My father was Irish. My mother is German and Slovakian. There are no real German or Slovakian fun holidays. St Boniface is the patron saint of Germany and Our Lady of Sorrows, as I have mentioned before in this blog, is the patron of Slovakia. So, you know, not a lot of fun there. I made rueben sandwiches on St Patrick’s day which are really not at all Irish but corned beef is, at least it is in America, so Irish by proxy or something.
I got this corned beef at Kettle Range where they make their own and it was spectacular. I braised it in Guinness, just to add, you know, more Irishness, and then refrigerated it overnight so it would slice nicely without falling apart. I used my German grandfather’s supremely dangerous slicing contraption that I am sure will one day take off a finger tip or three. (My first boyfriend’s father was a butcher and lost the palm of his hand on one of these. Seriously. They sewed it back on but he was never the same.) I tried not to think about that when I was doing it and I got it all sliced without incident. Also I was wearing the uncuttable glove that my friend Wendy gave me after a mishap with my mandoline. I haven’t had any mishaps with the mandoline since I got it and I wore it while I was slicing this but I think this wicked thing would cut through steel.
But I like to think that my German grandfather would be happy I was using it. My Irish grandmother, on the other hand, would not. She was not a fan of the Germans, including my mother.
Although I try very hard to make sure my meat is locally sourced blah blah blah, there are exceptions. One is Jake’s which I’ve always thought of as the gold standard of corned beef. So I went to there to get corned beef for reuben sandwiches. I kinda dreaded it because the experience there can be trying. This time was not an exception. I ordered a pound and a half of corned beef and waited while the guy behind the counter argued with the customers ahead of me (who got out of their car as I did and put a beer bottle on the sidewalk) for a good 20 minutes about whether or not their order said mustard or mayonnaise. With the guy making the sandwich telling them the order said mustard and showing them the slip, for chrissake, and them telling him they ordered mayonnaise. I wanted to scream. I mean, all he had to do was just put the fucking mayonnaise on the damn sandwich. I stopped paying attention eventually I really had nothing to gain from getting involved.
I wouldn’t have actually gotten involved, I’d just have screamed.
I got the meat and fled. When I got home I saw that it was half fat (sad face emoji) and called my regular butcher only to find out that they’d just sold their last one. So fine. I went to Whole Foods which was an end-of-days situation with people running hither and tither grabbing everything in sight and filling their shopping carts to overflowing with toilet paper (WHO FUCKING BUYS THEIR TOILET PAPER AT WHOLE FOODS!!!) and a lady rushed her full cart in front of me to get ahead of me in line. I had one item, a corned beef. I have to admit that I said, “Seriously?” out loud and she turned and saw what I had and let me go first. But still.
Anyway, I made the corned beef slow roasted in a cup of Guinness in the oven and finished it in the Instant Pot. Hands down, one million times better than Jake’s. Possibly one million and two times.
The 1.5 pounds of corned beef at Jake’s cost $41.50.
Add to that the styrofoam Jake’s came in and all the fat. Nope, not going back there again. Too bad.
This is Nigella Lawson’s so-called Guinness cake. It’s a chocolate Guinness cake so it feels about as much Irish as she is. The idea though is to make it look like a glass of Guinness, dark with white foam on top. I know, corny, even the Royal Indian Mounted Police rolled his eyes audibly when I said I was going to make it. He rolled his eyes, my grandmother and possibly my father are rolling in their graves (seems like there’s been quite of that lately), although my dad became more tolerant of Irish festivities as he aged. The traditional standing at the piano weeping while my grandmother played, and we sang, bitter English-hating music seems to have lost its steam after she died and he mellowed about the whole English situation years later.
Anyway it was easy enough to whip out. And looks like something St Patrick himself might have made.
I made Guinness cake the day before St Patrick’s Day.
A pound of fruit (chopped), a pound of flour, a bottle of Guinness and an hour later…cake. The problem with this stuff is that I’ll just goddam eat it. I took it to book club to get it out of the house. I don’t know if they were being polite but they ate it.
So I made some corned beef. The thing about corned beef and why there are so many different ways of cooking it is that it’s a completely forgiving piece of meat. Lots of people boil it. I braise it covered in a low oven for, oh, say, 2 hours, or maybe three. It makes no difference. When it’s done I pour off the liquid and chill the meat. It’s much easier to cut when it’s cold, I can trim the excess fat off the meat and once the braising liquid is chilled, I can pick the fat off and then cook the vegetables in the that.
When the vegetables are cooked I put the sliced meat into the liquid with the vegetables and heat the whole damn deal up.
You can boil it, as I’ve said, but it boils the spirit right out of it.
As the St Patrick’s Day octave of celebration continues, the uproarious fun of making Guinness Cake was on the schedule. Recipe here. Soaking dried fruit in Guinness stout is the most fun part of the process. It reminds me of myself, except for the stout. I’d prefer to be soaked in cabernet.
Now I have to find some people to foist it all off on. No doubt no one in my office will eat it because it has raisins in it. Actually it doesn’t it has apricots, dates and prunes but the people in my office are, for the most part, a suspicious group, they’ve never met a conspiracy they couldn’t call their own. So they won’t eat it, suspecting, as they will, that there are raisins in or that it might be “raisiny” as someone put it the last time I made something without raisins that he refused to eat.
St Patrick’s day is just around the corner. It’s always something of a problem when it falls midweek. Will you celebrate the weekend before? Or the weekend after? Or just on the day?
I’m going with yes. I started the festivities last Sunday with my mother, my sister and her husband. I made Irish stew. This is not something we had growing up, certainly never with lamb. We may have had stew and my mother called it Irish stew but that’s about as far as it got. St Patrick’s Day was serious business.
My mother, who is not Irish but Slovakian and German, when I informed her of what we were having for dinner, groused that we never celebrate her heritage, which is not true. I’ve made zellevaslesia and I love German food but truthfully, there are not special saints days for celebration. We were never slamming a glass of Slivovica in honor of Sts Cyril and Methodius. (Actually, the patron saint of Slovakia is Our Lady of Sorrows but that doesn’t exactly rouse me to celebrate in the same way that St Patrick with his green and white socks, red beard and pot o’ gold does.)
The stew was good. But it was just stew. Irish or not.
I can’t let St Patrick’s Day get too far past without a shout out to my friend Eithne. She gave me this recipe in the early 80s and I make it every year. This year I tried to find it online and discovered that it doesn’t exist there, at least not that I could find. When she gave it to me—off the top of her head, she told me— that it was a “family recipe.”
I really love this stuff. And it’s particularly good with brie cheese on it.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
It’s best to use a scale for measuring here. I have used dry measures and it worked but if you have your scale handy and a large processor it’s a lot easier.
1 pound dried fruit chopped well. I used cherries, dates, prunes and white raisins. Anything works.