Get Your Green On & Irish Lamb Stew

So … Friday is Saint Patrick’s Day. The Irish and those that wish they were Irish will celebrate the day. It began as a religious feast day for Ireland’s patron saint. It has evolved into a celebration of all things Irish with parades, dancing, festive foods and a whole lot of green.

Unless you live in Ireland, you’ll still need to report to work as usual. However, the timing isn’t half-bad. It’s nice to know you can sleep in the next morning if you drink one too many green beers. Although my memory is a little hazy, I seem to remember Saint Paddy’s Day pub crawls when I was in college. It’s been a while.

Now, if you aren’t into crawling or you town has few if any pubs, how should you celebrate?

First and foremost, you must wear green. It’s not a problem for me. I like green; I drive a green car and have for years. If you’re not exactly partial to this verdant hue, start digging through your closet. There must be a green sweater or turtleneck in there somewhere. If you can’t find a thing, take a trip to a dollar store and pick up a green bandana. It will have to do.

Now that you’ve got your green on, you should march in a parade. If you like tradition, the first Saint Paddy’s parade took place in 1762. The only problem for those of us in the wilds of New Hampshire, the closest parade is in Manchester. Even then, it’s not until the 26th. There is a parade in South Boston this Sunday. If you can’t wait or want to stay closer to home, make your own parade. With any luck, the weather will be nice. Take a stroll up and down Main Street and show your colors. If you’d like, paint a little green shamrock on each check. Just remember, shamrocks have three leaves not four.

During your stroll, you could search for leprechauns. Then again, leprechaun hunts might be one of those silly things you do after drinking too much green beer. Anyway, I’m not sure I’d really recommend it. The odds of finding a leprechaun and his pot of gold must be what? About even with winning the lottery? Particularly this year! It’s been a blustery month, it wouldn’t surprise me if the little fellows got swept up and blown back to the Emerald Isle.

Next, enjoy an Irish feast. All across the United States, especially in New England, people will be boiling up corned beef and cabbage. However, if you think it is an Irish tradition, you’d be wrong. Historically, you’d be more likely to find pork or lamb than beef on an Irish table. The Irish are famous for their stew. Why not stir up a pot?

End the evening with a jig. It doesn’t matter if you know what you are doing. The point is to have some fun. Find some fiddle music and kick up your heels. Don’t be shy; no one expects you to go all Riverdance. Let go, embrace the music and enjoy the laughter.

Éirinn go Brách, have fun and bon appétit!

Irish Lamb Stew
The epitome of comfort food, a traditional Irish stew is the perfect meal on a blustery March day. Enjoy!
Serves 6
2-3 ounces slab or thick cut bacon, chopped
Flour for dusting the lamb
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
About 2 pounds lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon or to taste dried chili flakes
4-6 carrots cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup Guinness or other dark beer
3 cups chicken stock
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 pound new potatoes
5-6 stalks celery cut into 1-inch pieces
1-2 leeks, cut in 1-inch pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the bacon in a heavy casserole over medium-low heat until crisp and brown. Remove the bacon and reserve.

Season the flour with salt and pepper. Lightly dust the lamb cubes with the seasoned flour. Brown the lamb in the bacon fat over medium-high heat a few minutes per side. Remove the lamb and add it to the reserved bacon.

Reduce the heat to medium. If necessary, add a little butter or olive oil to the bacon fat, add the onion, sprinkle with dried chili flakes and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more.

Put the lamb and bacon back into the stew pot. Add the carrot, beer and chicken stock and season with the herbs, salt and pepper. Raise the heat to medium high and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot, transfer to the oven and cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Stir in the potatoes, celery and leeks, return the pot to the oven and continue cooking, covered, until the vegetables and lamb are tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. If the stew seems dry, add more beer and/or stock.

Ladle into shallow bowls and serve.

