Welcoming Spring

Let’s face it: there aren’t a whole lot of Jews in Ireland. Apparently only about 1,700, to be more precise.

But, I do have some Irish ancestry. That’s one of the benefits of being a Jew-by-choice. Your bloodlines can be a little more far-reaching.

My dad claims that somehow we’re related to the Irish family of William Wallace, but I’m not too sure about all of that. I do know that somewhere it is documented that we can in fact trace our roots back to a specific clan, and that we do in fact have a tartan.

Not that I’m into guys in kilts. But, I do wonder how the Irish spring compares to our Spring. I bet it’s quite a sight to see the season sneak up on that fair isle.

I am glad to be a smidge Irish. It gives me lee-way to go around doing things like corning my own beef for St. Patty’s Day. It doesn’t hurt that I still have a large–though dwindling–portion of a cow in my freezer. And, since there is a connection between Jews and corned beef (all things brisket, really) I figured why the heck not.

And in case you were wondering, the “corned” part of corned beef refers to the rock salt traditionally used to cure the meat–it was called “corns” of salt. I looked this up because my step-sons wanted to know where the corn was when I served them dinner Saturday and I didn’t know how to explain why it was called that.

I used a recipe I found via Punk Domestics, which I chose because it was nitrate and nitrite free. I know there is controversy over whether or not added nitrates/nitrites are actually bad for you, but around here we try to eliminate any ingredient that would not be used in normal every day cooking, so I was happy to let it go. I also wasn’t sure just exactly where to buy it without having it shipped, for one, and I didn’t really care about having that glorified red color that is a characteristic of meats cured with the pink salt. I omitted the whey, which the recipe said was optional, and that kept it kosher. And I opted to leave the brisket out overnight after setting it up. I didn’t cut it into pieces like they did, but I did stab it all over with a knife to let the brine really soak in there.

It brined for about 9 days total, and it turned out amazing. It was a little on the salty side, even for my tastes. It could be that my brisket was a touch under 3 lbs, or that the recipe was overcompensating for the fact that it left out the pink salt most other corned beef recipes call for. If I make it again (I’m totally making this again) I would probably cut the salt just a bit and see what happens. And maybe go easier on the stabbing part of the process.

When it came time to actually cook the thing, I followed the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. It was very straight forward, which I liked. The whole thing from start to finish was very straight forward, actually. Once you put it in the brine you forget about it for a few days, then you put it in a big pot of water and forget about it for a few more hours. It practically cooks itself.

The leftovers, on the other hand, are another story. Leftovers do not cook themselves, at least not fresh ones.

Since I had never made corned beef, I had never made corned beef hash either. According to some, this is the only reason to actually cook corned beef in the first place, and now I am one of these people.

I wanted to make something a little more vegetable heavy than most other hash recipes, so I started fresh. I know how to make a basic hash, after all, so the concept was nothing new. But figuring out how to ease some of the salt out of the beef was a little tricky.

Just kidding, it was easy. I added non-salty stuff.

Potatoes, of course. Because a dense, waxy potato really is the perfect accompaniment to a salty piece of meat. And kale, since I can’t really get enough of the stuff. And also golden beets, mostly because I had them sitting around and they were starting to get a little wrinkly around the edges. The beets were one of those snap decisions that ends up paying dividends–they were what made the dish. Their earthy, sweet qualities were the perfect balance for the other ingredients, kicked into high gear by the almost caramelized onions hiding throughout. And I served it with coleslaw instead of boiled cabbage, because I tend to like my cruciferous vegetables on the crunchier side of things. I topped it all with some very fresh young flat-leaf parsley and decided that corned beef hash might just be the golden child of the leftovers world.

So if you’ve still got a bit of corned beef sitting in your fridge making you salivate, I suggest you take a look in the crisper and green it up. With the arrival of Spring today in all her glory, it’s all about the green.

