Friday, March 16, 2012

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day

This is going to be a lengthy culinary blog, with a few recipes that I've tried out recently and turned out to be pretty good. The overall theme was that of an Irish pub grub (and indeed most of the recipes came from "The Irish Pub Cookbook - a book I cannot recommend highly enough), and it all goes down well with dark ale or whiskey (although we drank Scotch instead). OK, here we go!

Spinach Salad With Pears
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 slices of Irish bacon (see notes at the end)
4 slices white bread with crust removed, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Freshly ground pepper to taste

4 ounces blue cheese (that's 120 grams for most folks)
2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon corn syrup (I ended up putting in two to offset the balsamic vinegar)
1 teaspoon of whole-grain or dijon mustard
Pinch of brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

5 ounces baby spinach
1/2 cup of crushed walnuts (I used cashews instead and it turned out delicious)
1/4 cup of dried cranberries or cherries
2 firm Anjou or Bosc (Bosc is the most common on in North American supermarkets) pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch thin slices.
Salt and pepper to taste

1. To make the croutons
Preheat over to 250F. Grease a bakiing sheet. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter, add bacon and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, remove bacon and drain in a paper towel, then set aside. Add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, melt, add bread cubes, toss a couple of times to coat them in butter, season with salt and pepper to taste, cook for 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the croutons, place them on the baking sheet, bake for 15 minutes.

2. To make the dressing
Combine 2 ounces of the blue cheese, the vinegar, olive oil, corn syrup, mustard, brown sugar, and add salt and pepper to taste, in a small bowl. Whisk until the dressing is smooth, then refrigerate for 30 minutes. Personal note: the dressing is really delicious and goes well with any kind of green salad.

3. to Compose the salads
Divide the spinach among 4 salad plates. Sprinkle reserved bacon, walnuts and cranberries or cherries on top. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and arrange the pear slices on top. Spoon the dressing over the pears. Top with croutons and the remaining 2 ounces of crumbled blue cheese.

Beef and Vegetable Pepper Pot
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound beef tenderloin, cut into very thin strips
1 red onion, sliced and cut into thin strips
1/2 Spanish or yellow onion, sliced and cut into thin strips
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 red pepper, seeded, deribbed, and cut into thin 1/2 inch strips
1/2 green pepper, seeded, deribbed, and cut into thin 1/2 inch strips
2 stalks celery, cut crosswise into 2 inch lengths and lengthwise into thin strips
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups beef stock
1/2 cup of dark ale (Guiness or similar ale is best)
Salt and pepper to taste
Minced parsley for garnish
Cheddar scones for serving (see next entry)

In a deep skillet over mideium heat, warm the oil. Cook the beef for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until browned. With a slotted spoon, transfer the beef to a plate and set aside - do not drain. Add the onions and garlic to the skillet and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the peppers, celery, tomato paste, stock or broth, beer, salt and pepper to tasted. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the peppers are tender and the sauce is thickened. Stir in the beef and cook until heated through. Serve in shallow bowls, sprinkle with parsley, serve with scones on the side.

Cheddar Scones
2 cups of white all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup butter
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 450F. Stir the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together. Cut in butter and cheddar cheese with two knives or pastry blender until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse cornmeal. Beat eggs until light, stir in milk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add liquid slowly to make a soft dough. When all liquid has been added, stir dough vigorously until the dough comes freely from side of the bowl. It will appear to be very dry - do not panic, it'll turn out just fine. Pat to 3/4 inch thickness, cut into squares or triangles, place on lightly-greased baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

Bread and Butter Pudding with Hot Whiskey Sauce
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup Irish whiskey (I usually use Jameson whiskey, but it also tastes great with Fireball whiskey as well)
5 large eggs
2 cups heavy whipping cream (35% is best) in liquid form
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ounces (8-9 slices) of firm white bread, crust left on.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

Hot Whiskey Sauce
1/2 cup of unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons of whipped heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup Irish whiskey (see recipe for details)

1. Making the pudding
In a small bowl, combine the raisins and whiskey and let soak. I find soaking for 12 hours is best. Drain the raisins, but keep the whiskey for the sauce.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Spread one side of each slice of bread with butter. Cut the slices in half diagonally and arrange half the break in the bottom of the baking dish (butter side down), overlapping the slices. Remember the croutons from the salad? Feel free to reuse the crusts from the croutons here! Sprinkle half the raisins over the break, arrange the second layer of bread, sprinkle the remaining raisins on top. Pour the custard over the bread and let it soak for 30 minutes
Preheat oven to 400F. Place the baking dish (or glass casserole) in a large baking pan. Add boiling water to to the pan, so that it comes up halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the pudding is set and the top is golden. Remove the baking dish from the water bath and let cool slightly.

2. Making the sauce
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the sugar, cream, and whiskey. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 4-5 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.

3. Serving the pudding
Top the pudding with whipped cream, and spoon the whiskey sauce over each portion, with ice cream on the side!

Note: what the hell is Irish bacon? It is simply cured back bacon. If you cannot find authentic Irish bacon, use fatty Canadian bacon, or Italian fatty pancetta bacon instead.

Enjoy and happy St. Patty's to everyone!

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