St. Patrick’s Day Hoopla

As I mentioned in an earlier post, St. Patrick’s Day has become a big deal in my family. Not in a drink green beer at a pub until we get hammered kind of way, but it has become a time to enjoy each other’s company, partake in traditional (and non-traditional) Irish food, beverages, and music and celebrate the land that we hope to visit someday.

For the last six years, since I started college, I have taken March 17th off from school or work, pored through cookbooks and online recipes, and spent all day at my parents cooking an Irish meal for friends and family. My cooking has certainly evolved over the years. The first year I made a Bailey’s Mousse pie with so much gelatin that it could have bounced around the house. The second year I made two pans of a parsnip potato mash that no one particularly liked.

Since every year I am cooking foods for the first time, they are not always perfect. But as my cooking skills and acquired tastes have grown, so has my ability to pick out which recipes I will be able to cook and everyone will like. Although I’ve usually steered away from Corned Beef and Cabbage (because it wasn’t really consumed until the Irish came to America) and towards more traditional Irish meat, potatoes, and root veggie dishes, this year I borrowed the Avoca Cafe Cookbook from a family friend in an effort to mirror Ireland’s more modern favorites.

There were so many fantastic-sounding recipes in the book that I couldn’t decide on just a few things. This year’s menu consisted of:
-Tomato, Celery, and Apple Soup
-Baked Garlic and Onion Cream Soup
-Broccoli, Hazelnut, Feta, and Tomato Salad
-Red Cabbage and Red Onion Salad with Bacon
-Kilmacmonague Meatballs over Herb-Laced Couscous
-Normandy Tart
-Irish Soda Bread with Caraways Seeds & Irish Soda Bread with Dried Fruit

Since these recipes are not posted online, only in the Avoca Cafe Cookbook, I will not be posting the recipes. However, if you like to cook, I would definitely recommend this cookbook; in fact, I hope to add it to my own collection. This was the first year that I was proud of the way everything turned out.

First, I set to work making the Baked Onion and Garlic Cream Soup. Since I have incredibly sensitive eyes and had already peeled a dozen onions the night before, my Mom was kind enough to help me peel these. 🙂 In the roaster: onions, garlic, and thyme with half the portion of stock:

The aroma of this coming out of the oven was divine. While this was in the oven, I worked on the Broccoli salad. Although the recipe called for raw broccoli, I parboiled it, preferring both the taste and color of cooked broccoli. I also used only about half the dressing called for. All mixed together:

When the onion garlic soup and broccoli salad were done, I set to work on the Normandy tart using the shortcrust pastry I had prepared the night before. The only alteration I made to this recipe was using half the amount of berries–while it called for 2 lbs, one pound seemed to be more than sufficient. Plus, I got to sneak some berries!

I had plenty of coffee while cooking and stopped for a midday snack so I wouldn’t be famished and overdo it at dinner. I made a small salad with spinach, carrots, pineapple, cherry tomatoes, and feta. (And after my salad, my special St. Paddy’s day treat to myself: a small glass of Bailey’s on the rocks.)

When the Normandy tart was out of the oven, time for Irish soda bread! I intended to use Heidi Swanson’s rye soda bread recipe but couldn’t get my hands on it, so I used the Irish soda bread recipe out of the Avoca Cafe cookbook and made one with caraway seeds and one with raisins, dried cranberries, and dried figs. Both turned out quite well, but I didn’t add nearly the amount of buttermilk either recipe called for, closer to 2/3.

Dave showed up in time to help me with the cabbage salad. While my sister Emily fried the bacon, Dave sliced the red onions. I salted the onions and let them sit, then added the bacon to the marinated red cabbage.

This was a simple salad, yet very tasty and beautiful in color. After the cabbage salad, all that was left to do was the main course: the Kilmacmonague meatballs. Since I had made both the couscous and tomato sauce for the meatballs the night before, the task was made much easier.

I have never made meatballs, but with Dave and the cookbook’s help, we came up with these:

After baking and mixed with the tomato sauce:

This photo does not do justice to the splendor of these meatballs. The recipe for the sauce alone is worth the cost of the cookbook.

At a little after 7:30pm, the eighteen people who arrived were ready for dinner. My plate:

I also had a small bowl of the Baked Onion and Garlic Soup, another half slice of the Caraway Soda Bread, about five Kerrygold cheese cubes (delicious!) with crackers, a slice of Normandy tart, and one of my sister Emily’s shamrock cookies.

I got so many compliments throughout the night on the food. I thrive on compliments. I may not be the best conversationalist or the most interesting person, but cooking is one of the ways I give myself to my friends and family. Cooking and baking for them is like saying “I like you.” And when I get a compliment, it’s as if “This is fantastic!” is really “I like you, too!”

I also had three beers throughout a span of seven hours: a Killian’s, Smithwick’s, and New Glarus Spotted Cow. We spent the night quietly chatting, listening to Celtic favorites, and ended with a cup of Warm Hearth tea. When I finally got home, it was after midnight, and I was so exhausted I could have fallen asleep standing up. All was well.

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