Honoring Irish roots with corned beef and cabbage
Yes, I'm Irish, but please, don't kiss me.
Or serve me a frothy green-dyed beer, or will me to wear a light-up shamrock necklace next Tuesday.
On St. Patrick's Day, I'll wear some green, call my father to wish him a happy day and to let him know I'm thinking about him and our shared Irish genes, and that's usually about it. And then, of course, there's the corned beef.
I grew up with a gag-inducing fear of the misunderstood leathery meat. My Polish mother, who can cook practically anything and make it delicious, took little joy or inspiration from my father's yearly request to have the chosen food of his early 20th-century ancestors. She would put the platter of quivering pink meat on the table with an almost apologetic shrug, as my sister and I found the least fatty piece to push around our plates until finally excused from the table.
We grew up and my mother found a creative solution to avoid cooking the meat for just one, hitting up at least one corned beef and cabbage dinner a year for my father, sponsored by some church group or local organization.
But about five years ago I decided to take back the corned beef tradition and make it my own.
I was in the middle of planning my wedding, going through old photos of family for a remembrance table -- honoring those no longer with us -- when I came across the last photo we have of my father's mother holding my sister and me. It's a perfect shot, a moment in time just months before a heart condition would take her forever from our lives. I was only 3.
That picture is pretty much all I have of my grandmother, Elizabeth Kaine. That and a collection of tiny spoons marking places she visited or dreamed of going. I hear she was the kind of woman who liked to have fun, drinking her favorite Manhattans and sometimes chain-smoking over a rowdy card game. She would have been fiercely proud of my sister and me -- I'm told by more than one relative -- two smart, stubborn women making it in predominately male professions. And she would have taken full credit for our successes, I hear.
I also know she was proud to be Irish. She came from a long line of O'Kaines (the O' dropped by our ancestors when they came to this country in an effort to hide their immigrant status) and liked wearing a shamrock pin on St. Patrick's Day -- the same one my father now wears.
She also cooked corned beef and cabbage once a year on St. Patrick's Day -- the only day of the year my German grandfather would give in to the cuisine of her Irish roots. My father remembers her boiling potatoes with the cabbage.
So it worried me that day five years ago that I was letting some of that tradition go. What would my future children know about their Irish heritage, besides perhaps an almost-translucent complexion, which is no fan of the sun, passed on by me? I had to do something.
I set out on a search for the perfect corned beef and cabbage recipe. I avoided asking my mother and instead hit the Internet. My not-yet-husband looked at me questionably when I purchased my first package of tri-tip corned beef that March.
"We're eating it," I said. "I've got years to figure this out before I torture our future children with their birthright."
On St. Patrick's Day we toasted to my grandmother over corned beef and cabbage fresh from the slow cooker and were amazed at the results. No longer was it the chewy monster of my youth, instead this salty, moist meat was perfect with the tender cabbage and potatoes and a side of spicy brown mustard. Even my husband, Irish only through osmosis, gobbled down the dinner.
He wasn't even mad that I'd used a perfectly good beer to make the main dish.
Maybe this year, I'll try making it with a green beer instead.
Slow-cooker Corned Beef and Cabbage
Makes 8 servings
Recipe adapted from allrecipes.com
4 large carrots, peeled and cut into matchstick pieces
10 baby red potatoes, quartered
1 onion, peeled and sliced
3 cups of water
1 corned beef brisket (or tri-cut) with spice packet
1 bottle of beer (we use Yuengling in our house)
1/2 head of cabbage, cut into four sections
Place the carrots, potatoes and onion into the bottom of the slow cooker. Pour in water and place the brisket on top of the vegetables. Pour the beer over the brisket then sprinkle on the spices from the packet. Cover and cook on high 7 to 8 hours.
An hour before serving, stir in the cabbage and cook for one more hour.
Makes 6 servings
Recipe adapted from allrecipes.com
If you're like our family and end up with way too much corned beef leftover, plan on making this casserole the next day. It's a new family tradition at our dinner table.
6 slices of rye bread, cubed
1 (16 ounce) can of sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
1 pound of leftover corned beef (just shred with your hands)
3/4 - 1 cup Russian dressings
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread bread cubes into the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Spread sauerkraut evenly over bread crumbs then layer corned beef over sauerkraut. Pour dressing evenly over all.
Spray aluminum foil with cooking spray and use to cover baking dish, sprayed side down. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove cover, sprinkle with cheese and bake uncovered for another 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly.
Irish Soda Bread
Here's a perfect, easy Irish Soda Bread from my Polish mother. This one she cooks perfectly, any time of the year.
3 cups of self rising flour
3/4 cup of sugar
3/4cup of raisins
1 stick of melted margarine/butter
1 and 1/3 cup of buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add all ingredients together in a bowl and mix (no kneading just mix). Pour ingredients into a greased 8x8 baking dish. Bake for 50 minutes. Check to make sure the bread is done with a toothpick.
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