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Feast of St. Patty

Like everything else in New Orleans, St. Patrick’s Day offers a host of food opportunities. If you go to a parade, you come home with enough food for several days. It is like making groceries. I have cooked stuffed bell peppers, cabbage rolls and mashed potatoes with the stuff off floats. All that fun and dinner, too!

But sometimes I go for the old standards: Irish stew, Irish soda bread and/or potato-leek soup. Even then, I can use some of the ingredients caught in the air, including potatoes and onions. The Irish traditionally cooked simple food with a lot of lamb and beef and, always, potatoes. You can use lamb or beef in an Irish stew, a great meal to come home to after a parade. Which parade, I don’t know; there are so many, I’ve lost track.

The only hurdle is finding the lamb. The first time I ever made an Irish stew, I mistakenly used a leg of lamb. It was delicious but expensive. No, you don’t want to bust the budget for peasant food, and Irish stew, like most stews, is peasant food.

With a chill still in the air in March, a good warming stew is just the thing for a crowd drinking Guinness and wearing green. For those who don’t love lamb, a potato-leek soup will hit the spot, accompanied by warm, buttered Irish soda bread. I think the soda is used to offset the buttermilk. At least that’s what my mother told me when it came to cornbread containing buttermilk. I think what “offset” means in this case is to counter the sour taste, but I’m not sure.

Being part Irish, I love the parades and the spirit that surrounds them. I feel deeply for those hard-working Irish immigrants who came to New Orleans and built the New Basin Canal, a dangerous project that claimed thousands of lives. A series of epidemics killed many more, and we still call the Uptown area where so many Irish settled in the 1800s “The Irish Channel” although people of all nationalities live there now.

I think we all feel Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. It is a kissing, drinking, happy time, the last of our frolicking mania for a while as we move on to more sober observances such as Easter and Mother’s Day.

For the Irish stew, look for lamb shoulder or stew meat. Since you may not find these, look for lamb shoulder blade or arm chops with the bones in. Bones give any soup or stew a lot of pizzazz. I usually make stews on top of the stove, but Martha Stewart impressed me with one done in the oven; it’s a layered affair that simply cooks itself in the oven, and sometimes I love taking the simple way. This is not her recipe per se, but I used her idea of baking in the oven.

Make it easy on yourself by cooking the stew and/or soup the day before the parade. Then, when you get home, all you have to do is whip up the soda bread to serve piping-hot alongside them. By all means, accompany with pints of Guinness.

St. Patrick’s Day Irish Stew

2-3 pounds lamb shoulder or stew meat*
Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large onions, in 1/4-inch slices
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2-3 carrots, sliced lengthwise, then halved
2 large potatoes, sliced horizontally into ¼-inch rounds
4 cups beef stock
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut lamb into 1-inch cubes.

Heat oil in a large heavy pot with an ovenproof and tight-fitting top. Brown lamb in oil on all sides. Remove from pot. Add onions and sauté until wilted. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Remove onions and garlic from the pot, and remove pot from heat.

Place half the potatoes in the pot. Add half the onions and garlic, half the carrots, then half the meat. Repeat with potatoes, onions and garlic, then carrots. Pour stock over all and sprinkle with seasonings and Worcestershire. Add layer of meat on top.

Cover pot and place in oven for 2 hours without stirring. When ready to serve, sprinkle with parsley.
Serves 6 to 8.

*Note: If lamb shoulder or stew meat is not available, you can use shoulder blade or arm chops, layering whole or half chops instead of cubes. Trim the chops of fat.

Irish Soda Bread

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1 Tablespoon caraway seeds
3/4 cup raisins
1 1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat egg. Gradually whisk in dry ingredients and then caraway seeds. Add raisins and buttermilk and mix until blended. Place in an 8-inch pan sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes. If top isn’t browned, place under broiler for a couple of minutes until slightly brown. Serve warm with butter.

Serves 6 to 8.

Potato-Leek Soup

4-5 Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
3-4 medium leeks
1/2 stick butter
1 medium onion, chopped
6 green onions, chopped, white and green parts separated
2 stalks celery with tops, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 14.5-ounce cans chicken stock
3 cups whole milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup half-and-half
2 Tablespoons chopped flatleaf parsley
Optional toppings: crumbled bacon, shredded sharp cheddar cheese, green onion tops and/or sour cream

Prepare potatoes and cut off and discard dark green tops, leaving 1 inch of light green tops. Slice off root, slice leeks in halves lengthwise and rinse well. Cut in thin slices.

Melt butter in a large heavy pot and sauté leeks, onions and celery until soft. Add garlic and sauté another minute. Add chicken stock, milk and seasonings, stir and add potatoes. Cover and simmer until potatoes are done.
Using a hand blender, purée mixture in the pot. Or, remove to a blender or food processor and purée. Add half-and-half. When ready to serve, add 1 tablespoon butter and heat to serve hot. Place parsley on top of soup if in a tureen, or top individual servings with parsley and any desired optional toppings.

Serves 6.

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