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A Bit of the Blarney

By Angie Sutton

A number of years ago I had the experience of “kissing the Blarney Stone.” This block of bluestone was set in a tower of the Blarney Castle near Cork, Ireland, in 1446. According to legend, those who kiss the Blarney Stone are bestowed with the “gift of gab.” I’m fairly certain I had that gift long before hiking up the rambling stone stairway to the tower and hanging upside down to kiss a hunk of cold stone that had been pecked by the lips of millions of previous visitors.

St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday known for parades, shamrocks and all things Irish in both Ireland and the United States. I just have to remember to wear green on that day so my kids don’t take advantage of the whole “pinching” opportunity. We decided to try out some Irish fare. Corned beef and cabbage were not going to be popular with my kids, so we explored some of the other options considered traditional in the Irish culture.

These recipes have become familiar to many kitchen tables in the United States. Shepherd’s Pie is still called “cottage pie” by many. It was dubbed this in late 1700s when the potato was introduced as an edible crop affordable to the poor, who lived in modest cottages. The term “shepherd’s pie” did not appear until nearly a century later. Some say that when you use mutton in the recipe the proper term is shepherd’s pie. There are many variations of this pie being baked in square, round and oval pans. I chose the 9- by 13-inch pan, so the mashed potatoes were spread across more of the meat mixture.

We enjoyed it but the real pot-of-gold was the bread and butter pudding with vanilla custard sauce. I found this recipe many years ago but had not made it until this weekend. It is best enjoyed warm, but we didn’t have to worry about leftovers anyway.

Shepherd’s Pie

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, diced
4 large carrots, diced
1 cup frozen sweet peas
4 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter
4 ounces red wine (or additional beef broth)
2 tablespoons tomato paste or ketchup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup beef stock
6 cups mashed potatoes
1 egg, beaten
Parmesan cheese, grated

Pre-heat oven to 400 F. Make your mashed potatoes and set aside. (I use instant and add 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese.) In a saucepan, sauté carrots in olive oil until starting to get tender. Add in onions and sauté for two minutes, then add the beef. Season with black pepper and thyme. Cook until beef is browned; drain fat. Add butter and peas. Sprinkle with flour and stir through. Add tomato paste, wine and Worcestershire sauce. Let this reduce slightly then add beef stock. Allow to reduce down until you have thick gravy. Season to your taste. Remove from heat. Grease a glass 9- by 13-inch baking dish with butter and add the sauce. An oval casserole works as well. Spoon and spread the mashed potatoes over top. Brush with egg and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the potato is golden brown on top.

Bread and Butter Pudding with Vanilla Custard Sauce

For the Bread Pudding:
1 loaf stale bread, sliced 1/2” thick
3 cups milk
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup raisins (soaked in warm water for 30 minutes)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the Vanilla Custard Sauce:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 egg yolks

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9- by 13-inch glass baking dish. Generously butter the bread and layer in the baking dish. Pour milk over the bread and allow to absorb (about 30 minutes). In a separate bowl, beat eggs, sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and allspice together. Pour the mixture over the bread. Sprinkle on the raisins. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the bread pudding is set and corners are slightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack while you make the custard sauce. To make the vanilla custard sauce, heat the milk and cream in a medium saucepan until boiling. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg yolks until combined and a light yellow color. Temper the egg yolks by whisking in a few tablespoons of the hot cream mixture, until you’ve added about half of the cream mixture. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the pan with the remaining cream mixture and stir over medium heat with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens. Remove from the heat. Cut the bread pudding into squares and drizzle vanilla custard sauce over each piece.


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