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Monday, 19 March 2012

St. Patrick's Day Weekend, Part II: Ithimis!


Well, it's official: with spring break now come and gone, the second semester has truly begun. It's been a whirlwind week so far (and it's only Monday). Earlier today, I presented about 60 pages of Proust to the French gastronomy class (I sincerely need to be speaking French much more regularly than I do..in my head), and brought in asparagus, olive oil and French finishing sea salts, to accompany my section of Combray. In the end, I made it through and in retrospect really enjoyed the experience of presenting in French, covering most of the points I had planned to discuss and encouraging a sense of class participation. In addition to that part of my afternoon, the other big food-related item I'd like to share is the fact that the posters for this Sunday's international food and culture festival (Denison's first, as far as I'm aware) were printed and are ready to be distributed throughout campus tomorrow; sincerely, how in the world have we already arrived to this week?! Before I completely lose sight of this past weekend amidst everything planned for this week, I do want to share my Sunday foodie experience in part 2 of my St. Patrick's Day weekend pair of posts. Interestingly, perhaps by unconscious design, yesterday proved to be a day much more focused on food. So... "Ithimis!"


With my original former favourite Granville restaurant closed (Victoria's Parlour, and then the Short Story Brasserie), it seems my location of choice (like so many others) is Whit's. For yesterday's post, I went there to try out their mint shake; and for this one, I reverted back to my go-to treat of a Grasshopper Whitser. As I waited for the Whitser to be made, I took a look at the larger freezer full of pints of frozen custard and one marked Guinness quickly caught my eye. I purchased a pint and with the Whitser in tow, headed back to my apartment after Mass to get it into the freezer until later in the day when I would head over to Beth's house to cook up an Irish storm for those gathered around the table.


As I write this post, I'm realising just how true "cooking up an Irish storm" seemed to work itself out. As I packed up my ingredients and cooking utensils for the short journey over to the Whites', it was an extremely beautiful, but warm day. I remember thinking, however, that this just isn't the weather for comfort food, let alone an Irish-themed menu. Nevertheless, I began the food prep with about a three-hour window available, and first organised all of my ingredients by dish, leaving out the butter in particular to sit at room temperature.


The most time-consuming component of the meal, namely the corned beef, was the first cooking step to last night's Irish-themed dinner. After washing the brisket (which happened to be on sale, along with the cabbage, carrots and even the red skin potatoes, go figure) under cold water, I seared the fat side of the brisket for a few minutes. I then flipped it over and covered it with water so that it was submerged by at least half an inch; take note this water level should be maintained as much as possible throughout the entire cooking process. With the lid of the pot slightly of, the brisket was left to cook along with the accompanying seasoning packet for about 2.5-3 hours; I had read that the suggested time was 50 minutes per pound.


As I let time continue to cook the beef, I preheated the oven to convection bake at 350°F, melted half a stick of butter (then left it to cool) and worked on the batter for the Guinness bread (using this recipe and cross-referencing it with this one). Thoroughly sifted together were 3 c all-purpose flour, 3 tsp baking powder, a pinch of salt and 1/4 c granulated sugar. To this, I added all but 2 oz (i.e., 1/4 c) of a 14.9 oz can of Guinness, reserving the 2 oz for the chocolate orange Guinness cake I would soon make for dessert. Moving quickly, I folded together all of the ingredients with a spatula. Using a touch of the melted butter, I greased and floured an oven proof pot, then poured in the gluten-heavy dough [note: the dough looks and feels too much like a sticky cake dough that the act of folding the ingredients together with the spatula takes the place of kneading the dough with your hands]. After pouring the remaining melted butter over the dough and similar to yesterday's technique, I lidded the pot with a metal bowl and got this in the oven to bake for half an hour.


While the bread baked, I pulled together the ingredients for my take on the chocolate orange Guinness cake which I found among European Cuisines's archive of traditional Irish desserts (I had also thought about the chocolate potato cake and, if I had more time, the non-bogus Baileys mousse pie). In one bowl, I used a hand mixer to cream together 1 stick room temperature unsalted butter with 2 c 1/2 c packed light brown sugar. In a separate bowl, 2.5 c 1.25 c all-purpose flour, a pinch of salt and 1 heaping tbsp dark cocoa powder were very well sifted. Mixed into the creamed butter and sugar was the zest of half a large orange; to this mixture, I beat in each of the eggs (2 in total) separately, adding in a spoonful of the sifted flour mixture with each egg.


