Thursday, March 18, 2010

Post St. Patrick's Day on the Central Coast

St. Patrick's day is one of my favorite drinking and eating days. You can start early ie 6 am here both in San Luis Obispo at McCarthy's and Paso Robles at the Crooked Kilt.
In previous years I used to start at home with a wee bit of Irish Mist in my morning cup of tea. Steve would join me with his spiked coffee. It was usually an uphill day of imbibing from there depending if we had the day off or not. In Chicago, where we lived for 7 winters, the whole city was Irish for a day. The Chicago River was dyed a bright kelly green. A sight to behold. I worked on the Chicago Board of Trade and Steve worked on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. CBT was soooo Irish. CME not so except for St. Patrick's day. My fellow commodity traders, clerks and runners would sneak off the floor as soon as the "Sign of the Trader" opened downstairs and have beers. Everyone would plan where to meet after the markets closed near the parade route. Steve would walk over from the CME and meet us with his buds, all "Jewish-Irish" and off we would go with beers in hand to watch Mayor Richard Daley Sr. lead Chicago's finest down State Street.

One of our good friends, Phil Derrig had a refurbished Pie Truck. It was a beauty with brass bumpers, painted that kelly green and filled with revelers. He would pick us up on Rush Street and drive us all over to our favorite bars. Butch McGuire's was first on the list, the Lodge, Mother's, eventually ending up at the River Shannon near where we lived at Cleveland Ave and Armitage. Guiness Stout flowed down the streets. The Murphys, Maguires, O'Rourkes, Murray-Bensons, Hennesseys and more were all hanging out of the Pie Truck singing and laughing until wayyy too late. Chicago bars close at 4 am. and re-open at 6 am.
Miraculously we all made it to work the next day only to meet again at 11am at the "Sign of the Trader" to ease the pain.

When Steve and I moved to San Francisco, we had already staked out the Irish neighborhoods and hangouts for St. Pat's day. Our good friend, Rosa Malone was an avid celebrator. It was tradition to take the Sausalito Ferry over to the city and start at Harrington's on Front Street where they blocked off that section in front of the bar. They had Bagpipe musicians, Irish dancers and a line a mile long for beer. Fortunately we could slip into the German pub , Schroeders, across the street and snag our drinks. Usually Rosa and I loved to wiggle our way into Harringtons just to be with all of the crazies. The best day was on a Saturday when the financial district crowds weren't there yet. One time we observed the local hippie mailman in full uniform bellying up the the bar for his pint. Loved it!! We would move over to the Richmond district to Pat O'Shea's Madhatter and maybe onto Buena Vista for Irish Coffees. Sometimes that order was reversed as we loved to eat lunch at the BV before starting our serious drinking.

I cooked in San Francisco each year for our friends, even Puff Schafer who used to wear orange on St. Pat's day just to bug me. We would usually have everyone over on the weekend, not on "The Day" as that would have been impossible! James Beard had a very good Corned Beef and Cabbage recipe that I used to use. Rosa and I had been to Ireland in 1980 and I had a little paperback cookbook with traditional Soda bread and other Irish fare in it. It helped to have tasted some of the real thing while over there. Some of the American soda breads are too sweet or doughy. I like the "brown" version with whole wheat flour.

March can be pretty chilly and rainy in S.F. so I started to experiment with Irish stews. I remembered the pale brown-full of potato versions that I had eaten in restaurants and knew I could do much better than that. One recipe caught my attention using Guiness Stout.
Over the years that has been my staple when I am not making Corned Beef.
This is my "Guiness Stout Stew"

2 lbs. chuck roast cut into 2"pieces (feel free to substitute Lamb shoulder)
1/2 c. flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
6 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 1/2 c. beef stock
2 bottles Guiness Stout plus one to drink while making this.
2 cloves garlic, crushed
bouquet garni of 6 It. Parsley sprigs, 6 fresh Thyme sprigs and 2 bay leaves
( wrap in cheesecloth)

Heat oven to 350
Place beef and seasoned flour in a ziplock bag and shake to coat the meat. Heat olive oil in a heavy casserole ( I use a dutch oven). Brown the beef in batches so it gets a nice carmelized crust. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a simmer. Cover and bake in the oven for 2 hrs.

Meanwhile prep the veges. I have changed a few things over the years as we like more veges now and I love to roast some of them before adding to the meat.

1/2 lb. turnips, either white or the yellow rutabagas cut into large dice
1/2 lb. carrots cut into 1 " pieces
1 lb. yukon gold potatoes (I don't peel), cut into 1" piece
1/4 lb mushrooms, halved
1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves
s & p

Toss veges with oil, rosemary, salt and pepper and put into a roasting pan or on a sheet pan and roast along side the stew for 45 min-1 hr. They will be fork tender.

Cut up:
1 green bell pepper and 1 onion into 1 " chunks

Remove the stew pot from the oven and add roasted veges as well as the raw green pepper and onions. Stir to scrape up the bits on the bottom of the pot. There should be rich juices. If it looks too dry add a little water to loosen up the bits. The veges will add more moisture.

Cook for an additional 30 minutes or until the meat is very tender.

Notes: I used to cook this minus the potatoes and up the mushrooms to 1/2 #.
It was served over Colcannon, a traditional mashed potato-braised cabbage side dish.

This year I made my friend Bonnie Little's Cauliflower Gratin. I can post the recipe later. I want to fit in the Soda Bread without everyone falling asleep getting to the end of this.

