Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Irish Cooking and Irish Music Just in Time for St. Patrick's Day

Foods of Ireland

this lens' photo
Would you like to take an exploratory trip with me through the delights of Irish cooking? Growing up in a family of mixed heritage (Irish and German) I had a large variety of foods that were sometimes Irish and sometimes German and often times combinations of both along with other styles blended into some wonderful tastes. As an amateur genealogist exploring my own family tree, the ethnic foods I grew up with have become an interest to me. This lens will take us on a journey to learn what constitutes Irish cooking. While climbing that Irish family tree, for instance, I learned that simple mashed potatoes with a well of melted butter in the center is an Irish tradition. I only knew of one sure Irish meal while growing up and that was Corned Beef and Cabbage. My mom would make this for us every St. Patrick's Day. Over the years I learned that she did not make it the same way you see it made in recipe books. Her version was more of a soup and we ate it with crackers. She also used the canned corned beef. I've never had a real brisket of corned beef and some day look forward to trying it. The recipes and stories shared here have caught my interest. I hope they interest you as well.

Public Domain Photo Credit Bantry Bay. County Cork, Ireland. All the photos shown on this lens are from the Library of Congress photos of Ireland. To see all the photos in this set click here.

A Traditional Irish Blessing For Ye

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

My Mom's Way

Glenoe Village. County Antrim, IrelandPublic Domain Photo Credit Glenoe Village. County Antrim, Ireland
Almost every year I try to remember to make my mom's recipe for Corned Beef and Cabbage. It is a very simple comfort food soup that I have loved since the first time she had me close my eyes and open my mouth as a child and guess what it was that she was feeding me. That was my first taste of corned beef. Out of a can, yes, but oh so good. It doesn't get much easier to make her soup. Depending on the size of crowd that is going to eat it and how long you want leftovers to last (and leftovers are so much better the second and third day) the recipe basically consists of a can or two or more of corned beef shredded up into a large kettle filled with cabbage and potatoes both cut up into small bite size bits, salt and pepper, and enough water to cover and make soupy. She would boil this until the cabbage and potatoes were soft. We ate it just like any other soup, with crackers. I already have everything ready to make this for myself this year after letting it slide the past few years. I can't wait and probably won't wait all the way until the Big Day to cook it.

So now knowing that my mom's version wasn't quite the big deal that Irish people usually make out of the meal, let's explore what we can find online about Corned Beef and Cabbage. 

What is Corned Beef Anyway???

Glenariff. County Antrim, IrelandPublic Domain Photo Credit Glenariff. County Antrim, Ireland
Contrary to how it sounds, corned beef has nothing to do with the vegetable corn. The beef is treated with what is called "corns" of salt for curing it. Currently corned beef refers to three different distinctions of meat.
"Wet-cured in spiced brine products are more supple and tender due to the brining, and in modern times, is usually made from brisket or round steak.Dry-cured with granular salt beef is much drier and firmer in texture, even after rehydration, and can be made from various cuts of beef. Canned minced salted meat is ground salted beef that is crumbly and oily, and made from various portions of beef." (Wikipedia)

For more information about corned beef and how it is processed, please visit Corned Beef Here to learn how it's done.

Another place to learn more about corned beef is at here .  

A Little Taste of Corned Beef History

Poulaphuca Fall. County Wicklow, IrelandPublic Domain Photo Credit Poulaphuca Fall. County Wicklow, Ireland
At this site you will be shown some video history of Corned Beef and cabbage. It will possibly surprise you to find out that it isn't a fully Irish tradition brought here from Ireland, but began with Irish-American immigrants once here in America.

Finally, another good article about the how this dish became the main St. Patrick's Day meal here in America, read this

To be So Blessed

May God grant you always...
A sunbeam to warm you,
A moonbeam to charm you,
A sheltering angel, so nothing can harm you.

