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Irish potatoes, stews make for signature comfort foods

When it comes to taste, the Irish are recognized more for their drinks (and drinking) than they are for food. And for good reason. Irish cuisine can be a touch ... bland. I say this lovingly, as someone of Irish descent. When I visited the Emeral...

Traditional Irish fare
A lamb stew, colcannon and soda bread are traditional Irish fare. John Lamb / Forum Communications

When it comes to taste, the Irish are recognized more for their drinks (and drinking) than they are for food.

And for good reason. Irish cuisine can be a touch ... bland.

I say this lovingly, as someone of Irish descent. When I visited the Emerald Isle in 1999, much of the traditional food made me feel more "Erin go blah," than "Erin go bragh" (Ireland forever).

As a primary means of cooking, boiling the food leaves it soft and mushy. This is probably not a coincidence since the Irish aren't known for their dentistry. Let's just say it's a good thing Irish eyes are smiling, because the grins can be gruesome.

And for a country known for its lush green, the color of its food tends to be brown.

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Still, no one does more with potatoes, and Irish stews are signature comfort food.

A recent Moorhead Community Education class offered lessons in some signature tasty traditional fare, such as lamb stew, colcannon - mashed potatoes with bacon and cabbage - and soda bread.

Each of these dishes can easily be prepared in about an hour, though you may want to space them out to have room on the stove.

And a word of warning - these dishes are rich and heavy. It's hard to do Irish lite.

"This is not a diet deal," says Bev Grimm, the class instructor.

The recipes handed out also included some kind of baked candy called "blarney bites" and an Irish cream pie in which the main ingredient was 3½ cups of miniature marshmallows. Call me a purist, but the only people marshmallows are indigenous to are small children.

Honestly, I don't think of desserts when it comes to Irish food, but no meal is complete without a little treat at the end. I asked the Green Market for their Guinness cake recipe, drizzled with a chocolate ganache, though whipping cream or just powdered sugar and raspberries would be just as good.

The batter is more than enough for the Bundt pan, which should only be filled a little over halfway. I made the mistake of filling it to the top, so when the cake rose, it poured over the top and onto the burner, filling the kitchen with smoke - though not the nice peaty kind you'd find in an Irish cottage.

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Instead, pour the remaining batter into muffin tins and bake for about 15 minutes.

Irish Soda Bread

2 cups flour

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

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3 tablespoons butter

1 cup cold buttermilk

Grease 9-inch round pan. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine dry ingredients in bowl; cut in butter with pastry blender and mix to resemble coarse meal. Stir in milk and mix quickly, just until dough leaves side of bowl. With floured hand, place dough in pan. Shape into rounded loaf. With floured knife, cut indentation across dough, then cut another indentation at right angle to make cross design. Bake until brown,

35-40 minutes.

Lamb Stew

1/3 cup flour

1 1/2 pounds fresh-cut lamb cut into 1-inch pieces

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 cup chopped onions

3 cloves garlic

4 cups beef broth

2 cups diced potatoes

2 cups diced carrots

1 cup frozen peas

1 teaspoon onion salt

1 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Dredge meat in flour in a plastic bag. Brown in hot oil in small batches to cook evenly. Remove meat and set aside.

Sauté onions and garlic in skillet. Stir in beef broth. Return meat to pan and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Add potatoes and carrots and continue cooking until meat and vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes. Stir in peas and seasoning.

Combine 1 tablespoon flour with 3 tablespoons water and add to stew for thickening. Cook 5 minutes.

Colcannon

3 pounds potatoes

1 cup butter

1 1/4 cups hot milk

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 head cabbage, cored and finely shredded

1 pound bacon

4 scallions, finely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

Steam potatoes in their skins for 30 minutes. Peel using a knife and fork. Chop with a knife before mashing.

Add stick of butter in pieces and gradually add milk, stirring all the time. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

Boil cabbage in unsalted water until it gets darker. Add two tablespoons butter to tenderize. Cover with lid for two minutes. Drain before returning to pan. Chop into small bits.

Put bacon in large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil and simmer for 45 minutes until tender. Drain. Remove fat and chop into small pieces.

Add cabbage, scallions and bacon to mashed potatoes, stirring gently.

Recipes compiled by Bev Grimm for Moorhead Community Education

Guinness Cake

Serves 10-12 using standard Bundt pan

2 cups Guinness or other stout

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups cocoa powder

4 eggs

1 1/3 cups sour cream

4 cups all-purpose flour

4 cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

Ganache:

2 cups whipping cream

1 box bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter Bundt pan.

Simmer stout and butter in a pan over medium-high heat.

Add cocoa and whisk until smooth. Cool slightly.

Beat eggs and sour cream.

Stir together dry ingredients. Add into egg and sour cream mixture, mix and pour into pan.

Bake about 35-45 minutes. Let cool in pan and gently lift mold from cake.

For ganache, simmer whipping cream in a pan. Remove from heat and add chocolate. Whisk until smooth. Let cool and drizzle over cake.

Recipe courtesy of LeeAnn Barnes and the Green Market

Readers can reach Forum columnist John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

Traditional Irish fare
A Guinness chocolate cake with chocolate ganache makes the perfect dessert. John Lamb / Forum Communications

Related Topics: AGRICULTUREFOODRECIPES
For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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