Pot O’ Gold Corned Beef Hash with Kale and Golden Beets
serves 2

1 medium yellow or sweet onion, sliced thin
2 cups cubed boiled potatoes, peeled or not
1 1/2 cups shredded or cubed corned beef
3 small or 2 larger golden beets, about 2 cups shredded
1/2 bunch kale, stems and tough veins removed, roughly chopped
1 1/2 to 2 cups beef stock, leftover from cooking your beef if you have it
Olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper
1-2 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (also called Italian)
1-2 eggs per person, optional

Heat a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Heat about 1 Tbsp of olive oil until it shimmers, then toss in the onions. Stir to coat in oil, then let cook, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Add a splash of broth every now and then in necessary to deglaze the pan and help soften the onions.

Next, add the potatoes, beef and shredded beets. Stir everything together and add about 1 cup of broth. Turn down the heat to medium and let cook until the broth has evaporated. Now add the kale, and add a splash more broth. Cook just until the kale is tender, but still bright green.

At this point you can add eggs if you like. Make a well for each egg you will cook, right in the hash. Crack one egg into each well and let cook until the whites have set but the yolks are still soft, 4-5 minutes. Cook the yolks longer if you choose.

Split between 2 plates and top with plenty of fresh ground pepper and chopped parsley.

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Half Birthday’s Aren’t Just for Kids

I know this guy. We get along pretty well, so sometimes we hang out. Usually we don’t get to hang out by ourselves, but that’s OK with us since the rest of the usual group can be fun too, since they’re our kids and all.

Anyway, this guy’s name is Joe, and today is his half birthday. Normally grown-ups don’t celebrate half birthdays but that is just a crying shame. This morning when he flipped the calendar page he realized the date and wanted to know if he could have half a birthday cake.

I think he was a little surprised when I said sure, but who likes to get their hopes up and then have them dashed? Certainly not me.

So I made him one. I cheated a little and used a cake that had been in our freezer, pretty much just waiting for the right moment to come along. One when it would be thoroughly enjoyed.

Slathered with buttercream, who can tell the difference anyway? Ok, so the buttercream was in the freezer too, colored a very garish yellow from Lilli’s first birthday. 

We also had a Thai inspired feast for dinner, to go with our chocolate cake. Most of the foods in the meal weren’t anything special because this week we are trying to kind of clean out our freezers and use up leftovers because Joe’s kind of a frugal guy. I had some leftover teriyaki salmon that I turned into fish cakes with some lime, ginger and some cilantro straight from the garden. And I had some lemongrass and half a container of tofu so I made a quick curry tofu soup with a little bit of coconut milk. Well, maybe a lot of coconut milk.

The soup came straight from my own brain. The fish cakes too, which is maybe why they weren’t very pretty–they ended up more like fish hash than cakes but oh well. I don’t know how to cook Thai food like a pro, but I do love to eat it so I think I at least have that going for me. The recipes probably aren’t that authentic, but they were pretty simple and that’s helpful if you’re also trying to entertain a silly silly little girl while making dinner.

The cake came from Fanny Farmer, a book I use very frequently. There’s something about the old recipes that I really love–they are classic, sure, but mostly it’s how they are written. They’re so matter of fact. I have to tweak them sometimes, but I don’t mind a bit. There are a lot of pages stuck together, and the gold hardcover is starting to break down in places, but that just shows how loved it really is.

Fudge Cake
Adapted from Fanny Farmer, 1965 edition
makes two 7″ or 8″ cakes

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar, divided use
1/2 tsp vanilla
4 oz good semi sweet chocolate
5 Tbsp boiling water
3 eggs
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Cream together butter, vanilla, and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy.

Meanwhile, over a double boiler melt the chocolate. Once it’s melted smooth add the boiling water and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar.

Add to the butter mixture. Next add the eggs, one at a time. Beat after each addition, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Add the flour to this mixture alternating with the milk.

Divide in the pans and bake about 20 minutes, rotating half way through. Check with a toothpick and give it 5 more minutes or so if needed. Cool completely before frosting.