One more thing, the stew safely serves 6. One year we had a crowd and everyone brought an extra person and I barely had enough. In fact Puff, the Orangeman, was trying to cut up the Cheeseclothed bouquet garni thinking it was beef. I just laughed and poured more wine.

Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread

2 c. Whole Wheat flour
2 c. Unbleached white flour
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. gr. coriander or cardamon (uh oh, my Swedish side is coming out)
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 c. dried currants
1 1/2 - 2 c buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375
I mix the dry ingredients together in my 30yr old Kitchen Aid mixer with the paddle attachment.
Add currants and 1 1/2 c. buttermilk. Mix to make a soft dough, adding more buttermilk if needed.
Knead on a floured surface until smooth. Form into a round disk. Put into a buttered pan, I use my 9" springform pan but a cake round or pie tin would work too.
Cut the traditional "X" on top.

Bake about 50 min. until richly golden and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
I have made the mistake of under baking this many times as the original time was 35-40 min.
Must be Irish time as it needs at least 50 min.

Serve with sweet butter. Toast the leftovers up the next day for breakfast with some good marmalade.

This year was low key during the day as I worked. I so wanted to be at the "Kilt" at 6 am with the girls from Schooner's, next year for sure. Steve did bring a couple of Guiness Stouts for Mary and I after closing. We went to Sandi Baird and Hank Donatoni's for a wonderful traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage dinner and plenty of Donatoni Winery wine. She served 12! What a feat and a wonderful end to St. Patty's day 2010.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Starting out this Blog

I am living on the Central Coast of California with my husband of 40 years, Steve. We have been enjoying the last 9 years here, cooking together, walking along the beach, working in the same local winery and enjoying the new friends we have made. Previously we lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay area. I was a Chef/Caterer and Cooking Instructor for 21 years. We entertained alot in those days meaning we threw alot of parties. Our wine cellar was a fun place to be and usually a hard place to leave when dinner was ready. The decision to move to this darling little beach town was quite by accident. We knew we couldn't afford to retire in Mill Valley and started looking for places to relocate to. After a few trips wine tasting in Paso Robles we stumbled upon Cayucos. I started making reservations for little weekend getaways to wine festivals in the area and before long knew this was our place. Steve wasn't so sure as he can be pretty set in his ways. He eventually agreed. We sold our house which was a very emotional journey, packed up our two elderly cats and off we went to begin a new life.

The Central Coast was not a foodie's paradise in those days. Luckily we had and still have great farmer's markets as well as Trader Joe's. I used to call it a "gastronomical wasteland". Eating out consisted of fish and chips or diner style food. The only restaurant worth going to was Hoppe's ,right here in Cayucos. It is still a favorite. Fortunately chef's from all over have discovered our wine country and have taken chances ,opening really good restaurants.

Having much more time on my hands, I cooked all of the time using local ingredients including the wonderful fish from a market nearby in Morro Bay or sometimes right off the fishing boats. Our little local supermarket has a good butcher and we can get decent bread thanks to La Brea and Trader Joe's.

I started working at a little winery called Rio Seco. She heard that I had a culinary background and together we would put together little menus for the wine festivals and wine club member parties. I loved trying out new things and pairing them with the robust wines. Zinfandel is the grape that the Central Coast has become known for. It yields hearty, fruity, peppery wines with light tannins. As my need to work more hours and obtain health insurance came about I took a position with Peachy Canyon Winery, THE Zinfandel gurus. Six years later I am still enjoying pouring wine for the many enthusiasts that come through the tasting room.

My food reflects the area we live in with everything prepared simply to let the fresh flavors compliment our casual lifestyle and the wine we love to bring to the table. Still I can't forget my years of Bay Area Chefs influence. The long slow cooking in my Mexican casuelas, moles, french potato gratins, duck confit, extensive preserving of fruits in jams, chutneys, relishes as well as pickling everything I could get my hands on. Everyone looked forward to Holidays as I would always come up with something new. Swedish Christmas buffets, Easter Brunch, Guiness Stout Stew for St. Patrick's day, Southwest Thanksgiving or just a good ole barbeque for 4th of July.
I very often made my own bread using the Italian biga that I learned from Carol Field's while testing her recipes for the "Foccacia" book.

Working at Tante Marie's cooking school in San Francisco was where I became a total "foodie". I helped local Chef's prep for their demonstration classes. That was in the 80's! I still have many cookbooks that I haven't even scratched the surface with trying recipes from those chefs. The one who influenced me the most was Diana Kennedy. I love Mexican regional cuisine. Working with her is another blog entirely.

Steve and I have been presented with a challenge. He is recovering from head/neck cancer. The treatment of it kills the cancer cells but also damages the saliva glands and taste buds.
He lost alot of weight and we are trying to "fatten" him back up. It is difficult because the very things that help you gain weight he is unable to eat. He longs for my oatmeal cookies, a juicy hamburger off of our grill, the chunky garlic bread that accompanied many of our meals. I have to make sauces for him to pour over his meals so he can swallow his food. It is unimaginable what it is like not to have saliva to help moisten food before it can be swallowed.
We do alot of soups, stews and casseroles now. I see an improvement in the taste buds as he is starting to taste wines again and likes the saucey foods I prepare.

I hope to share some fun menus and methods of cooking my way with you, whoever you are.
Let's see if this blog stuff is all it is cracked up to be too! Julie Powell made it look easy as she was brilliant in her book "Julie and Julia" which I loved as well as the movie.