Switching over to a spatula, I then folded in about a tablespoon each of Guinness (the reserved 1/4 c) and the flour mixture; with all of the Guinness incorporated, the rest of the flour was then mixed into the batter. But just before then, my alarm clock went off and I took the bowl off the pot containing the Guinness bread, leaving it to bake for another 15 minutes. Next, I chopped about 1.25 oz (4 squares) of Lindt's dark chocolate with orange and almond slivers and folded this into the final batter. After greasing my 10" round baking dish with 1 tbsp softened butter and "flouring" it with a mix of 1 tbsp all-purpose flour and 1/2 tbsp dark cocoa powder, I poured in the finished batter and used my spatula to even it out as much as possible.


Meanwhile, I turned my attention to the colcannon (the recipe of which I learned and first heard from Food Network's Worst Cooks in America during last week's St. Patrick's Day episode). After washing and arranging 24 golden potatoes in a baking dish to be roasted, I washed and chopped a bunch of green onions (6), chopping the white portion perpendicular to the core and slicing the green portion diagonally across the bias. I then got the cake batter into the greased baking dish and by this point, the bread was ready to be carefully taken out of the oven. I moved up the baking rack and put in the cake; because it was thinner than what the originally recipe called for, I left this in for just a touch over 30 minutes. (I think it was at this point that Beth put in her supplementary corned beef into a second pot of boiling water.)  Then I set off to work on cut the leaves from the stems of one bunch of kale (approximately 1.5 dozen stalks).


As I went through the kale destemming process, I melted 1 tbsp of unsalted butter in a pan and left it to brown; in the brown butter, I sautéed the chopped whites of the green onion. As that was cooking, I bunched up the kale leaves and gave them a rough chiffonade. Two-ish leaves at a time, I got the kale to wilt and reduce in the heat. About halfway through, I added in another tablespoon of butter. With all of the kale cooking down, I lowered the heat to med-lo and let it alone.


Still keeping an eye on the kale, the cake was rather "springy" to the touch and was thus ready to get out of the oven to cool. And with the cake now out of the oven, I got the potatoes in. As the cake cooled, I worked on the icing that would go onto the cake. Because I didn't need any layering icing, I made just half a batch by using my left hand to cream together 1/2 stick (i.e., 1/4 c) unsalted butter with 4 oz (i.e., 1 c) confectioners' sugar. I then switched over to a fork and incorporated in the zest of the other half of the large orange that had been zested earlier in the evening as well as the juice of half the orange.


Eventually, the kale had cooked down rather well and the temperature of the cake had also gone down. Though still a little warm, I transferred the cake onto the presentation plate and iced the cake, allowing the heat to help let it loosen up the icing so it could slightly melt and drip down the side of the cake. Onto the (now) iced cake, I grated more dark chocolate. Setting the dessert aside, the tornado warnings were out in full force and so too were the potatoes. Quickly, the [in my world, Irish] storm was approaching our area and the gloomy and soon rainy weather seemed to transport us out of Ohio and into northwestern Europe.


After switching the oven now to broil, I carefully sliced a dozen of the potatoes in half and used a small spoon (the preference would be for a melon baller) to scoop out most of the interior (try to maintain a bowl shape with some potato holding onto the skin). The potato flesh was then smashed using a potato ricer into a mixing bowl. To this, I added half of the kale and then mixed all of that together; incorporated into this was about 1/4 c (eyeballed) sour cream. Using a small spoon (perhaps the same one used to gut the potatoes in the first place), I divvied up the kale mixture into the potatoes, leveled them off and arranged them into a smaller baking dish; hopefully you have one small enough because it helps to have them pseudo-squished together so that they stand upright.


Finally, I topped this batch off with freshly grated Tipperary Irish  cheddar cheese before getting the (now) colcannon potato skins under the broiler. As those cooked, I quickly worked on hollowing out the rest of the potatoes and making the second batch of colcannon. Meanwhile, my brisket was ready to come out of the pot and so we left it to rest in a pan covered by another. To the (now) brisket water, 10 redskin potatoes were halved and cooked. Beth also peeled a pound of carrots, large diced them and got those into the water, as well to cook. She also washed and cut a head of cabbage; when the potatoes were easily pierced by a knife, the cabbage (as much as could fit) was added to the pot of veggies. By the time this had happened, Beth's brisket was ready to come out, too.


