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Celebrate St. Patrick's Day with some hearty fare

When Sylvia Piggot moved from Ireland to Utah about 28 years ago, she was shocked to get pinched for not wearing green on St. Patrick's Day.

"We didn't really celebrate St. Patrick's Day, so I didn't know what the pinching was all about," said Piggot, who lived in Salt Lake City and Kaysville before moving to Idaho.

In Ireland, most folks simply wore a sprig of shamrock as a way to honor the country's patron saint, she said.

"This is really an American celebration, started by Irishmen who came over here," said Frank Dunn, a member of the Hibernian Society of Utah, which helps perpetuate Irish culture and heritage. The Hibernian Society spearheads the annual St. Patrick's Day parade and celebration in Salt Lake City. It's scheduled on Saturday this year.

Anne Hickey, who is of Irish heritage, agrees. "But now they're celebrating it more in Ireland because they have so much tourism. So many Irish Americans go back and expect to see something."

Originally the day was a Catholic holy day honoring St. Patrick, Ireland's patron saint, who died March 17, A.D. 461. But it has evolved into a celebration of all things Irish. The leprechaun, a Celtic fairy, has become a chief symbol, as well as the shamrock. According to legend, when St. Patrick arrived in Ireland back in the 5th century, he used the shamrock plant to teach about Christ, with the three leaves representing the Godhead.

So why are the Irish Americans so loyal to their homeland, celebrating it with parades and festivities around that country?

"I think it's because of all the suffering, the Irish had it so hard," Hickey said. "They came over starving and very poor. They didn't own their land, it was all owned by the English, and they couldn't vote. All of a sudden they were free here. When I see the Vietnamese and Russian refugees today, I compare them with my parents, who came here from farms in Ireland."

Hickey's kitchen and dining room are graced with many Irish items, including the teapot her mother used back in County Cavan, and Waterford crystal and a plaque that says "Welcome" in Gaelic (the Irish language). Outside, she hangs a green-ribboned wreath on her gold door (since green and gold are the St. Patrick's Day colors). She's also a gardener, and when she hosts a St. Patrick's Day dinner at her home, she likes to decorate with pots of shamrocks.

Hickey belongs to several gourmet cooking clubs and enjoys trying new exotic recipes. But on St. Patrick's Day, she goes back to hearty Irish traditions, like soda bread and stews.

"It's more of a cottage food, a family food that can be stretched for a lot of people because they (the Irish) have large families," she said.

Although most people think of corned beef and cabbage, Hickey prefers to serve ham with potatoes and cabbage, "because that was my father's way. He told me that in Ireland, pork and lamb were more readily used than beef."

Hickey has used corned beef in open-faced Reuben sandwiches — "they go really well for a large crowd." (Corned beef is cured in a seasoned brine. The term "corned" comes from the English use of the word "corn," meaning any small particle, such as a grain of salt.)

"Fishing is also big in Ireland, and sometimes I've served trout, with brown bread and salad greens," Hickey added.

Besides cabbage, root vegetables are popular in Ireland — potatoes, parsnips, carrots and turnips.

Irish soda bread or scones are also typical fare. Hickey shared her Aunt Mary's Irish Soda Bread recipe.

Scones make a nice breakfast with preserves and "clotted cream." Clotted cream is actually a specialty of Devonshire, England, (it's also known as Devon cream) made by heating rich, unpasteurized milk until a semisolid layer of cream forms on the surface. Unpasteurized milk is hard to find in the United States, unless you have your own cow. But we found clotted cream at Liberty Heights Fresh, a specialty foods store. At around $5 for 6 ounces, you'll want to savor every drop.


IRISH SCONES

3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 cups milk

1 egg, slightly beaten

3/4 cup butter, melted

1 1/2 cups raisins

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Slowly stir in milk, egg and cooled butter. Fold in raisins. Pour mixture into a greased and floured 9-by-7-by-2-inch baking dish. Bake for 1 hour. Cut into squares and serve with butter, clotted cream or preserves. Serves 8-10. — Angel of the Sea Bed & Breakfast.


REUBEN SANDWICH

This didn't come from Ireland; Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary says it was created by Reuben Kulakofsky at Omaha's Blackstone Hotel in 1925. Other accounts say it first came from a popular Manhattan delicatessen called Reuben's around 1914. Either way, it makes good use of corned beef.

