St. Patrick's Day. Why not say it with cheese?

Well, here we are again. It's St. Patrick's Day. And while all of America is going mad, dying their beers and their rivers green, my thoughts are as usual...what to eat? And this year I have to admit, I have no grand plans. Sure I'll have a sneaky pint of Guinness later, but this year, I've been pretty lame and have no big Irish meal planned. In fact, what I'd really like is a bag of Taytos and a Galaxy Bar. But wait, then I thought, what's the fallback food of the picnic planner? Yes I could gladly live on cheese and crackers for the next millennium. Perhaps it's not the first thing you think of when you think of Ireland, but be assured Ireland has cheeses every bit as lovely as those in France, Spain or anywhere else.

Being very much a friend of cheese, where else could I turn but Vancouver's fabulous Les Amis du Fromage. I happily left the shop yesterday with two fine cheeses. Hailing from County Tipperary, Cashel Blue has all the tanginess of a blue cheese but I find it more creamy and rich. Buttery, even.  Coolea, from Cork is a new one to me. It's a semi-hard cheese, almost like a gouda, but to me it seems nuttier, almost like a Comté.



Irish Farmhouse Cheese and Whisky_© 2013 Helena McMurdo-2

And this being St. Patrick's Day, it only seems right to top it off with a small glass of whisky.  Here's wishing that the luck of the Irish follows you all year long! And to all my friends back in Ireland, a very special good wish for you.

Beef & Guinness Stew with Irish Brown Bread


So if I haven't mentioned it before, I lived in Ireland for close to 9 years and in that time became a great lover of all things Irish, with the cuisine being no exception. So in honour of St. Patrick's day, I'm treating myself to some hearty Irish goodness inspired by my great friends in Ireland.

Please note, Beef  & Guinness Stew is NOT Irish Stew.  Irish Stew uses lamb and a stock base, and is more soup like. While I'm a huge fan of classic Irish Stew,  I'm quite fond of the Beef & Guinness stew for its hearty richness.

Irish Soda Bread. You will find both white and brown versions in Ireland. In the areas where I lived, brown soda or simply Irish Brown Bread was more popular. Butter is in my opinion the essential accompaniment. Soup and a slice of this bread. It's all you need for a delicious and filling lunch.


Beef & Guinness Stew

My recipe is not very exact but I'll do my best to put it down as best I can.

1 lb stewing beef

1 pint Guinness

2 cups beef stock

1-2 carrots

1/2 large onion

2 stalks celery

6-8 mushrooms

Bouquet Garni of Rosemary, Thyme, Parsley

Roll the meat in seasoned flour, brown in small batches in a large casserole.  Set aside.

Add vegetables to casserole and coat with pan juices, softening for about 5-10 minutes.  Add the meat and juices back to the pan. Slowly add the pint of Guinness a little at a time, to build a rich gravy.  Cover with stock.

Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours in a slow oven.  (That'd be an expression I learned in Ireland for not very hot - say 250 - 300 F)


Irish Brown Soda Bread

This recipe comes courtesy of my friend Oonagh (pronounced Oooh-NAH).  It is the easiest thing in the world to make and takes less than 10 mins to mix. (The hardest part is to line the tin). It's handy to have a kitchen scales for this recipe as the quantities are given 'Irish style' as weight, not cups like we use in Canada.

1. Line a bread tin with wax paper or baking parchment

2. Mix these dry ingredients together: 1 lb whole-wheat flour 2 oz Oat Bran 2 oz Wheat Germ 2 oz steel-cut oats 2 tsp Salt 1 1/2 tsp Baking Soda 1 tsp Baking Powder

3. In a separate bowl mix these wet ingredients: 1 TBSP Brown Sugar 1 Egg 1 TBSP OIL

4. Add Wet ingredients to Dry Mixture.

5. Add in 500 ml (roughly 1 pint) Buttermilk and mix lightly and quickly with spoon or fingers and place mixture in baking tin.

6. Bake at 400 F for 1/2 hour and then reduce heat to 350 F and bake for another 1/2 hour.

To serve, I'm partial to cold butter on the bread once cooled rather than melted butter. Try it and let me know.



OPTIONS / NOTES: I sometimes throw in a bunch of flax seed to the dry ingredients which makes it quite nice. Other note - in Ireland they have something called coarse meal flour which I have had no success finding in North America.  You can experiment by reducing the flour quantity slightly and topping up to the 1 lb measurement with wheat bran or additional wheat germ. The basic recipe works just fine though. When I'm making this I mix the dry ingredients the night before and then quickly add wet ingredients in the morning for fresh bread at breakfast.



Happy St. Patrick's Day. Beannachtaí na féile pádraig. And to all my friends back in Ireland, thinking of you and missing you much!