After about 5 minutes or so (or until the surface has developed a slightly crisped layer and the cheese is golden brown), use a pair of tongs to take out the baking dish and transfer the potato skins to your serving dish. Then transfer the second batch of the potato skins into the baking dish and top these off with more cheese. When these have finished, transfer them with the rest and top all of them off with the sliced green onions that had been prepped earlier.


The dishes at this point were now being plated and brought to the dinner table. I quickly reheated my soda bread and then sliced this and the Guinness bread as Jim sliced the first brisket. He then quickly taught me the techniques of essentially defatting the brisket (keep scraping off the layers of fat until you can see the grains of the meat) and then slicing it before handing off the knife to me.


Onto the table we put out both the colcannon-filled potato skins with Tipperary Irish cheddar crust and scallions, and the corned beef and cabbage. In many respects, these dishes though both filling seem to be on the opposite ends of the Irish spectrum, especially in terms of historic class. Colcannon, which along with Irish stew, is a national dish of Ireland. An original product of the Americas, the potato made its way into Europe via the Conquistadors of Spain and by the 16th century it had literally been rooted into Irish culture. As for the rest of Europe, it would be another pair of centuries before Parmentier (as I also learned earlier this semester in the French gastronomy course I'm auditing) convinced Louis XVI to start cultivating potatoes, and essentially impose the tuber onto society. Eventually, potatoes made their way to the French palate but not before potatoes were first introduced as part of livestock feed. Meanwhile back in Ireland, potatoes remained the cheap, staple crop for the "common" people; highlighted as the single food item that contained most of the nutrients required for sustenance, it's no surprise that the Irish's dependency on this crop became terribly apparent during the great potato famine of the mid-nineteenth century. In addition to the potato, kale (the other main component of colcannon) was immensely abundant throughout Europe, even before the more recognisable cabbage of Middle Ages fame. Click on the previous link for more info on this cousin of not only cabbage but cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Of course, there are many ways to prepare this dish and Worst Cooks's version utilises the sour cream as the dairy component. And though not necessarily traditional, cheese more often than not makes everything tastes even better; in this case, especially when it comes to Irish cheese. In contrast to regular boiled potatoes, the differences in textures--the potato "bowl" having more of a bite than the creamier filling, as well as the crisper kale and cheese crust against the softer potato--make it a much more exciting dish.


On the other side of the spectrum, the arguably more familiar Irish dish of corned beef and cabbage, as European Cuisines notes, there is absolutely no way it could ever have been the national dish of Ireland. Potatoes and kale were much more available to most Irish families; pork was a much more favoured protein than beef, and even still beef was expensive and reserved more for the upper classes of society. And for those who owned cows would have tended to keep the around for the milk. Economically speaking, eating corned beef would have meant needing salt (the expensive commodity of yester-century that we tend to take for granted today) to actually cure the meat. Despite the fact that, again as European Cuisine notes, corned beef and cabbage would be served to tourists more so than the native Irish (because of it being too plain, too time consuming, etc.), I find it to nevertheless be one of the best comfort foods..ever. Perhaps "boring," boiled cabbage that had been cooked in a well-seasoned broth earns immediate hominess points in my book.


Alongside the corned beef and cabbage were served carrots, halved redskin potatoes and additional cabbage.


In addition to both of these dishes, I sliced both the Guinness bread and re-warmed soda bread. Without question I loved the soda bread I made two nights ago; but I really loved the Guinness bread. Now I can't say I've tried many beer breads in the past, but I can say that this bread was quite moist and rather sweet. Though additional butter could be (and indeed was) spread onto the bread, the buttery layer poured over just before entering the oven cooked beautifully into the bread. For additional recipes with Guinness, which I would consider one of Ireland's most popular drinks alongside whiskey, click here.


And speaking of Guinness recipes, and as if all of the aforementioned food wasn't enough, we still had the Guinness-laden dessert ahead of us. Onto each plate, I served a slice of the chocolate orange Guinness cake and topped it off with a quennelle of Guinness frozen custard from Whit's. With a slight bite to the faux crust of the cake, this particular presentation provided textural contrast by the room temp-hardened frosting, as well as the chopped dark chocolate. The cake itself was definitely not too sweet and indeed had a slight bitter taste (most likely from the Guinness) which was complemented (as European Cuisine said it would) by the orange citrus notes. To help out the otherwise drier (not that this was necessarily a bad thing) cake, the Guinness custard was not only a logical pairing, but a great tasting one, too.


If the Whites are reading this post, many thanks again for opening up your kitchen to my cooking! For the rest of the photos from the second part of my St. Patrick's Day weekend, click here.

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