Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I love that there’s a holiday where I can celebrate my Irish heritage. I’m one quarter Irish on my paternal grandmother’s side of the family. The O’Rourke’s emigrated from Ireland to the United States during the Great Potato Famine in the 1800s and settled in New England. My dad doesn’t know much more about the history on that side of the family, and isn’t sure when they ended up in New York where my grandparents met.
Like many people, I’ve done my share of green beer drinking, but beer spiked with green food coloring hasn’t been appetizing in years. The celebratory pints needn’t be green to be worthy of St. Patrick’s Day! A couple other staples of the holiday, Irish soda bread and shepherd’s pie, made it onto this year’s menu at our house.
This delicious buttermilk bread, studded with golden and dark raisins and flecked with caraway seeds, is slightly sweet and rather addicting. Shepherd’s pie, traditionally made with ground lamb or beef, was easily made vegetarian with meaty chunks of grilled portabella mushrooms instead. And a rich, thick, dark winey stew loaded with vegetables is made even more special with a topping of buttermilk mashed potatoes. I’ve been cooking with buttermilk a lot lately to use up what’s left in the carton after buying it for one recipe. Yesterday I found it can be purchased in 8-oz. cartons at Cub, and will no longer have to buy a quart when I only need a few tablespoons. Yay!
A couple other tweaks to make this vegetarian: Use vegetarian Worcestershire sauce instead of the typical varieties that contain anchovies. Annie’s Naturals is the brand I’ve always used. And I used vegetable stock in place of chicken—an easy switch. I baked the bread earlier in the week and froze it until today. The mashed potatoes were whipped up this morning (just use your favorite mashed potato recipe), and the rest of the shepherd’s pie was put together after a very welcome Sunday afternoon nap. Celebrate your Irishness, even if you’re not!
Irish Soda Bread
Adapted from bhg.com
3 cups white whole wheat flour
5 tablespoons organic sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 large egg
2 cups low-fat buttermilk
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
½ cup seedless raisins
½ cup seedless golden raisins
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Preheat oven to 325 F. Lightly coat a 5×9-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray, then dust lightly with flour; set aside. In a large bowl, combine the 3 cups flour, sugar, baking soda, and baking powder. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; set aside.
In a medium bowl, lightly beat the egg; add buttermilk and melted butter. Stir in the dark and golden raisins and caraway seed. Add egg mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until moistened, then continue stirring until flour is incorporated. Transfer dough to the prepared loaf pan.
Bake on middle oven rack about 1 hour or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes in pan, then run a knife around edges and remove bread from pan. Cool completely on wire rack. Can store covered on the countertop or in the refrigerator. Freezes nicely too. Makes one loaf.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 large portabella mushroom caps, pan-grilled and cut into chunks
1 large onion, finely diced
3 large carrots, finely diced
1 cup fresh peas
½ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
3 -4 sprigs fresh thyme, finely chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
1 cup vegetable stock
1 large quantity buttermilk mashed potatoes
1 egg, beaten
Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Sauté carrots in the olive oil until just starting to get tender. Add the onions and sauté for a minute or two then add the grilled mushrooms. Season with black pepper and thyme. Cook a couple minutes longer, then add the butter and peas. Sprinkle with flour and stir through. Add tomato paste, wine and Worcestershire sauce. Let this reduce slightly then add the vegetable stock. Allow to reduce down until you have a thick, dark gravy. Season with salt & pepper, to taste.
Remove from heat. Lightly grease a 2 ½ quart oven-proof dish and pour vegetable mix into it. Spoon or pipe the mashed potatoes over top. Brush with egg. Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until the potato topping is golden brown. Can broil the last couple minutes to get the perfect color. Serves 4.