Can be made ahead, cooled to room temperature and refrigerated overnight. Reheat in a 350 degree oven until bubbling.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Parsnips with Rosemary
Two Years Ago – Not-Really-Irish and Not-Really-French Potato Gratin
Three Years Ago – Zucchini Pancakes
Four Years Ago – Traditional Irish Soda Bread
Five Three Years Ago – Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons
Six Years Ago – Grilled Strip Steak with Gorgonzola Sauce
Seven Years Ago – Linguine with Sundried Tomato Pesto & Roasted Eggplant
Eight Years Ago – Fettuccine with Classic Bolognese Sauce
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? Now that the seasons are changing, how will you spend time outside? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Get Out & Vote! & Creamy Polenta with Mushroom & Kale Ragù

An open letter to my nieces and nephews,

vote_02Finally, the 2016 election is headed into the homestretch. Fed up with the rancor, some (probably most) Americans are heaving a huge sigh of relief. Few would disagree that the tone of the election is disturbing, even horrifying. It worries me. More than a few people are threatening to skip the whole thing. I’m sure you’d never stay home from the polls but just in case you’re thinking about it … please don’t. Cast your vote, if for no other reason than it will make Meme proud.

Perhaps she is naïve or unduly patriotic but your grandmother believes in voting. The first time I voted, Mom waited to cast her ballot until I got home from school so we could go to the polls together. It has never mattered that our views often differ, that our votes cancel each other out. For Meme, voting is important, an important right and responsibility.

Maybe it is because my grandmother, Meme’s mom, was born before women had the right to vote. Nana was of voting age and shoulda, coulda, woulda voted the year Woodrow Wilson was elected president. Instead, she had to wait another four years for the 19th amendment to pass.

The candidates tell us, “This is the most important election ever.” Maybe they are right, maybe not. Many of the talking heads, pundits and pollsters say that millennials could decide the 2016 election. That’s you and that’s a good thing. Who better to decide the future than the generation who will be around to see it? Don’t forget, a Supreme Court position is at stake. Appointing a supreme is a big deal with long lasting effect. The average tenure on the court is sixteen years. The longest serving justice was on the bench for more than thirty-six years.

Anyway, that’s the argument I used with Gramps. Discouraged by his choices, your grandfather threatened to stay home from the polls. That’s a pretty big deal. As far as I know, Gramps has never skipped an election. Okay, maybe he missed a few of those local elections over referenda that almost no one understands. (Sorry – Mom, I’ve missed a few of those as well.)

And so, I had a heart to heart with your disheartened grandfather. I suggested that he vote for the candidate who best represented the interests and needs of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Especially you, the youngest generation of Nyes. I think it worked. At least, he cast his ballot.

It’s okay to be a little selfish about this. Think of your future, your beliefs and values when you ponder this election. Look beyond the melodrama and vote for the issues that matter to you. Wave away the stunts and theater. Determine what’s best for the economy, foreign policy, health care and education. Reflect on your positions on the environment, gun policy, terrorism and trade. Consider where you stand on immigration, marriage equality, treatment of minorities and women’s rights. It’s not easy. There has never been a perfect candidate. There never will be.

Alzheimer’s disease has robbed Meme of her ability to vote. Go in her stead. Know she loves you and make her proud. I love you too.

Bon appétit!

Creamy Polenta with Mushroom & Kale Ragù
For anyone following the election, a little comfort food is probably in order about now. Enjoy!polenta_mushrooms_kale_01
Serves 6-8

4-6 ounces pancetta or bacon
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
Pinch or to taste red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds mushrooms*, trimmed and sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1/4 cup dry Madeira or sherry wine
4 cups chicken stock or broth
1 pound baby kale, stemmed
1-2 tablespoons butter
1 cup instant polenta
4 ounces fontina cheese, shredded
1-2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1/2-1 cup half & half
Garnish: grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Prepare the mushrooms and kale: Lightly coat a heavy skillet with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the pancetta and sauté until crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove the pancetta and drain.

Add the onion to the skillet, season with pepper flakes, salt and pepper and sauté until it starts to become translucent, add the mushrooms and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and 1 teaspoon each rosemary and thyme and sauté for 2-3 minutes more.

Add the wine and reduce by half, stir in 1/2 cup stock, add the pancetta and kale and simmer until the kale wilts. Add salt and pepper to taste and toss to combine. Add the butter and stir to combine.

polenta_mushrooms_kale_05While the mushrooms and kale cooks, make the polenta: Bring the remaining stock to a boil in heavy saucepan, add the polenta and remaining herbs and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until the polenta thickens, about 3 minutes. Stir in the half & half, add the cheeses and stir until melted and smooth.

To serve: spoon the polenta into shallow bowls, top with mushrooms and kale and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

* If you can find them, use a mix of chanterelles, oyster and shiitake mushrooms.