12 ounces thinly sliced cooked corned beef

4 teaspoons softened butter

8 slices rye or pumpernickel bread

1/4 cup Russian or Thousand Island dressing

1 cup sauerkraut, well-drained

4 1-ounce slices Swiss cheese

Lightly spread 1/2 teaspoon butter on one side of each slice of bread. Top unbuttered sides of 4 slices bread with equal amounts of corned beef. Spread 1 tablespoon dressing over corned beef on each sandwich; top each with 1/4 cup sauerkraut and 1 slice of cheese. Close sandwiches with remaining bread, buttered side up.

Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add two sandwiches and cook 2-3 minutes per side or until bread is toasted and cheese is melted. Repeat with remaining sandwiches. — National Cattlemen's Beef Association.


CORNED BEEF & CABBAGE WITH RED CURRANT-MUSTARD SAUCE

Corned beef brisket needs a long, slow simmer to get it tender. Put it in the slow cooker first thing in the morning. But the cabbage, potatoes and carrots will turn mushy if they've been cooked all day. They can be microwaved in 15 or 20 minutes just before dinner is served.

2 1/2- to 3-pound boneless corned beef brisket

Corned beef seasoning packet (or 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns and 1 bay leaf)

3 ribs celery, cut into 3-inch lengths

2 medium onions, cut lengthwise into quarters

3 1/2 cups water

1 pound green cabbage, cut into 3-inch wedges

1 pound red potatoes, cut into 2-inch pieces

6 to 8 small carrots, tops trimmed, or 4 medium carrots, cut crosswise into thirds

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Salt and pepper

Red Currant-Mustard Sauce (see below)

Chopped parsley (optional)

Place celery and onions in 4 1/2- to 5 1/2-quart slow cooker; top with corned beef brisket. Add corned beef seasoning packet, if included, and 3 1/2 cups water. Cover and cook on high 7 hours, or on low 9-10 hours, or until brisket is fork-tender. Remove brisket; set aside. Discard cooking liquid.

Place cabbage, potatoes and carrots in 2 1/2-quart microwave-safe casserole dish; add 1/2 cup water. Cover and microwave on high 15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender, stirring once. Drain vegetables; add butter and salt and pepper as desired; toss to coat.

Carve brisket diagonally across the grain into thin slices. Serve with vegetables and Red Currant-Mustard Sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley, if desired.

RED CURRANT-MUSTARD SAUCE: Place 12 ounces of red currant jelly in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave on high 1 to 2 minutes or until smooth, stirring once. Whisk in 3 tablespoons coarse-grain Dijon-style mustard. Cover and microwave on high 30 seconds.


IRISH SODA BREAD

3 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons sugar

1 cup raisins

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Sift flour, soda, cream of tartar, salt and sugar in a bowl. Add raisins, mix eggs and buttermilk into flour mixture. Knead lightly for a few minutes. Spread on floured cookie sheet or pizza pan. Bake in 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. — Anne Hickey.


HAM AND CABBAGE

4-5 pounds smoked ham

5 cups water

1 head cabbage, chopped

5 carrots

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 pound brussels sprouts

5 potatoes, quartered

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon basil

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Cube ham; place in electric slow cooker. Add 2 cups water and cook on high setting 30 minutes; pour off water. Add 3 cups water and cabbage, onion,carrots, brussels sprouts, potatoes, garlic, basil, thyme, salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low setting 6-8 hours. Serve hot. Makes 8-10 servings. This can also be prepared on a stove top. — Anne Hickey.


LAMB STEW

3/4 pound lean boneless leg of lamb

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Vegetable cooking spray

4 cups beef broth, divided

1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

4 bay leaves

1 clove garlic, minced

3 medium round red potatoes ( 3/4 pound) peeled and each cut into 8 wedges

1 cup carrot in 1/2-inch slices

1 cup coarsely chopped onion

1 cup parsnips, sliced

1 cup celery in 1/2 inch slices

Trim fat from lamb, and cut lamb into 1-inch cubes. Combine lamb and flour in a large zip-top heavy-duty plastic bag, shaking to coat. Coat a large ovenproof Dutch oven with cooking spray, and place over medium heat until hot. Remove lamb from bag, reserving remaining flour in bag.

Add lamb to pan, and cook until browned, stirring constantly. Remove from pan; set aside. Place reserved flour in a bowl. Gradually add 1 cup beef broth, blending with a wire whisk, and add to pan. Stir in remaining 3 cups broth, Italian seasoning and next 4 ingredients; bring to a boil. Add lamb, potatoes, carrot, onion, parsnips and celery; stir well.

Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until lamb is tender, stirring once. Remove bay leaves. Makes four 1 1/2 cup servings. — Anne Hickey.


E-MAIL: vphillips@desnews.com