Breakfast in Ireland

What's for breakfast, you ask? Well, let's find out what you might find cooking in an Irish kitchen on a typical morning.
Traditional Irish Breakfast
This meal looks like what I have heard called a "Fry Up" in the UK. Lots of food on this platter! I do hope you are hungry.
Recipes Inspired By Traditional Irish Breakfast
Here you will find 12 Irish breakfast recipes with photos. They make me hungry just looking at them. Maybe I should have had something to eat before I looked at these.
Breakfast in Ireland by Mr. Breakfast
This is a very nice website with lots of descriptions of the various parts of a traditional Irish breakfast, along with pictures to help you when you are ready to start cooking...or well, maybe when you are ready to go shopping.
The "Full Irish Breakfast"
A website about Ireland including what you can expect for breakfast.

Follow the Links For the Road to Good Food

Onward with our journey into Irish cooking. What follows here is a listing of some good Irish cooking websites. I am hoping to gather up enough of a variety to show us as many different types of foods that are typical and traditional in Ireland.
Cooking Traditional Irish Recipes
Irish Potato Soup, Nettle Soup, Seafood Cockle Soup, Irish Skink, How to make a full Irish breakfast, and much more.
Real Irish Cooking
Looking at Irish cooking from a totally different perspective you will have to see to believe.
Traditional Irish Cooking
Breaks the meals down into segments and gives the recipes by segment.
Dochara Your Irish Friend
A very interesting blog about Irish foods and traditions.
An Irish travel guide complete with a section on traditional Irish cuisine.

Be Ye Blessed

May the saint protect ye-
An' sorrow neglect ye,
An' bad luck to the one
That doesn't respect ye
t' all that belong to ye,
An long life t' yer honor-
That's the end of my song t' ye!

Potatoes, Potatoes, Potatoes

Killybegs. County Donegal, IrelandPublic Domain Photo Credit Killybegs. County Donegal, Ireland
To the Irish, the potato is a staple of life. It shouldn't have surprised me so much when I discovered that mashed potatoes with a well of melted butter in the center was a traditional Irish dish. The Great Famine, or as those of us outside of Ireland call it, The Irish Potato Famine, changed lives in Ireland drastically. From 1845 to 1852 nearly 1 million Irish died of starvation while another 1 million emigrated to other countries for survival. The Irish population dropped by 20% to 25%. Everything changed in Ireland because of the potato blight that caused the famine. Political, social, and economic changes caused Ireland to mark The Great Famine as a dividing line of history in Ireland. For more information on the Irish Potato Famine, go here.

For more interesting history about Ireland and the potato, click here.

What is an Irish Potato? According to the Irish potato is another name for our common white potato. Even though the potato was not originally native to Europe and Ireland until it was brought there from the Americas, because of the Great Famine, the potato has become known as the Irish potato.

Potatoes have great versatility for making all kinds of foods including breads and candy. My favorite way of making potatoes is...well...ummm...I don't know if I have a favorite kind of potato dish. I love potatoes pretty much anyway you can think of to make them from simple mashed potatoes to loaded baked potatoes to steak fries and au gratin or scalloped.

Check here for Irish potato candy recipes. I've never tried it myself, but after doing this lens, I think I might.  

That's an Irish Recipe?

Just to give you a variety of Irish recipes along with maybe some good Irish folklore, I've made this list of favorite Irish cooking websites.
Irish Recipes and Baking
A very good start for a variety of Irish dishes.
Irish Abroad
A very full website of Irish culture including recipes.
Top 10 Irish Recipes and Food Terms
A brief but interesting glossary of Irish food terminology.
St. Patrick's Day Celebration
A listing of recipes especially for St. Patrick's Day
Irish Food and Gift Store
A little of everything from Irish breakfasts to Irish cheese.
Irish Recipes-Home Cooking
Another listing of good Irish recipes
Irish Recipe Tips
Check this out for good Irish cooking tips and recipes.

