Monday, March 18, 2013

How to Celebrate St. Patrick's Day

Forget completely that the holiday is coming, remember at the last minute.

Weigh options of celebrating vs. not celebrating. One the one hand, it's a stale, trite, Americanized drinking holiday to which you (having grown up in a party college town full of nice young lads who, come March 17th, liked to do a bit of what we call the Wearin' o' the Traditional Foam Guinness Tophats, the Reinforcin' o' the Unfortunate Irish Stereotypes, and the Harrassin' o' the Lassies) became allergic early on. Shudder a bit at the memory. On the other hand, though, potatoes are tasty.

Decide that it's a good excuse to eat lots of potatoes. Potatoes, after all, are tasty.

Make a hurried trip to the store, ducking between the sprinkling early flurries of mid-March snow (oh spring,  you mythical creature, where are you?). Purchase potatoes, kale, a leek, a parsnip, sausages, some Irish cheddar and one very large bottle of Guinness. Feel very smugly Irish as the checkout girl rings up your purchases. Tater McIrishpants, they call you. Top o' the morning.

Try to remember, rushing home with the hood of your winter coat pulled up against the now furiously flurrying 'spring' snow, if any of your ancestors were actually, at any point, Irish. Flip through all the last names you can recall and decide nope, Scottish. German. Not Irish. Still, that guy across the street wearing his 'Kiss me, I'm Irish!' t-shirt with sandals (sandals!) and a full Rastafarian headwrap probably isn't an authentic son of the old country, either.

Put on music and remove shoes, as is mandatory (I can't cook without doing either, it seems). Peel and quarter potatoes meditatively while starting to hum, da da da I wear your grandad's clothes, I look incredible dada da da dadaa--......Look up in mid-dadaa from hip hop potato reverie and wonder if you ought to be listening to something more Irish instead. Briefly consider the Pogues, then remember how much you hate the Pogues. Return to potatoes.

Chop and saute some leeks and a large pile of kale while the potatoes and parsnip are boiling. Remember that neither you nor your dining partner actually likes to drink Guinness all that much, plan to use as much as possible of the very large bottle of Guinness you have bought in the cooking of the meal. Thus the plan for dessert, mini chocolate Guinness cakes with stout-flavored crème anglaise, is born. Brilliant!

Mash potatoes and parsnip into fluffy piles with a little milk, and incorporate silky, buttery sauteed leeks and kale until the whole thing has turned into a fragrant, lightly golden and green mixture that smells like heaven. Inhale deeply, and forget about foam tophats and 'Kiss me' t-shirts, forget all about metallic shamrocks and whiskey-sticky novelty shotglasses and drinking games featuring culturally insensitive Irish puns. Just focus on those potatoes, on their good earthy smell mingling with steam and butter and the perfume of leeks and the sweet green aroma of cooked kale. Serve heaped in a pile next to crispy-skinned sausages drizzled with a Guinness reduction.

Then sit down with your dinner companion and pair it all with a nice, full-bodied Spanish rioja. After all, what do we know? We're not really even Irish.

[James Joyce, I am not. But Happy belated St. Paddy's Day!]

Colcannon with Leeks, Parsnip and Kale

4 medium sized russet potatoes, peeled and quartered 
1 parsnip (with most of woody core removed) peeled and cut into large chunks 
2 tablespoons butter 
1 leek, well cleaned and finely chopped 
3 cups of kale, finely chopped 
1/2 cup whole milk 
salt & pepper to taste

Place potatoes in a large stock pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a slow boil and let cook for ten minutes, then add parsnip pieces. Cook for ten more minutes, or until potato and parsnip pieces are all fork-tender and ready to be mashed. Remove from heat, drain and return to stockpot. Add milk and mash potatoes lightly, just until fluffy.

In a nonstick skillet, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium heat, add leeks, saute until softened. Add kale and continue to saute until kale is bright green and has wilted to about half its original size. Add leek and kale mixture to mashed potatoes, stir lightly to combine. Salt & pepper to taste.

[Also pictured, mini chocolate Guinness cakes with stout-flavored crème anglaise and dark chocolate shavings. Warm, hearty pillows of deep, dark beery chocolate flavor, paired with cool creaminess]

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