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One Year Ago – Butternut Squash Crostini with Goat Cheese & Balsamic Reduction
Two Years Ago – Moroccan Spiced Vegetables & Chickpeas with Couscous
Three Years Ago – Smashed or Mashed Potatoes
Four Years Ago – Apple Muffins
Five Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Warm Roasted Squash
Six Years Ago – Spinach Ricotta Pie
Seven Years Ago – Seared Scallops with Lentils
Eight Years Ago – Tomato, Olive & Feta Tart

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Dare I ask … what are your thoughts on the election? Feel free to share.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2016

Enjoy the Peak & Pumpkin Chili with Turkey & Black Beans

fall_leaves_02There is a closely guarded secret in northern New England. It’s not like one of those deep, dark family secrets. You know the type – maybe your uncle is ex-KGB or your grandparents were illegal aliens. Heck, maybe you haven’t paid taxes in a couple of decades or have an email server in your basement. Whatever it is, you’re probably okay as long as you don’t run for office.

New Hampshire’s secret is the foliage. Not the fact that we have it and it’s glorious. No, our secret is all about timing. All those people who crowded our highways and byways over the long weekend; they missed it. The peak, at least in my neighborhood, is rarely if ever on the second weekend of October. As long as Hurricane Matthew doesn’t take a turn and strip all the leaves from the trees, the colors should be at their most glorious this coming weekend.

Now that you know the truth, what are you going to do about it? How will you celebrate our bright and brilliant countryside? The peak comes and goes in what seems like instant so you don’t have a lot of time to ponder. Before you know it, the golden days of October will disappear. Is there any debate that New Hampshire is at its worst in November?

First and foremost, get out and about. Take a walk through the woods for an up close and personal foliage tour. Nervous about ticks? Take a walk through town, any town. Is there anything more New England than an old white church framed in scarlet and gold again a bright blue sky? The lake is magic this time of year. When the water is still, it is like glass. A canoe or kayak paddle is definitely in order. Maybe you’d prefer to hop on your bike and cover more ground. Or get in the car and go further still. However you travel, bring a festive picnic or plan to stop at your favorite bistro.

In addition to that bistro, you might want to wander through some of your favorite shops. Admire some antiques, find the perfect pumpkin and splurge on the latest novel by your favorite author. It’s probably due to all those years of back- to- school shopping but there’s something about fall. It makes us want to buy a new sweater, a pair of boots or new pillows for the sofa. Maybe even a new sofa?

While you are wandering around the farmstand looking for pumpkins, don’t forget to stock up on cider, apples, squash and a basket of gnarly gourds. It’s time to bake your first apple pie of the season. I guess anything apple will do – a cake, muffins – you choose! As for that lovely squash or sugar pumpkin, you’ll want to get cozy after a day outside with soup, risotto or chili.

And what about those gnarly gourds? They are for decorating. After Christmas, fall is the most decorated season. Create a festive display of mums, pumpkins, gourds and cornstalks on your front porch. Perhaps you’d like to use some of those pumpkins to build fanciful scarecrows. Whether you go elegant or whimsical, there’s still a bit of time left for outdoor living. Be sure to invite a few friends over to enjoy a cup of afternoon tea or an early evening cocktail surrounded by your creativity.

Enjoy the peak and bon appétit!

Pumpkin Chili with Turkey & Black Beans
Make this delicious chili in advance for an easy feast after an adventure-filled day. Enjoy!
Serves 12pumpkins_gords_02

1 pound dried black beans
2 bay leaves
Olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2-2 large onions, chopped
1 (or more to taste) chipotle pepper(s) in adobo, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 pounds ground turkey
2-3 cups homemade (or canned) pumpkin puree
2-3 cups chicken or turkey stock or broth
1 1/2 cups beer, preferably dark beer
3/4 cup sour cream
Garnish: toasted pumpkin seeds and fresh chopped cilantro

Rinse the beans, put them in a bowl, add water to cover by about 4 inches and soak overnight.

Drain and rinse the beans. Put the beans and 1 bay leaf in large pot, add water to cover by 3-4 inches. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to very low, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

While the beans are cooking, heat a little olive oil in a large casserole and heat over medium. Add the carrots, onions, chipotle, spices and herbs, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Remove from the pan and reserve.