Breakfast's Over, Time For Lunch

Lunchtime in Ireland

After a full Irish breakfast maybe we won't really be too hungry for lunch. But just in case, here is what you might find on the table at lunchtime.
Raglan Road Lunch Pleasure Island Downtown Disney
Just for fun, here is the lunch menu from March 2012 at Raglan Road, Pleasure Island Downtown Disney, at Disney World in Orlando, FL. I've never had the opportunity to visit an Irish restaurant. Have you?
Traditional Irish Foods For Lunch
eHow brings us another article on what you would find at lunchtime in Ireland. I am thinking that you would have to work very hard physically to use up all the calories eaten in an Irish home every day. Maybe that's my problem, since I am partly Irish and really love food.
Irish Ploughman's Lunch for St Paddy's Day
I found this blog with an article about the Irish Ploughman's Lunch. I had never heard of this before finding the article. And I call myself Irish? Hmmmm.

We Can Never Receive Too Many Blessings

Leprechauns, castles, good luck and laughter.
Lullabies, dreams and love ever after.
A thousand welcomes when anyone comes...
That's the Irish for You!

An Irish Supper

After all this food, are we ready for supper yet?
A Fieri Irish Supper
Irish supper made the Guy Fieri way.
Ireland Steak and Guinness Pie
It already sounds good.

Mary Had a Little Lamb

Irish Lamb Stew

Gap of Dunloe, Killarney. County Kerry, IrelandPublic Domain Photo Credit Gap of Dunloe, Killarney. County Kerry, Ireland
Okay, okay, I'm not about to tell you to go find Mary and cook her little lamb. But lamb stew is another traditionally Irish meal. In my locale finding lamb to cook is not easy. In fact, I haven't seen lamb at the local stores in years. I used to get lamb at Easter time and make my own lamb stew. I don't know if mine was Irish or not, but I loved it. Now that I have done this lens I might have to try harder to find some lamb in the very near future to see if I can make my stew again.

For my Lamb Stew, I basically just cut up the lamb into stew size pieces and browned it, then put it in a kettle with potatoes, onions and carrots and let boil until done. I didn't do much to thicken it like I do beef stew.

I've seen the lamb in the stores with the little green packet of mint sauce. I've never used the mint sauce. Have you? I don't know really how to cook lamb other than the way I just mentioned but I would love to try some other recipes. 

Shepherd's Pie

Menawn Cliffs, Achill. County Mayo, IrelandPublic Domain Photo Credit Menawn Cliffs, Achill. County Mayo, Ireland
Another traditional lamb recipe is Shepherd's Pie. I've never made it with lamb, but I have made it with hamburger. I think hamburger is more normal for the typical home cook in America to use when making Shepherd's Pie. It is funny, I think, that I have so much Irish blood in me and my mother cooked Irish food (mixed a lot with the German foods) but she never made Shepherd's Pie or taught me how to make it.

For 47 various Shepherd's Pie recipes, click here. All these recipes are already making me hungry. Gotta take a quick break now just to get the baked potatoes out of the oven. See? Talking about potatoes made me decide to bake some.

May It Be So

Lucky stars above you,
Sunshine on your way,
Many friends to love you,
Joy in work and play-
Laughter to outweigh each care,
In your heart a song-
And gladness waiting everywhere
All your whole life long!

Irish Afternoon Teas and Irish Desserts

After the filling meals the Irish prepare for breakfast, lunch, and supper (dinner), it's hard to imagine having an afternoon tea and any desserts added at the end of the regular meals. But who doesn't love dessert?   

How To Throw An Irish Tea Party
eHow is back with more help preparing an Irish menu. This time it is an Irish Tea Party. I've never been to a real afternoon tea party. Have you? The closest thing I ever got to this was either my mother getting me a child size folding table and chairs to have tea parties with friends, and later in life drinking the hot tea with cream in it.
The Ultimate Irish Dessert Recipe Collection
How many of these Irish desserts have you had?
Irish Tea Traditions
After you scroll past the ads on this site you will find a nice page full of ideas for Irish teas.
Delia's Irish Tea Bread
This recipe takes two days, so make sure you are prepared before you plan to have it for tea.

