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.

Out Like a What Now?

Sun in Seattle in March can make people do crazy crazy things. Like sit on the deck and drink cocktails as if it were summer.

Not that we’ve had that much sun. Just a hint.

Last week there was a sunny afternoon that I got to enjoy all by myself, on the way to the Joy the Baker book signing over at Book Larder (I’m totally the blonde in the front row, BTW). I even had the windows down while I blasted lcd soundsystem all the way there.

And there was another one the Very. Next. Day. So sunny and warm we let Lilli play outside in next to nothing while we sipped spring time cocktails on the deck.

It’s days like those that help us gather the courage (liquid or no) to give March the pep talk it needs to shape up it’s act and start acting a little more lamb-like.

In Like a Lion
makes 1

1 1/2 oz of your favorite Gin or Whiskey
1 glass of ice
1 good quality Ginger Ale, such as Boylan’s
1/8 of a Blood Orange (regular oranges are fine too)
Mint, optional

Squeeze the juice out of one section of orange into a glass with as much or as little ice as you like. If using mint, crush a few leaves between your fingers and add to the glass. Top with alcohol of choice and fill with ginger ale. Garnish with the same orange wedge.

I encourage you to try it both ways at least once–we originally thought the gin would be better but ended up preferring the whiskey.

Winter’s Last Hurrah

Think about Winter for a second.

OK, stop. That was long enough, right?

Mercifully, that’s about how long there is left of this season. A second or two. In my haste to get to spring, I’ve been eating a lot of things that aren’t the usual cold weather comfort foods. Even though I’m still pretty much stuck with all the same winter ingredients.

Like kale.

And cabbage.

And apples.

But you know what? Even though I’m probably not the only one who is more than ready for the first sweet snap peas and their best buddy spring onions, I found that I can make do if I come up with a new recipe for those tired ingredients every now and then. Sometimes it takes a trip to the P-patch for a little inspiration (especially when you wake up to snow…in March), but after that I’m home free.

Heres a salad that’s got a lot of good things going for it, considering it’s full of foods that need a tropical vacation. It’s verdant, tangy crunch almost makes it OK that it isn’t a salad of tender greens and spicy-sweet young alliums.

Wait a minute…it is a salad of tender greens. And maybe those alliums are’t the youngest things on the block, but they still have a bit of kick left in them. And once they pick up cabbage off the curb and take her out on her blind date with apples, they’re pretty much a multiple marriage of the best kind. It’s sorta like a gussied up spring version of this salad, without the comforting starch of sweet potatoes and grains.

For this slaw, avoid the sometimes tough larger leaves of kale you get in the bunch and go for the littlest, tenderest ones. The ones that are so tender, even the stems almost don’t seem worth the trouble to remove them. And mince the onion pretty small–it lets the zing of raw onion shine without being overpowering.

Kale and Cabbage Slaw
makes 4 good sized side servings

2 heaping cups of the tenderest kale you can find
2 heaping cups shredded cabbage, about 1/4 of a small head
1 apple such as pink lady or braeburn
1 small red onion (think golf ball) or 1/2 a larger one
3 Tbsp good olive oil
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp honey

Whisk together the last 4 ingredients in a good sized bowl and set aside.

Finely dice the onion. You could also leave them in thin slices if you want to save time, but I like the contrast of the smaller size. Whisk them into the vinaigrette.

Slice the 4 sides of the apple. I left the skin on, but you could peel it if you felt like it. You’ll have 2 largeish “halves” and two little end pieces. Cut each piece into thin slices and then do it again in the opposite direction. They’ll essentially be julienned. Toss them in the vinaigrette to keep them from browning.

Thinly slice the cabbage and add that in on top of the apples, but don’t toss yet. Next, chiffonade the kale leaves. Add those on top of the whole thing and then toss well to coat. Serve chilled. The salad will keep well for about a day, but like most salads, I wouldn’t recommend making it in advance.

Inkling of Spring

This morning I woke up to several glorious things.

Light streaming in the window, which indicated that it actually was morning.

And a small sound from the room one door down, a little voice chirping “Mama, mama.”

An amazing sound when you’ve spent the last 1.5 years week being awoken at all sorts of ungodly hours to crying, whining or just plain screaming. Gonna be honest here friends, night weaning is a bitch.

Even when your kid is the most adorable thing ever.

And then I started dreaming of it being warm enough to picnic. A semi-decent nights rest after weeks and weeks of nights where you only get, on average, 5 hours of sleep a night can make you think crazy thoughts.

I really love a good spring picnic, and pretty much can’t wait for spring days that are sunny enough to enjoy from outside the windows and doors of my house. Maybe bundled up enjoyment, but enjoyment nonetheless.

Until then I’ve been making loaves and loaves of bread to be eaten with too much butter (which is a misnomer because there is no such thing as too much butter) and also salad.

Salads help me pretend that Spring is already here, especially ones like this one.

Take some veggies just barely painted with color, like fennel and endive:

Add several fruits that signal how near the end of winter is:

Next, a modest splash of color:

And pretty soon you have a salad that will, if need be, feed 8 adults and 2 kids and still leave leftovers. Leftovers that hold up admirably well for a salad, slightly dressed even. Or you could just make 1/2. Or eat more. It’s salad after all–no limits.

You could serve it next to little fried beet chips, like I did, if it seems too healthy. Fried food is a good antidote for “too healthy.”

But, no matter what you serve it alongside (We also ate this, for a big family dinner on Friday.) it will be delicious and give you a little taste of spring.

Shaved Fennel and Watermelon Radish Salad with Meyer Lemons
makes about 10 side servings, or 4 larger lunch servings

1 bulb fennel, fronds removed and reserved
3 meyer lemons
4-5 large watermelon radishes
2 small heads endive
2 Tbsp olive oil, or to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Line up all the endive leaves and chop into 3/4″ bite-sized pieces. Spread out on a large platter and cover with a damp paper towel while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Supreme the lemons, and chop the supremes into little bitty bite sized pieces, about the size of your pinky nail. Set these pieces aside in a small bowl. Do not wipe off your cutting surface, you want the fennel to sit in the lemon juice that’s left on the cutting board.

Remove any tough or bruised parts from the outside of the fennel and slice very thin using a mandoline. Pour any extra juice that has collected in the bottom of the lemon bowl over the fennel and toss just lightly. Add the shavings in one big heaping layer on top of the endive. From the reserved fronds, take the just best looking two or three and chop them finely, saving to use as a garnish. Cover again with the damp paper towels.

Peel any tough spots from the outside of the radishes. If you can’t find watermelon that’s ok. You can use any radish here. Slice them as thin as you like using the mandoline. I didn’t slice mine as thin as they could go because I wanted them to stay pretty crunchy. Add them as the next layer in the salad.

For the last layer, add the lemon bites over the top. Follow with the chopped fennel fronds. Next pour the olive oil over the whole thing slowly working over the whole salad. If you feel like you need more, by all means add it. I deliberately left this a very lightly dressed salad. Sprinkle some salt and pepper, and call it done!

If you, like me, are preparing this salad ahead of time for an evening dinner, leave it in the fridge without the oil, salt, and pepper, covered with the same damp paper towels you used throughout.