Add a little more olive oil to the casserole, add the turkey, season with salt and pepper and sauté until lightly browned. Return the vegetables to the pot and stir to combine.

Stir in the pumpkin puree, 1-2 cups stock, the beer and remaining bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Simmer on very low until the beans are ready to add to the chili.

After the beans have been cooking for about 45 minutes, drain and add them to the chili. Cover and transfer the chili to the oven. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Stirring a few times and adding more chicken stock if necessary, cook for about 1 hour.

Put the sour cream in a bowl. A little at a time, whisk 2 cups of chili into the sour cream. Stir the sour cream mixture into the chili, add more chicken stock if necessary and return the chili to the oven for about 1 hour.

Serve the chili in shallow bowls garnished with pumpkin seeds and chopped cilantro.

Best if made ahead, cooled to room temperature, covered and refrigerated for serval hours or overnight. To reheat: bring to a simmer over low heat on the stovetop or in a 350-degree oven.

Homemade Pumpkin Puree
1 or more sugar pumpkin(s)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the pumpkin(s) in half and scoop and scrape out the seeds. Quarter each of the halves and place the pieces on a baking sheet.

Roast the pumpkin at 350 degrees until tender, about 45 minutes. Cool slightly. When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and put it in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse and process until the pumpkin is smooth.

Put the puree in a sieve lined with coffee filters or cheesecloth and drain for several hours or overnight.

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One Year Ago – Ravioli with Roasted Butternut Squash
Two Years Ago – Hearty White Bean & Tomato Soup
Three Years Ago – Cherry-Pistachio Biscotti
Four Years Ago – Tagliatelle alla Carbonara
Five Years Ago – Carbonnade á la Flamande – Beer Braised Beef & Onions
Six Years Ago – Braised Beef Bourguignon
Seven Years Ago – Pumpkin Cupcakes
Eight Years Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your secret? Feel free to share.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2016

Spring Has Sprung & Moroccan Chicken with Green Olives & Preserved Lemon

Most years I greet the first day of spring with a hale and hearty guffaw. Then again, most years there are still mountainous snow banks outside my kitchen window. While the first crocus has yet to raise its perky purple petals to the sun, New Hampshire feels more like May than March. Yes indeed, it feels a lot like spring.

And with spring comes one of those longer-than-long To-Do lists.

From top to bottom, these lists are filled with all that stuff that no one in their right mind wants to do. Or at least, I never want to do. You know … emptying every drawer in the kitchen, washing all those little plastic trays and putting everything back again. Sorting through ten years of paperbacks and, instead getting lost in a favorite old thriller, packing them up for the book sale. Same goes for organizing your sweater drawer and changing batteries, light bulbs and the furnace filter. And don’t forget your taxes are due in less than a month.

Sure the first day of spring is welcomed but (unless you live to wash windows and organize old bills and bank statements) the spring To-Do list is not. Why not shake things up with some lighthearted fun and a spring-has-sprung list? Mine might look something like this:

1. Ski at least one last time and wear your favorite Hawaiian shirt. If you don’t have a Hawaiian shirt, improvise. When the snow turns to wet cement, relax on the deck with a burger and beer.

2. Spend a rainy afternoon at the movies. Don’t forget the Milk Duds … unless you prefer Junior Mints or Jujubes.

3. And since there will inevitably be more than one rainy day, spend a morning at your favorite museum. Most museums have a charming and delicious little café tucked into a corner somewhere. Take a break to rest your feet while you enjoy a coffee and croissant or a lovely lunch.

4. Whether it’s lunch or dinner, next time you’re out on the town, skip the entrée. Instead, enjoy a gorgeous salad, wicked appetizer and decadent dessert. Do not feel guilty for one single minute. If you do, hum a little tune to get your mother’s voice out of your head.

5. Pack a picnic and head to the lake to watch the ice melt. If you can’t find one, start an ice-out pool. Bring a good book or a Frisbee; an ice-out is a little like watching paint dry except you’re out in the sunshine.

6. When warm breezes blow and the sky is bluer than blue, fly a kite. Yes, the fields will be muddy but don’t let that bother you. Throw on your rubber boots and raise your face to the sun. Afterwards, stop by that gelato shop you love or whip up a batch of your favorite flavor at home.