Irish and Celtic Instrumental Music

this lens' photoPhoto Credit: Public Domain Photo
Whether or not Irish blood courses through your veins, getting a chance to listen to traditional Irish and Celtic music can be a very nice change of pace. In my case, the Irish blood mixes with the German and all the other blood types, and sometimes the Irish music seems to call to me to come listen and take a vacation in my mind to the green grasses of Ireland. As I write this, it's one of those times when my Irish roots tickle my senses until I just have to find some good music to listen to. So at this moment I am listening to an older CD by Sunita Stanislow and Northern Gael.
To share some Irish/Celtic music with you, I have added quite a few videos from YouTube. I am aware that for some this makes a page a bit slow when it loads, however, I am sure that you will find this worth the wait if you love Irish/Celtic music or if you are just wanting to hear it for the first time. 

What Do You Mean Celtic? Isn't It All Irish?

The best way for me to respond to this question would be to let you read the same places I searched for the answers myself. In some cases it almost seemed as though the answer is not really that well defined or known. But to learn about the differences and similarities of Irish music and Celtic music would involve some information about history. Being that the Celts were in the land now known as Ireland prior to it becoming known as Ireland, Celtic influences abound throughout all the culture. However, apparently much of what is considered Celtic music is more of a labeling or branding rather than a difference in style. In other words, the word itself is being used to market the music according to different websites I have found. This is one of the sites where I found a good explanation of the difference between Irish and Celtic music.

You can learn more about the traditional musical instruments here and here. Many of the musical instruments of Ireland are the same as other areas of the world. For instance the violin (or fiddle) is a well known instrument around the world. On the other hand, the bodhran may not be so well known. Many of us, if we are old enough, have heard of a tin whistle, but do many of us know what a tin whistle is? Another instrument, the flute, may not be the same as the flute we are more familiar with. Mandolins are commonly used in Irish music. One of the interesting things I have noted over the years is how much Irish music resembles the music of the hill country of Tennessee and other southern states. Could it be that when the Irish settled in those areas that the people there have chosen to keep the music as a part of their culture, whereas the rest of our country seems to have tossed aside much of the traditional music of the various countries our ancestors came from? Well this could be a question to be answered at another time. For right now, please sit back and enjoy the music brought to you on this page. Photo Credit: Public Domain Photo
YouTube has tons of great Irish and Celtic music for you to enjoy.  To end this blog I will leave you with one of my mom's favorites.

Monday, March 3, 2014

How to Season and Care For Cast Iron Skillets

Looking for a non-stick frying pan that you know you will be able to fry the perfect over easy egg?  Look no further than your own cast iron skillets.  "What?" you ask.  It's true.  With a properly seasoned and cared for cast iron skillet you will be able to fry anything in it with all the confidence you get from current non-stick cookware on the market today.

In this article I will show you how to wash your skillet and how to season your skillet so it will remain non-stick.  In general, you will learn how to take care of the skillets that have been in the family for years but are probably stuffed in the back of your cabinets getting rusty.  When you are finished, your cast iron skillets will be like brand new, and will be healthier to cook with than any brand of skillet you find on the market today.   

In my opinion, nothing cooks like a good old-fashioned cast iron skillet.  My great aunt even made her delicious homemade butterscotch for her homemade pies in her cast iron skillet.  Fried chicken tastes better when fried in cast iron.  When properly seasoned, your cast iron skillet will out-cook and out-last any other cookware you own.  I am using skillets that were my grandparents' as well as those I purchased on my own throughout my lifetime.  That means that the newest of my skillets are at least 30 years old and the oldest are far beyond 60 years old.

