen. The Irish know how to party, and everybody wants a piece of the action on March 17.

Fifty years ago Irish cooking was little more than the punch line to a joke-a cuisine so scorned, it was ranked only slightly better than England's. Ireland was a poor country with a less-than-sunny climate, so its cooks merely played the hand they were dealt. Oh, the Irish enjoyed food-but no one else in the world was clamoring to eat their overcooked meat and mushy root vegetables. Salad? Huh? Dessert? How about some fruitcake? These choices weren't considered Spartan-it was just life.

My parents were a product of that era, so that is pretty much the food I grew up on. (Don't even get me started on dulse, my family's answer to Beluga caviar.) While other kids in our neighborhood popped strange tart-like things into the toaster and slurped their way through bowls of sugary American cereal, breakfast at our house was often crisp bacon and soft-boiled eggs (served in egg cups, of course), mopped up with Mom's raisin-studded Irish soda bread and washed down with steaming hot cups of tea- made kid-friendly with plenty of milk and sugar. In retrospect we were incredibly fortunate, though at the time friends viewed our meals as freakishly quaint.

A talent for making decent libations was about the only thing that earned the Irish a spot on the culinary map. Maybe this is why Americans invented their own misguided version of what Irish food should be: corned beef boiled-to-death with spuds and smelly cabbage. I suppose if you drank enough, you might even enjoy it.

But sometimes time heals all ills. A generation-or-two ago the economy of Ireland began to thrive. The young became well educated and well traveled, and suddenly a big ol' pot of greasy lamb stew was no longer the solution to every entertaining dilemma. Food magazines began to celebrate the natural bounty of Ireland-organically grown vegetables; artisan cheeses; free-range meats; and fish plucked from clean waters. Suddenly farmhouse cuisine was chic. Even soda bread got some respect. Irish chefs became sophisticated locovores, and their country has now become a destination for world-class food.

To celebrate this revolution (one of Ireland's more successful ones, I might add), I've scoured Project Foodie in search of recipes to explore your inner Irish…everything from the slightly tacky (boozy green milkshakes) to the sublime (roasted wild salmon with dill). Some recipes feature traditional fare; while others were selected merely for that irresistible touch of green. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts, appetizers, and drinks-we've got 'em all. It's never been easier to decide how you want to roll on March 17.

ImageMy personal menu selections follow; but I encourage you to scan through the dozens (and dozens) of recipes I've tagged. At the top of the Project Foodie webpage, look beneath the Recipe Search box, and you'll see lots of "tag" topics written in red. Simply click on "St. Patrick's Day" (or click on the big green Shamrock) and wait for the fun to unfold.

A Cozy Dinner for Four

Beer-Battered Asparagus

Aunt Polly's Lamb Shanks

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes 

Country Rhubarb Cake

Irish Coffee

Peggy Fallon's "Irish Potato" Candies

I am an absolute sucker for anything trompe l'oeil…the French term for "trick the eye." Every March for about as long as I can remember, a local premium candy maker has been selling "Irish potato" candies. The sight of them makes me squeal with delight, but the overly sweet flavor of the marshmallowy confection is always a disappointment. Now I make my own bite-size spuds, using a basic chocolate truffle recipe-such as the following-spiked with an Irish liqueur or whiskey. Instead of forming into balls, I  roll the mixture into small, irregular ovals that resemble tiny fingerling potatoes; then roll them in a blend of sweet ground chocolate and cocoa powder, such as Ghirardelli brand. (I think its lighter color makes better "dirt" than plain unsweetened cocoa powder.) For the final touch, I insert a couple of randomly-spaced toasted pine nuts into each truffle to resemble sprouting eyes. Too cute…and perfectly yummy. PF


Beer-Battered Asparagus

(Gourmet, March, 2005)

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Aunt Polly’s Lamb Shanks

(Saveur, March, 1999)

Tender, fall-off-the-bone lamb, slow-roasted vegtables, and a sprinkling of mint combine in a dish that easily serves as a meal.
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Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

(Everyday Food, September, 2006)

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Country Rhubarb Cake

(Gourmet, March, 2004)

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Irish Coffee

(Martha Stewart Living, March, 2009)

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Chocolate Truffles

(Sunset, February, 2002)

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Comments:

On March 7, 2010, 2:02 pm peggy said:

For a wonderful St. Patrick's Day treat, flavor these with your favorite Irish liqueur or whiskey.


Disclosure: Samples of products discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or manufacturers.

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