Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Eat Like the Irish

I spent a good part of my 20s frequenting an Irish pub walking distance from my apartment building. When it was that lean time right before paydays, my neighbor Kathy and I would scavenge in coat pockets, raid our laundry funds and check the couch for spare change so we could walk down for a pint of Harp or Newcastle, some live music and a chat with some Irishmen. As a result, I have an affinity for all things Irish.

With St. Patrick’s Day coming up (which was the only day of the year my neighbors and I ever ventured to English pub across the street), I was happy to find a fine Irish recipe for soda bread in this month’s issue of Cooking Light. This is a real thick, dense bread delicious slathered with butter. It has great texture from the steel-cut oats and whole-wheat flour. (I used locally milled Bob’s Red Mill flours.) It’s the kind of bread I picture Frank McCourt drooling for in the book Angela’s Ashes.

And even better, the issue contains a recipe for a Ploughman’s Lunch Platter. This was on the menu back at Irelands 32. Admittedly, the only time I really ate at Irelands was when my friends and I could talk Kevin the bartender/cook into making us “chips” after the kitchen was closed. But seeing the recipe made me want to try it with my freshly baked Brown Soda Bread.

The Ploughman’s Platter ended up being an economical use of odds and ends in the fridge. The recipe called for homemade tomato chutney. I swapped it for some mango chutney I had. (Even if you don’t make a platter I highly recommend eating the soda bread with Cheddar and chutney. It’s unbelievably good.) We almost always have sharp Cheddar on hand as well as some salad greens and pickles. I happened to have some chicken sausage in the freezer. You could always use a couple of hard-boiled eggs instead. It was a tasy and filling lunch. I can see why Irish wives fed this to their hungry farmer husbands. It’s cheap, healthy and fortifying.

Brown Soda Bread

Ploughman’s Lunch Platter

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Golden Bowl

Trevor and I first made Sheila Lukins’ Elegant Butternut Truffle Soup for Christmas 2004. We’d traveled east to spend the holidays with Trevor’s family and decided to make a feast with the help of his brother and sister. The soup was one of the dishes included in the “Extremely Merry Christmas” menu in Lukins’ Celebrate! cookbook. The other parts of meal included endive salad with Roquefort vinaigrette, a standing rib roast with horseradish cream, chanterelle risotto, Apple Brown Betty, and her wine suggestions Grand Cru Chablis and Pessac-Leognan. Lukins was right, it was an extremely Merry Christmas.

And the meal was a real group effort. Because we were flying in on Christmas Eve, Trevor’s parents bought all the groceries in Maryland and drove them up to Massachusetts in two large coolers. Trevor’s dad even made up menu cards that read “Denise and Trevor present Christmas dinner 2004 at Chez Carolyn” and listed the courses.

The butternut soup is the one recipe from that menu that I’ve made over and over. As soon as butternut squash is in season I remember this soup. It’s relatively simple to make (especially if you use an immersion blender instead of a food processor). So when I was down to my last butternut squash from Persephone Farm, I knew what to do with it.
I think what sets this soup apart from other butternut squash soups is the use of mace and the dab of truffle oil used to garnish. The unbelievable earthiness of the oil plays so well against the sweetness of the squash. Truffle oil can be tricky to find, but a gourmet shop, or well-stocked grocery store will have it. And it’s pricey, but a little goes a long way, and it adds extraordinary dimension to your dish.

And of course for me, each spoonful of this soup reminds me of that memorable evening.

Celebrate! by Sheila Lukins