If you are like me, cooking websites might make you hungry.  The sooner you have your skillets seasoned, the sooner you can make those wonderful eggs!  (Cooking those eggs will also require the thinnest metal spatula you can find so that when you flip the eggs, you have not cut into those beautiful yolks.)

Washing Cast Iron Cookware

If you have not used your cast iron for awhile, it might be a little (or a lot) rusty.  Even if you have been using your cast iron recently, you will probably still have to season it properly.  If you have cooked things like gravy or other items that will soak up the previous seasoning, you will have to start from scratch with these washing instructions.  In fact, it is a good idea to start from scratch every now and then anyway, just to make sure your skillet has the best cooking surface possible.
For the initial washing of your cast iron, whether it is old or brand new, wash in warm soapy water.  If there is rust or stuck on food, you may use a copper scrubber to clean it.  Even if all the rust does not come out right away with this washing, that is okay.  It will be cleaned out with the seasoning procedure.

One time many years ago I read a story about a woman who would put her cast iron skillets into the fireplace and burn off all the old crusted grease and food that accumulated over the years of use.  She left the cookware in the flames until the flames died down and the iron was reddish in color.  If you choose to try it, make sure to allow the iron to cool sufficiently before trying to remove from the fire.

How to Season Cast Iron Cookware 

After you have thoroughly washed your cookware, it is time to season it.  This takes time to do so you can stop periodically and let the cookware cool in between steps.  The more your cookware has been neglected, the longer this process will take.  You will need to make sure you have plenty of paper towels available for this process.  You will also need to stay close to your stove while seasoning your cookware so you don't let a fire get started. (I have read about those who do this in the oven rather on top of the stove, but I have never done that.  I prefer having the cookware where I can control it in case it gets too hot and starts a fire.)

To begin, place your cookware on a burner and turn the heat on high.  Make sure the burner is the proper size for the cookware. Allow the cookware to heat up until you can feel the heat on your hand when you hold your hand above the pan.

Next, pour enough vegetable oil into the pan to cover the bottom of the pan completely.  You will need to watch the pan carefully from here on so that the oil does not get so hot that it catches on fire.  Once you see the oil is getting hot, remove the pan from the burner and set aside on a cool burner until the oil is cooled enough to not burn your hands.

Once the oil has cooled, fold some paper towels thickly and rub the oil around the entire inside of the cookware.  You will see that the paper towels have become discolored as they pick up rust and other residue from years of use and neglect.  Throw away the used paper towels and set the pan back on the burner to heat up again.  If you previously wiped out all the excess oil, add some more.  (During these cool down periods you may walk away and do other things before continuing the seasoning later.  Just make sure to turn off the stove first.)

When the oil has reheated, again set the pan aside on a cool burner for awhile.  Repeat the process of wiping out the pan with the paper towels.  Each time you repeat this process of wiping out the inside of the pan with the paper towels you will see that they come out cleaner.  Continue to repeat the heating and cooling proces until the paper towels come out clean except for the oil itself.

Allow the pan to cool completely and wipe the entire pan inside and outside with a clean paper towel to make sure the entire pan has been coated with a thin covering of the oil.  Doing this on the outside of the pan helps prevent it from rusting while it is not in use.

At this point, your skillet is seasoned.  The heating of the pan allows the iron to expand and the oil soaks into it.  When the pan cools, the oil is trapped into the iron and this gives your pan a non-stick finish as well as prevents it from further rusting.  Rust, by the way, is the byproduct of iron being oxidized when it comes into contact with the oxygen in the air.  It will not hurt you.  But it is unappealing and will cause foods to stick.  Wiping the rust out with the paper towels helps get as much of it out of the pan as possible even after washing.