7. On the next warm, sunny afternoon, drive to the coast and take a walk on the beach. Stop for tea and a cupcake before you drive home again.

8. While you’re in a beachy mood, turn your next dinner into a beach party. Invite everyone to dress appropriately in sundresses, shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops. Dust off your old Beach Boy albums and drag the grill out of the garage. It’s time to dance and serve up your favorite warm weather dishes.

9. Or search the world for recipes from warm, sunny climes. A new chicken recipe would be good. Try something exotic with interesting herbs and spices. Invite your nearest and dearest over to enjoy it with you.

10. Invent a new cocktail (with or without alcohol) and name it Spring Has Sprung. Ask your friends to do the same and host a taste-off and tapas party. With a fun and festive evening of fancy drinks and good food, everyone goes home a winner.

Enjoy the early spring and bon appétit!

Moroccan Chicken with Green Olives and Preserved Lemon

With a wonderful combination of lemon and spice, Chicken with Green Olives and Preserved Lemon is a great dish to celebrate spring. Enjoy!

Serves 4

Olive oil
4 chicken breasts or thighs or a mix of both
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon sweet or hot paprika
1 teaspoon or to taste red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup cracked green olives, pitted and quartered
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 large pinch saffron
1 bay leaf
1 preserved lemon (8 wedges), recipe follows
Garnish: fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Heat a little olive oil in a large casserole over medium high heat. Add the chicken to the casserole and cook each side for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the chicken from the pot and reserve.

Add the onions to the casserole and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add the garlic, ginger, cinnamon, pepper, cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, cloves and salt and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Add the olives, wine, stock, saffron and bay leaf to the pot and stir to combine.

Rinse the preserved lemon wedges and separate the pulp from the peel. Discard the pulp, cut the peel into strips and add to pot.

Return the chicken to the casserole and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 35 to 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Discard the bay leaf and transfer the chicken to a serving platter or individual plates. Spoon a little sauce over the chicken and garnish with cilantro. Serve immediately with additional sauce.

Preserved Lemons
8-12 fresh lemons
About 1/3 cup kosher or sea salt

Slice half of the lemons in eights. In a mixing bowl, toss the lemons generously with salt. Tightly pack the lemons and salt in a clean, sterilized pint jar. Add the juice of the remaining lemons to the jar. If you don’t have enough lemons and lemon juice to fill the jar, top it off with extra virgin olive oil.

Secure the lid and store in the refrigerator for at least 10 days before using. The lemons will keep, refrigerated, for at least a couple of months.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Strip Steak with Gorgonzola Sauce
Two Year Ago – Linguine with Sundried Tomato Pesto & Roasted Eggplant
Three Years Ago – Fettuccine with Classic Bolognese Sauce
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s on your spring-has-sprung List? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Want more? Click here for lots more to read, see & cook! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2012

Everyone is Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day & Guinness Lamb Shanks

Saint Patrick’s Day is just around the corner. Pubs around the world will be filled to capacity and then some. Ireland’s patron Saint will be honored and toasted in sleepy little village pubs in counties Cork and Clare and in cozy saloons in Dublin and Belfast. Everyone is Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day so celebrations and parades will be held in Chicago, Boston and New York as well as small towns across the country. Not to be outdone Irish pubs in Dubai, Hong Kong and Moscow will join in the party. Fiddlers will fiddle, tenors will sing, jigs will be danced and Guinness will be quaffed.

Pubs have been a mainstay of Irish life for centuries. The tradition began in the Middle Ages when humble country cottages offered a pint, a meal and even a bed to weary travelers. Later, simple shops selling groceries and beer evolved to become homey spots to gather and share a pint after a hard day. Short for Public Houses, they were a sharp contrast to the hoity-toity private clubs used by the wealthy. Open to one and all, hard working men and women could always find a cozy home away from home at the village pub.

Irish pubs are steeped in romance and folklore. (But then, so is all of Ireland.) If you envision cozy rooms with low, heavy beamed ceilings and enormous hearths with crackling fires, you’re pretty close to spot on. Irish pubs are warm, welcoming places where everyone knows your name. Or maybe that’s a little bar in Boston.

