Suzi’s Blog

Cookbook Review: Clodagh’s Irish Kitchen by Clodagh McKenna

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Clodagh McKenna is an Irish food maven. She has studied under Darina Allen, written five books, appears regularly on TV in Europe and the United States, and, to boot, has two restaurants in Ireland. She is a busy culinary expert with a passion for food, both the traditional and the new.

And not just Irish food. While the recipes here often have an Irish base, there are international extensions everywhere. Simple Potato Dumplings are accelerated with a Spicy Cashel Blue Sauce. The standard Irish Breakfast is given a Tortilla lift. The Whole Poached Salmon is served with Pistachio Yogurt.

Ireland is gaining fame for its continuing culinary explosion. In Dublin, over 1250 new restaurants appeared in 2013-2014. The number of farmers markets in the country has nearly doubled in the past decade. With its fish-filled rivers and the seacoast always just a stone’s throw away, seafood is a staple. With rich soil and very abundant rain, produce abounds. Clodagh seizes the advantage with the bounty of shore and field.

In a break with other books, Clodagh divides her chapters between weekend and weekday, between midweek suppers and Sunday lunch. Here are the key chapters and the recipe ideas that await you in Clodagh’s Irish Kitchen.

Weekend Baking presents ideas that take just a little time but offer sweet power for Saturday and Sunday:

Thyme Herbed Soda Bread

Irish Coffee Cookies

Lavender Shortbread

Oat, Apple and Blackberry Muffins

Honey and Ginger Flapjacks

Good Morning Ireland proves that just because it is morning, we can still enjoy something very personal, very special before dashing off to work and school:

Honeyed Coconut and Cinnamon Granola

Apple, Pecan and Cinnamon Porridge

Irish Breakfast Tortilla [I told you this was coming; it’s Mexico City in Dublin!]

Cinnamon Baked Beans [yes, for breakfast; this is Ireland]

Midweek Suppers is devoted to those nights where we have deep food desires and less time and energy than we think we have to pull off a dining spectacular:

Smoked Bacon and Cabbage Soup

Smoked Haddock Chowder

Roasted Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Salad with Orange Dressing

Mussels Cooked with Cream, Chorizo, Garlic and Flat-leaf Parsley

Rabbit and Cider Stew

An Irish Dinner Party is a mélange of recipes that promise sophistication along with flavor. Try these for your next dinner party and you will be rewarded with acclaim:

Blue Cheese and Caramelized Pear Bruschetta

Artichoke and Knockalara Cheese Soufflé

Wild Mushroom and Chicken Liver Pâté

Wild Nettle Gnocchi with Cashel Blue Sauce

Crispy Chicken with a Creamy Irish Whisky and Wild Mushroom Sauce

Sunday Lunch is something that once was a tradition here in America, the meal of the week for immigrant families. In Ireland, the tradition is unbroken with specialties like:

Poached Whole Salmon with Pistachio Yogurt

Tarragon and Mustard Chicken with Potato Stuffing

Free-Range Pork with Apple, Cherry, and Sage Stuffing and Apple Crisps

Slow-Roasted Lamb Shanks with Creamy Ginger Potatoes

The Sweetest Thing is devoted to the most important part of our meals: the ending known as dessert. Here you will find:

Irish Honey, Orange, and Pistachio Florentines

Salted Caramel Whiskey Bread and Butter Pudding with Golden Raisins

Baileys Irish Soda Bread Ice Cream

About that last recipe. Irish kitchens often have leftover soda bread. Make the bread into crumbs, mix with brown sugar, and bake. Take those brown gems and add to a vanilla ice cream base, complete with a healthy dose of Baileys Irish Cream. It is doable and surely delicious.

Clodagh’s experience shines in this book. The hardest job in the world is staring a restaurant, and then having it succeed. It takes hours and hours of work to ensure there is quality in the food and service. And the food must compete with all those new restaurants popping up, some just down your street. That pressure, that sense of competition, can bring out the best in someone. It has in Clodagh whose recipes reflect her passion to combine tradition with a touch of the avant garde. In Clodagh’s Irish Kitchen you will find true Irish food, but food that often has a leading edge and is destined to become the new traditions.

