an irishman for a day

I consider myself relatively fearless in the kitchen. I’m willing to try just about any technique, recipe or style of cooking at least once and I’m confident enough in my abilities that I can improvise if/when things go awry. However all that goes out the window when we’re talking about bread baking. No matter how many times I attempt to bake a nice crusty loaf of bread the results turn out disappointing. I don’t know if it’s my own impatience with the whole proofing, kneading, rising process or if I’m choosing overly complicated recipes, but every time without failure… failure.

Since next weekend is St. Patrick’s Day and EVERYONE is officially Irish for a solid 12 hours, I like most of America will be cooking up what we imagine to be true Irish fare… soda bread and something that takes several hours of slow cooking to go along with it. Usually that means corned beef but this year I’ve decided to branch out a bit, to make something that wasn’t so reliant on the quality of the pre-brined corned beef I purchased. Rather I was looking for a recipe that required real honest cooking and that I had more control over (I like control). Anyway I decided that this St. Patty’s my family would be feasting on homemade soda bread and Chicken Stout Stew. Since soda bread by nature is really much more like a quick bread than a yeast bread, I considered it to be far less intimidating and chicken stew with a nice hardy stout in the gravy— how could I miss?

Well it turns out that I couldn’t… The stew was so tasty and my soda bread so successful that we briefly considered changing out last name to O’Greco.

Éirinn go Brách and sláinte!

Irish Soda Bread
This is one of my all time favorite breads. It’s perfect alongside some stew or toasted and slathered with jam for breakfast. It’s easy to throw together, doesn’t require much advance prep and it comes out delicious every time.

soda bread2

3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup raisins
4 tbsp. butter, frozen
1 1/3 cups + 1 tbsp. light buttermilk
1 large egg

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and raisins. Using a box grater grate the frozen butter into the flour mixture. Sir with a fork and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl whisk together the buttermilk and egg. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Knead the dough a couple of times before forming it into a ball. Place the loaf on the prepared cookie sheet and use cooking sheers (or a sharp knife) to cut a deep ‘x’ across the top of the loaf.
  4. Bake the bread for 45-55 minutes, until it’s golden brown and a tooth pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool on a rack before slicing.

*adapted from king arthur flour

Chicken Stout Stew
This recipe calls for chicken thighs, which happen to be perfect for slow cooking. I won’t deny that they take a bit more time to trim and clean, but if you were to use chicken breast instead it would undoubtedly be dry and disappointing. I promise that the extra effort will totally be worth it.

stout stew2

6 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, divided
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 1/2 lbs. boneless/skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cubed
6 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
7 slices quality turkey bacon, diced
4 cups chopped onion
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 14 oz can Guinness beer (or other stout)
1 lb. whole baby carrots
12 small potatoes, quartered
6 springs fresh thyme
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 3/4 cup chicken broth
2 cups frozen baby peas

1 lb. button mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. salt
3 sprigs fresh thyme

  1. Combine 6 tablespoons flour with salt and pepper in a ziploc bag. Trim and cube the chicken and add to the bag. Seal the bag and shake to dredge the chicken thighs in the flour mixture.
  2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the chicken and cook until lightly browned on all sides, transfer to the slow cooker. Continue with the remaining chicken, adding additional oil to the pan as needed, and reserve the seasoned flour that remains.
  3. Add the diced bacon, onion and garlic to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle the seasoned flour that remains from dredging the chicken over the bacon mixture and cook, stirring frequently, for 8 minutes more. (The fat and flour will create a light-colored roux.) Add the stout and stir, being sure to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
  4. Pour the bacon mixture over the chicken and add the carrots, potatoes and thyme. Pour the broth and Worcestershire sauce over the top and give everything a good stir.
  5. Cover and cook on medium 4 1/2 hours, until the chicken is falling-apart tender.
  6. When the stew is nearly done add the frozen peas and allow to continue cooking until the peas are heated through. Meanwhile sautee the mushrooms with the salt and thyme until they are nicely browned and all the moisture in the bottom of the pan has cooked off. Add the mushrooms to the stew, season with additional salt and pepper if needed and serve with a little soda bead.

*adapted from eating well

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Hurricane Stew

Sandy. Seems like a rather innocuous name doesn’t it? I’ve known several in my time; a Sandra, a Sandy and even a Sandeee (she was a lovely kooky character). The name Sandy never caused me a moment of pause, fear or worry, that was until last weekend. Call her a hurricane or call her a tropical storm, Sandy devastated my Garden State and left many of us in the cold and dark with empty grocery stores and even emptier gas tanks.

My family prepared for the storm just as most everyone did. We bought extra batteries and flashlights, made sure the pumps and generator were ready to go and stocked up on water, milk and unhealthy snacks (we were in crisis mode after all!). And for my part, I planned dinners that could easily be cooked or reheated on the gas stove top or even in the fireplace. I was fully prepared to roast chicken sausages in the fireplace on our telescoping marshmallow forks and to the use the same forks to make fireplace marshmallow and nutella s’mores. Thankfully we never lost power, but I had a hearty beef stew and cheddar-thyme biscuits to keep our bellies full just in case we did.

Hurricane Beef Stew
This recipe makes enough stew to have for dinner while the power is out as well as share with your hungry neighbors. But if you’d rather not share (or don’t really like your neighbors) feel free to half the recipe.

4 lbs. stew beef
1 cup flour
4 tsp. salt
3 tsp. garlic powder
3 tsp. pepper
4-8 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
4 carrots, diced large
3 parsnips, diced large
1 1/4 lbs. mushrooms, sliced
4 stalks celery, sliced thin
3 potatoes, diced large
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups beef stock
1 bottle of dark beer
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
2 bay leaves
2 tsp fresh of thyme, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup water
3 tbsp. cornstarch

  1. Mix flour, garlic powder, salt and pepper together. Dredge beef in flour mixture.
  2. Heat 3 tbsp. of olive oil in a heavy saucepan and working in batches brown the beef. Transfer to a slow cooker and continue with remainder of beef. (If your meat is very lean you may need to add more olive oil to the pot as you continue browning.) Top the browned beef with the diced potatoes, garlic, mushrooms and celery.
  3. When all the beef is browned, add 1 tbsp. more oil and add the carrots, parsnips and onion to the pot. Allow to cook for 10-12 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften. Transfer to the crock pot.
  4. In a medium bowl stir together the stock, tomato paste, beer, bay leaves, herbs, salt and pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Pour over everything in crock pot, but do not stir.
  5. Cook for 5 1/2 hrs. on medium heat until the meat is tender and cooked through.
  6. Stir together the water and cornstarch. Add cornstarch mixture to stew to thicken and cook for another 15 minutes. Fish out the bay leaves and serve with warm drop biscuits to mop up the gravy. Enjoy!

adapted from bon appétit