Spirited conversation and quick wit are the most important ingredients in the pub experience. Election year or not, you can usually count on lively political debate. During Ireland’s long struggle against English occupation and rule, the discussions often took a rebellious turn. Away from prying eyes and ears, pubs were perfect meeting places for dissidents to criticize colonial rule and even plan a few acts of rebellion. The English went so far as to outlaw these strongholds of nationalism and resistance but the independent Irish ignored the edict and pubs continued to flourish.

What could be better than whiling away the hours in a cozy tavern on a rainy afternoon or dull evening? You are sure to find easy, relaxed conversation as friends and strangers alike swap stories, share a joke or exchange a bit of harmless gossip. Simply put and borrowing from Gaelic, pubs are all about craic (pronounced crack) or having a good time in good company.

It is no surprise that Irish pub culture has been exported all over the world. Cozy bars with names like Murphy’s and O’Connell’s can be found in cities and towns from Boston to Bombay. When I lived in Switzerland I frequented Flanagan’s in Geneva’s old town, as well as Molly Malone’s in Prague and Rosie O’Grady’s in Moscow. I even shared a pint with a customer in an Irish pub in Dubai.

Outside the Emerald Isle Irish pubs don’t quite fit the traditional image of a snug little tavern. Jigs are seldom, if ever, danced and tenors rarely sign. Still and all, there is Guinness and Kilkenny on tap and the bartenders have the good looks and charm of the Irish if not the birthright. Friends gather around rustic wooden tables and exchange tall tales, enjoy easy banter and a joke or two. Hundreds or even thousands of miles from the Ireland’s emerald shores, Irish pubs can’t help but inspire craic.

This Saint Paddy’s Day, whether you recreate a pub atmosphere at home or head out for a pint, enjoy the celebration. Sláinte (to your health) and bon appétit!

Guinness Lamb Shanks
What could be more Irish than lamb and Guinness? Have a fun and festive St. Paddy’s Day!
Serves 6

4 ounces slab or thick cut bacon, roughly chopped
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 lamb* shanks
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes, or to taste
4 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 1/2-2 cups Guinness
3-4 cups chicken stock
1-2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Garnish: fresh chopped mint and/or parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the bacon in a heavy casserole over medium-low heat until crisp and brown. Remove the bacon and reserve. Pour off any excess bacon fat, leaving just enough to lightly coat the pan and reserve.

Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper and, working in batches, brown the lamb over medium-high heat. Add more bacon fat to the pan as needed. If you run out of bacon fat, substitute with a little olive oil. Remove the lamb and add to the reserved bacon.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, sprinkle with dried chili flakes and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté an additional 1-2 minutes.

Put the lamb and bacon back into the stew pot. Add the carrot, celery, parsnips, herbs and chicken stock; raise the heat and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook at 350 degrees for 2- 2 1/2 hours or until the vegetables and lamb are tender. Add more beer and/or stock if needed.

Carefully transfer the shanks and vegetables to a deep serving platter and cover. You want a nice rich sauce and may or may not need to bring it to a boil over high heat to reduce. Whisk in the vinegar. Ladle the sauce over the lamb shanks, garnish with chopped mint and parsley and serve.

*If you’re not a lamb fan, substitute beef chuck and make a stew.

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One Year Ago – Creole Shrimp with Cheesy Grits
Two Year Ago – White Bean Dip
Three Years Ago – Warm Chocolate Pudding
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Who will toast and celebrate on International Women’s Day? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Want more? Click here for lots more to read, see & cook! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2012

Eighty-Five & Mediterranean Seafood Stew

Today is my father’s birthday. He is eighty-five … yes, 85.
Most years, Dad’s birthday gets overshadowed by the hoopla of Christmas, New Year’s and the start of the ski season. There’s only one thing worse than finding a birthday gift two days after Christmas. That’s having your birthday two days after Christmas. But eighty-five is an impressive milestone and deserves at least a bit of attention.
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My dad is a very special guy. Yes, I know that most kids brag about their fathers but mine is truly remarkable. Without a doubt, Dad is the peoplest people person I know. He’s never met a stranger he didn’t like. And he meets people everywhere! He’ll help you pass the time in that long line at the deli counter on a busy summer weekend or drive away the boredom on a plane ride from here to there. He’ll tell you a story and listen to yours over a long, leisurely dinner. Completely genuine, Dad always has at least a few words, more often several, for everyone. It’s more than simple charm; he is energized by his friends, family and the innocent bystanders who cross his path. Dad doesn’t pretend to be interested in your story; he truly is interested in what you have to say.