 

Maytag Blue Grapes Redux from Just a Bite by Gale Gand

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Suzen and I wish you happy Memorial Day. This is a day to trigger memories for many of us, to reflect for even a brief time on the sacrifices made by so many for us. And this is the day that for most of us trumpets, "Summer is here." Forget June 20 and the the calendar and the equinox thing. Summer is here, now, finally.

And, for this holiday weekend, and surely for all the summer weekends to follow, sometimes you want a little treat. Just a mouthful of complex surprise. Gale Gand's Just a Bite is devoted to mini-desserts, but Suzen and I serve this as both dessert and appetizer. Here you have the coolness of seedless grapes, the "heat" of blue cheese, and the raspy, lingering flavor of nuts. This is a simple dish to prepare in quantity if you are having a party. Or just a dozen for yourself on a day when you want to sit back and sip bourbon.

 

The technique here affords you ample room for experimentation. Not a fan of blue cheese? Substitute away. If you prefer walnuts, which Gale suggests, than do as you wish. Or mix and match. Or use some cashews. There is room for diversity, and you will experience pleasure in every little bite. Just as Gale intended.


Maytag Blue Grapes

Yield: 20 pieces, enough for 5-6 people

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces Maytag blue cheese
  • 20 large seedless grapes: green, white, or red
  • 20 small walnut pieces [or pecan halves if you prefer]
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:

Use your hands to roll the cheese into very small balls.

Use a very sharp knife to cut a thin slice off the bottom of each grape to give it a flat bottom to stand on. Cut off the top third of each grape. Use the tip of a knife or small spoon to make a little hollow in each grape (to hold the cheese ball). Press a ball of cheese into each hollow and dot with a nut pieces. Sprinkle with pepper.

Serve immediately or chill for up to 12 hours. The grapes can be served chilled or at room temperature, but do not leave out for more than 4 hours.

 

Sources: Gale Gand’s Just a Bite

Photo Information Canon T2i, EFS 60 mm Macro Lens, F/5.6 for 1/60th second at ISO-1600

 

 

Polpette al Forno from Hog by Richard H. Turner

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In his survey of cooking pork from every part of the pig and using every possible cooking technique, Hog author Richard H. Turner presents recipes from around the world. This Italian-inspired recipe features sausage cooked over a bed of grapes. With grapes available year round, this dish does not have to wait for the fall harvest.

Here sausage meat is combined into full, flavorful meat balls. Some of the grapes are crushed so that the meat cooks in a combination of grape juice and shallots, all heavily adorned with herbs. This is a hearty dish, one that might be too warm for a summer night. But, I’m posting this in mid-May when we have a frost warning. This is just, just the dish I’d love for dinner tonight.

With your options for sausage meat and the grapes used, this dish can be employed throughout the year, each time a little different, and each time superb.

There are some page references here to Hog for sausage mix and pork broth. Those are my not too subtle ways to encourage you to purchase Hog for all the details, so you can cook this dish faithfully from beginning to end. Yes, you can adjust a bit, using the sausage meat and the broth of your choice. Don’t skimp on the grapes. Get the finest, freshest you can.

Here’s a link to my earlier review of Hog.


Polpette al Forno

Yield: serves 4

Ingredients:

  • Scant ½ cup milk
  • 1 ¼ cups bread crumbs
  • 1 pound 2 ounces Basic Pork Sausage mix (see page 146) or that weight in the sausage of your choice, skins stripped off
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 banana shallots, split in half
  • Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
  • 7 ounces seedless black grapes
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Scant ½ cup Master Pork Broth (see page 335) or broth of your choice
  • ½ cup olive oil scant
  • ½ cup red wine
  • ½ cup good-quality balsamic vinegar

Preparation:

Pour the milk over the bread crumbs and allow to absorb, then mix with the sausage meat and Parmesan. Form the mixture into 12 equal-sized meatballs and place in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the shallots in the bottom of a baking dish that will hold the grapes and meatballs in a single layer. Season with salt and pepper, and lay the meatballs and grapes on top. Using a wooden spoon, crush about one-third of the grapes to release their juice. Scatter the herbs over everything, season again, then add the pork broth, olive oil, red wine, and balsamic vinegar. Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes, turning the meatballs from time to time, or until I cooked through.

Source: Hog by Richard H. Turner [Mitchell Beazley, 2015]