Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Have You Had Your Cabbage Today?

Happy St. Patrick's Day to one and all. I hope God has smiled down on you this day, and perhaps sprinkled you with just a little luck o' the Irish. I love St. Patrick's Day, and have been enamored with all things Irish for many years. Many of you (I use the term "many" very loosely.) will remember a post made a few weeks ago about by dreams to open an Irish-Mexican Pub. Just in case you forgot, here is a link to that post. Please hurry back.

Ok, now that you are done with that little refresher, we can continue. As I was saying, I love St. Patrick's Day, and was determined to cook an authentic Irish meal that definitely included cabbage. I am sure the vast majority of readers' minds are going to corned beef and cabbage. There are two problems with that thought. The first is that corned beef is not Irish. The Irish do not cook corned beef in Ireland, and they certainly don't eat it with corned beef. It is my understanding that in Ireland, cabbage is cooked with bacon. However, it was impossible to get Irish style bacon in the US, so the early immigrants substituted with the next best thing they could find...corned beef. Thus the tradition of corned beef and cabbage began in the US.

The second, and decidedly more important, problem with corned beef is that my wife does not like corned beef. Trust me. No luck o' the Irish can save me from the ire of a red-headed wife. Therefore, corned beef was not to be on the menu this year. What to do?

During my travels across the vast internet I came across a very neat website called the Irish American Mom. If you have even the remotest affinity with things Irish, you must visit this site. WAIT!!!! You must visit the site...but later, please. While visiting the site I saw instructions for cooking cabbage Irish style. Perfect! It involves boiling with some good fatty bacon. Even more perfect! The cabbage question had been solved. Now, what to have with cabbage. I figured if this Irish-American mom knew how to cook cabbage Irish style, she could certainly come up with something for me to have with my cabbage. It took just a wee bit of scrolling down the page and, BINGO! There was a link to something called Irish Guinness Beef Stew. You simply can't go wrong with a hearty beef stew. What person can resist a picture like this?

This woman definitely knows how to use a camera to make people hungry!

Admittedly, it seemed like a rather heavy dish to be cooking when the temperature is already in the eighties. However, the calendar says it is still officially winter for a few days, so we are having beef stew, by gosh. Upon first inspection, this recipe did not seem all that different from any standard beef stew. However, the very name of the recipe slaps you in the face with one major difference. Guinness. No drink says "Ireland" quite like Guinness. This recipe called for a bottle of Guinness Stout. A stout is a good dark beer that usually has a particularly creamy head on it that will grow like "The Blob" if you pour it too quickly. In all honesty, I had never had a stout before finding this recipe. There was no way I could use it in a recipe without trying it first. Unfortunately, none of the stores immediately close to me sell Guinness Stout in a single bottle. I was definitely not going to buy a six pack of something I could potentially detest. That's when Kathy comes to my rescue. Kathy is a co-worker who has also been a wonderful friend to my family for close to twenty years. She also happens to have a fondness for beer. Stop thinking those thoughts! I am not implying she is a lush. Far from it. However, she does enjoy a good beer, kinda like a wine taster enjoys a good wine. Anyway, she was kind enough to bring me two different stouts to try. Neither was Irish, but this should be a good enough taste test. Stout proved to be the perfect accompaniment to a Berry-Cherry pie.

Before you begin to wonder if this blog is about food or alcohol, let me get on with the story. The other surprising difference between this stew recipe and the standards is dark chocolate. I know that may sound strange, but it is actually used quite a Mexican cooking. The idea behind it's use in this recipe is that a small amount of dark chocolate will cut the bitterness of the Guinness stout.

As usual, I don't always follow rules when cooking. I did with the cabbage, but I just couldn't with the stew. I promise I didn't change it too much. Also, you need to remember that in one of my earliest posts I encouraged the idea of taking a recipe and changing it to make it your own. My change was minor, and had more to do with money than anything else. I still was not ready to buy an entire six pack of Guinness. I still had one stout left from the Kathy taste test. This one just happened to be a Young's Double Chocolate Stout. Cool! I could kill two birds with one stone. My stout already has chocolate in it.

However, this just proved to find me facing a new dilemma. This was a "moral" dilemma. I am using an American stout. Can I really call this an Irish stew? I run to the dining room and grab my bottle of Jameson. I pour 1/4 cup of this fine Irish Whiskey into my stew. Problem solved.

This stew has to simmer for twelve hours in a slow cooker. I started it just before going to bed, and woke up to a wonderful aroma on St. Patrick's Day. By noon, the perfect St. Patrick's Day meal was ready. With the first bite, I knew I was going to be blessed with more than just a touch of the luck o' the Irish.

See all of that juice? That's what the roll is for. Yummy!!
What lessons did I learn from this meal? That stew is awesome! I certainly feel that a double chocolate stout is a perfect substitution for a regular Guinness stout and some dark chocolate. Unless you just have to have something "Irish" in the stew, forget the Jameson. It certainly did not ruin anything. However, I really can't say it helped anything either...other than my conscience.

We really enjoyed the cabbage. I just happen to have an entire family of cabbage lovers. However, I didn't taste as much of a bacon flavor as I was expecting. I guess, if I know bacon is in a recipe, I want to be able to taste it. While the cabbage was great, I really could not detect the bacon. No problem. I think I will make "Southern Irish Cabbage." That just means I am going to be using a good slab of hog jowl bacon. If anything can impart a bacon flavor, hog jowl can.

Anyway, I would like to thank Irish American Mom for making this St. Patrick's Day a huge success. One more thing added to the fun of the day. The previous night, I was working on my genealogy on the laptop. Suddenly, it popped up. I almost missed it, but there it was. My great great grandmother, was born in Ireland in 1833. Now, that makes for a happy St. Patrick's Day!

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