And Dad loves to talk. He has a story for every rhyme, reason and season. He can remember the names and idiosyncrasies of every one of his childhood pals. He knows who had a pain-in-the-neck little brother and who had a gorgeous sister. Dad’s got a passel of stories about sailing on the Cape and skiing in Vermont and New Hampshire. He’s got tales about college in Boston and road trips to and from Kansas. How and why he ended up in Kansas is another story and closely related to having too much fun in Boston.

His grandfather holds a special place in his life and heart and Dad is delighted to share their adventures. Grandpa Nye was a contractor and built a lot of little houses in their hometown of Brockton, Massachusetts. He drove a big, old Buick and loved to take his onlygrandson with him when he made his rounds. Dad got his first business less ons from Grandpa Nye. Over the years he picked up a lot more from his father, various bosses, employees and customers. He is only too happy to share what he learned from any and all of them.

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Even better, he can tell you all about the day he met my mother, down to the very last detail.

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When I was a teenager, Dad amazed, horrified and embarrassed me. I couldn’t begin tounderstand how he could just jump in and start a conversation … with a stranger no less. In all honesty, I think I was more or less horrified and embarrassed by any and everything he did. Don’t forget, I was a teenager. Luckily, I eventually got over myself and came to admire and even emulate his cheery chattiness. A master storyteller and a decent listener, he made it look easy.

If you’re one of those shy fellows, believe me, with a little practice it is easy. And well worth it. Everyone has a story. Most would like nothing better than to share it. All you need to do is ask a simple question or two, pay attention and ask a few more. True, some stories are more interesting than others but all are worth a listen.

Sometimes I’ll catch myself making small talk with a stranger and can’t help but smile. And give Dad a silent word of thanks. Following his example, I’ve met a lot of strangers over the years. Happily, some have become dear friends.

Happy Birthday Dad and bon appétit!

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Mediterranean Seafood Stew
Birthday celebration or not, this seafood stew is the perfect centerpiece for a festive winter feast. Enjoy!
Serves 8-10
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Extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
Pinch or to taste chili pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon herbs de Provence
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
3/4-1 cup shrimp, fish or chicken stock
1-2 tablespoons capers, drained
10-12 Sicilian or other large green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1 pound scrod or other firm white fish, cut into chunks
1 pound shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 pound bay scallops
Finely chopped, fresh basil

Heat a little olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, chili pepper and herbs to the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Cook the vegetables, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and anchovy paste and cook for another minute. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Stir in the tomatoes, stock, capers and olives. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes.

Raise the heat to medium-high, add the scrod, return to a simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and scallops, return to a simmer and continue to cook, stirring once or twice, until all the fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes. The scrod and scallops will be opaque and the shrimp will be pink.

Sprinkle with chopped basil and serve immediately with warm chunks of sourdough bread or with rice.

You can make the sauce in advance. Cool to room temperature, cover and store in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to continue, bring the sauce to a simmer and complete the recipe.

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One Year Ago – Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Mushroom Sauce
Two Years Ago – Potato, Leek & Kale Soup
Three Years Ago – Salmon & Lentils
Or Click Here!  for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your favorite birthday dinner? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on theSign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new stories and recipes.

Want more? Feel free to visit my photoblog Susan Nye 365 or click here for more recipes and magazine articles or here to watch me cook!I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good.

© Susan W. Nye, 2011

Holiday Feasting & Braised Lamb with Artichokes and Mushrooms & Creamy Polenta

No, a hurricane is not tearing up the coast. A nor’easter is not bearing down. The current whirlwind of frenzied activity is nothing more (and nothing less) than our final preparations for Christmas. Not only is the big guy coming to town but friends and family will be dropping by as well. Our halls are decked, the stocking are hung and you can’t find a double-A battery or heavy-duty extension cord for miles. What’s more, the larder is filled to overflowing.

What wonderful dishes will be on your holiday table? Will you do your best to keep it simple or put on an extravagant Christmas spread? One that puts Martha to shame. How about traditions? Is your great-grandmother’s famous goose on the menu? What about that infamous green bean casserole? If you’re like me you like to switch it up every so often.