My grandfather would reuse his skillet with the same fats and oils in it from previous uses, causing the cast iron to pick up the meaty flavors.  He especially used bacon grease repeatedly.  Reusing your skillet between washings makes the skillet even more non-stick.  But wash it out once there are food particles in the grease.  You don't want food poisoning.  If foods begin to stick, that is another sign that it is tie to wash the skillet.  There are washing instructions further on.

A side note:  Even when you have seasoned your cast iron cookware in this manner, if you have not consistently used it, you may need to do a quick seasoning again before each use.  All this entails is to quickly heat up the pan with the oil and wipe it out once with the paper towels.  You can go ahead and cook with it immediately after this.

How to Wash and Care For Seasoned Cast Iron 

The more you use your seasoned cookware, the more non-stick it will become.  However, to keep it that way you have to wash it properly.  When I was growing up my mother always used SOS pads to wash the cast iron skillets.  She taught me to wash them that way too.  I hated cooking with cast iron because everything stuck to it and cleaning it up was a pain in the neck.  Once I learned how to season it and wash it properly, I've never had a problem with it since, and I've never bought another SOS pad.

So how do you wash a properly seasoned cast iron skillet?

It's simple.  Wash your seasoned cast iron in very warm water (as warm as your hands can stand) and use only a plastic scrubber.  Do not use soap.  Do not use a dish cloth.  Do not use a copper scrubber or one of those green scrubbers.  All of those will remove the seasoning and you will have to season the cookware all over again.  You will be amazed at how easily the cast iron cleans with this method once it is seasoned.  The only thing I ever have problems with are scrambled eggs and only then if I have used a pan that was not fully seasoned.  The plastic scrubbers take even scrambled eggs out easily.

You will notice that water bubbles off of your cast iron and that it does not stay wet as long as it did before it was seasoned.  You will want to allow the cast iron to air dry again because using a dish towel wipes out the oil that you have seasoned it with.  But overall, you will have cookware that is much better than the non-stick pans and won't leave any of the chemical residue so many warn us of from use of those pans.  The iron from the cast iron is not harmful and is a naturally occurring nutrient in our foods.

You will want to store all your cast iron cookware together because of the seasoning.  This is another reason to keep the outsides wiped with oil occasionally as stacking pans inside each other will cause rust without the oil coating.  Do not leave them so coated with oil, however, that they puddle because that can cause a fire when you put them on the stove.  Make sure that all the excess oil on the outside is wiped clean before storing or cooking.

Now that you have learned how to season, wash, and care for your cast iron cookware, I hope that you get a lot of enjoyment out of using it daily when you cook.  You can even bake safely with it.

Utensils For Cast Iron Cookware

When you are cooking with the current, modern idea of non-stick cookware, you are supposed to use either rubber or plastic, or wooden utensils so you don't scratch the surface of the cookware.  Scratched non-stick cookware is no longer non-stick, and it is said that it will leach harmful chemicals into your foods.

With cast iron you don't have to worry about scratching the surface or about harmful chemicals leaching into the food.  You can use any type of utensil that you wish to use when cooking with cast iron.  It will just depend on what you are cooking, not what you are cooking in.  Of course, for fried eggs, you might need a specific type of spatula to be able to pick up the egg and/or flip the egg over without breaking the yolks.  I have found that the rubber, plastic or wooden spatulas are too thick to do this well.  Most metal spatulas are also too thick.  The best spatulas I have found for making eggs are very thin metal spatulas.  I've been lucky and still use the spatula that my mother used way back when I was a child.  It is slightly cracked at one of the rivets and I treat it very gently so I can keep it around for many more years.  I've only found a few spatulas in the stores that work for me with eggs.  If you are lucky enough to find a thin metal spatula, take good care of it.  In fact, I have found that my spatula is also pretty well seasoned from years of use, and if I wash it the same way I wash the skillets, I have very little trouble cleaning it.  Sometimes I do have to break down and use the copper scrubber on the spatula, but not often.  Most of my skillets and that spatula are as old or older than I am.  Can you say that about products manufactured today?