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bacon and cabbage

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Bacon and Cabbage

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Rev up your St. Patrick's Day with these 4 tasty dishes

You might be tempted to go out on St. Patrick's Day and whoop it up with your pals at the local Irish pub. Sure, sip some Guinness and down a shot of Jameson if you like, but save some time for cooking a hearty Irish meal and watching Irish movies like "Michael Collins."

As for food, this St. Patrick's Day, you might dive into a big helping of corned beef and cabbage, but I go for an alternative: Irish bacon and cabbage with rich and cream parsley sauce. Irish bacon comes from the back, rather than the belly of the pig and you can find it in your grocery store or at the local butcher shop. I love how lean Irish bacon is, as well as its touch of salt. If you've enjoyed a "full Irish" breakfast, you've probably had Irish bacon. For a dinner dish, you'll want to cut it thickly. I also use a mustard sauce with this dish, and if you're having company over, serve both in little dishes.

I also have a "go-to" recipe for Shepherd's Pie, which I experiment with quite a bit, swapping in that tasty meat alternative, Beyond Burger crumbles, or else ground beef and chicken, for the lamb. Once I even made the pie with a mix of firm white fish and chopped shrimp to great effect. Shepherd's Pie is the only way I'll eat meat touching my mashed potatoes. I've included that recipe, too, along with one by Irish chef Kevin Dundon for rack of lamb in an Irish stew consomme that is so luxurious you'll want to serve it for special occasions. Finally, sip on homemade Irish cream for dessert or pour it over mint chocolate chip ice cream. 


Bacon and Cabbage with Parsley Sauce
Serves: 10 to 12

Ingredients
Bacon
5 pounds thick-cut Irish bacon
1 head cabbage
10 black peppercorns
3 sprigs fresh thyme

Parsley Sauce
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 small carrot, thinly sliced into rounds
1/4 small onion, thinly sliced
1 sprig fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chopped fresh parsley

Instructions
To make the bacon: In a large pot, cover the bacon with cold water and bring to a boil. If the bacon is very salty you'll see a froth on the top of the water. Skim that off and add more water. Repeat if necessary. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut it into quarters, removing the core. Discard the core and outer leaves. Slice the cabbage across the grain into thin shreds. About 20 minutes before the bacon is finished cooking, add the cabbage, peppercorns and thyme. Cook gently for another 2 hours.

When ready to serve, make the parsley sauce: Make a roux by melting the butter in a large skillet and adding the flour all at once, whisking vigorously. The mixture will boil and thicken. Reduce the heat to low and slow down the whisking. What you smell a toasty aroma, cook for another 2 minutes, stirring a few times. Remove from the heat and measure out 1/4 cup. Keep the extra in the fridge and reserve for another use, such as macaroni and cheese.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, carrot, onion and thyme to a simmer over medium-high heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain the milk through a strainer set over a medium bowl and discard the solids. Return the strained milk to the saucepan, bring back to a boil, and whisk in the roux until the sauce lightly coats the back of a spoon. Season again with salt and pepper. Add the chopped parsley and simmer over very low heat for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with the bacon.


Irish Mustard Sauce
If you'd like an alternate sauce for the bacon and cabbage, try this Irish mustard sauce with plenty of bite from horseradish. 

Makes: About 1 1/2 cups

Ingredients
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/4 cup vinegar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
2 large egg yolks, beaten

Instructions
In a large heatproof bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, sugar, mustard and salt.

Pour about 1 inch of water into a large saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Place the bowl with the cornstarch mixture on top of the saucepan and whisk in the water. Let the mixture sit over the simmering water until it comes to a boil. Let boil until the mixture starts to thicken, about 1 minute. Remove the double boiler from the heat and whisk in the vinegar, butter and horseradish, followed by the egg yolks. Return the double boiler to medium high heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce thickens slightly. Serve.


Roast Rack of Lamb in Irish Stew Consomme
I watched every single episode of Kevin Dundon's Modern Irish Food on PBS, and while many of his dishes stray quite far from Ireland, some keep the traditions alive. He's the dashing owner of Dunbrody Country House Hotel in County Wexford, which also houses the Dunbrody Cookery School. This rack of lamb is one I make time and time again.

Serves: 8

Ingredients
2 1/4 pounds lamb neck bones
2 leeks, one roughly chopped and one sliced into thin matchsticks
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
1 large onion, finely diced
1 large bay leaf
1 large sprig fresh thyme
Small handful flat-leaf parsley stems
3 to 5 black peppercorns
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 racks of lamb, each about 10 to 12 ounces, with 8 chops each
6 ounces small carrots
10 ounces baby new potatoes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh rosemary sprigs, to garnish

Instructions
In large stockpot, combine the lamb bones, chopped leek, carrots, celery, half of the onion, the bay leaf, thyme, parsley stems and peppercorns. Cover with at least 6 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, season lightly with salt and pepper, and then simmer gently, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by two-thirds, to about 1 1/2 cups, about 2 hours. Skim off any scum or grease that rises to the surface with a large spoon. Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl and ideally leave to cool overnight so that you can scrape off any fat that has settled on top.

When you're ready to serve, heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Season the racks of lamb and place in a small roasting pan. Roast until the lamb is medium-rare to medium, 20 to 25 minutes, or a little longer, depending on how pink you like your lamb. Remove from the oven and set aside in a warm place to rest for 10 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and shape the small carrots and baby potatoes into neat barrels. Place in a large saucepan with the remaining onion and the reduced lamb stock. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to low and cook gently until the potatoes are tender but still holding their shape, 10 to 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the remaining leek and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not yet brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

To serve, carve the rested racks of lamb into chops. Place the softened leeks in the center of each warmed wide rimmed serving bowl and spoon around the potato-stock mixture. Arrange the lamb chops on top of the leeks and garnish with the rosemary sprigs.


Shepherd's Pie
Serves: 8

Ingredients
Potatoes
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup half and half
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg yolk

Filling
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons freshly chopped rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels
1/2 cup fresh English peas

Instructions
Heat oven to 400 degrees.

To make the potatoes: In a medium saucepan, cover the potatoes with cold water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove the lid, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until the potatoes are tender. Drain well and return to the saucepan. Mash the potatoes until somewhat smooth.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat the half and half and butter until steaming. Add to the mashed potatoes with the salt and pepper. Continue to mash until very smooth. Stir in the egg yolk and set aside. 

To make the filling: Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrots and cook, stirring frequently, until they just begin to take on color, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add the lamb, salt and pepper and continue to cook, stirring, until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the meat with the flour and toss to coat, then cook for another minute. Stir in the tomato paste, followed by the chicken broth, rosemary and Worcestershire. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the sauce is thickened slightly, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the corn and peas to the lamb mixture and spread evenly into a 7- by 11-inch glass baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes, and create a seal by smoothing it all down at the edges. Place on a sheet pan and bake on the middle rack of the oven until the potatoes are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.


Irish Cream
Makes: About 4 cups

Ingredients
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon instant coffee powder
1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup Irish whiskey
1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions
In a large bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon of the cream with the coffee and cocoa powders to make a smooth paste. Slowly whisk in the remaining cream, continuing to whisk until smooth. Whisk in the sweetened condensed milk, whiskey and vanilla. Pour into a 24-ounce jar and keep refrigerated until ready to serve, or up to 2 weeks. Drink over ice or in your coffee.

Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner, reviewer and Seacoast, New Hampshire resident, who now lives in Austin, Texas and Belize. She can be reached at Rachel.forrest@localmediagroupinc.com.

Photo (hero): jules/Flickr (license)

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