Long before I was born, long before my parents were born, the Nye’s served turkey for Christmas dinner. It was Tradition with a capital T. Maybe that’s why I can still remember my mother announcing that she would no longer cook turkey for Christmas. We were just finishing up Thanksgiving dinner. She’d anticipated dissent and waited until everyone was full and happy. The room got quiet, forks full of apple pie stopped in mid-air but Mom plunged ahead. She was brilliant. With great enthusiasm, she shared her plan to cook the biggest, most beautiful rib roast she could find for Christmas. She cheerfully mentioned Mr. McIntyre, the local butcher extraordinaire. She touted the joys of a traditional English feast. Her pitch was so good I began to wonder if she was going to invite Tiny Tim and the rest of the Cratchit family to join us. With her inimitable charm and beautiful smile, she made it clear that this was no proposal and not up for debate.

Even if her decision was unilateral, that Christmas dinner was delicious and enjoyed by all. It also ushered in a new era for our family’s feast. Since then the only constant to our Christmas dinners is that they continue to change. Not necessarily every year but just often enough to keep us from getting set in our ways.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for tradition. My tree is decorated. My stocking is hung. However, a surprise or two is a great way to liven up your holiday table. Nervous? Don’t be. You may face a short-term insurrection when you announce that (after countless decades) you’re not getting up at 4 a.m. to put a turkey in the oven. Don’t worry; any grumbling will stop as soon as everyone takes their first bite of your delicious feast.

Whatever you serve, your holiday meals should be as easy as they are delicious. As far as I’m concerned, Mom was right. (Isn’t she always!?!) Turkey with all the trimmings seems more than a bit nuts with so much going on. Instead try a simple beef tenderloin or roasted salmon filet. It will be as delicious as it is easy. Then again, maybe you’ve got lots of people coming and going, a cousin who’s always late and no idea when everyone will sit down to dinner. If that’s the case, slow cook stews and braises are a great solution.

Whether you stick to the tried and true or experiment with new dishes, I wish you a warm and wonderful holiday and,

Bon appétit!

Braised Lamb with Artichokes and Mushrooms and Creamy Polenta
Everyone coming to your house for the holidays? No need to stress and worry over dinner. Let the lamb bubble in the oven while you enjoy a relaxing evening and each other’s company!

Serves 6

About 3 pounds boneless leg of lamb, trimmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil
2 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
3 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped, fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
12 ounces mushrooms, sliced
12 frozen artichoke hearts
Chopped parsley
Creamy Polenta (recipe follows)

Preheat theoven to 350 degrees.

Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat a little olive oil in a large casserole or Dutch-oven over medium-high heat. Brown the lamb on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Remove and reserve.

Add a little more olive oil to the pot if necessary; add the carrots, celery and onion and sauté until the onions start to become translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more. Add the red wine, tomatoes, chicken stock and herbs and bring to a simmer.

Return the lamb to the pot, bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook, turning the lamb 2 or 3 times, for 1 hour.

Sauté the mushrooms in a little olive oil over medium-high heat until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and artichoke hearts to the lamb. Continue cooking until the lamb is very tender; an additional 30-45 minutes. If dinner is delayed for any reason, it’s okay to turn down the heat and let it simmer a little longer.

Remove the lamb from the casserole and cut across the grain in thick slices. Serve with a dollop of Creamy Polenta, a spoonful of vegetables and sauce and a sprinkle of parsley.

The lamb can be made a few days ahead. Cook for 1 hour, add the mushrooms but not the artichokes and cook for 15-20 minutes more. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate. To reheat, bring to a simmer on top of the stove, add the artichokes and transfer to a 350 degree oven. Cook for about 30 minutes or until piping hot.

Creamy Polenta
6 Servings

1 cup instant polenta or grits
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup cream
1 ounce grated Pecorino Romano
1 ounce grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Make the polenta according to package directions. When the polenta is smooth and creamy, add the butter, cream, grated cheeses and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until the butter and cheeses are melted and well combined. Serve immediately.

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One Year Ago – Mixed Greens with Roasted Grapes
Two Years Ago – Savory Bread Pudding
Three Years Ago – Triple Chocolate Parfait
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What are you serving at your holiday party? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new stories and recipes.

Want more? Feel free to visit my photoblog Susan Nye 365 or click here for more recipes and magazine articles or here to watch me cook!I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good.

© Susan W. Nye, 2011