March 13, 2017
How could it be spring-break time already? And also, St, Patrick’s Day, which every year has me not so much drinking green beer as craving Irish foods like ale pies, braised lamb and soda breads. It must be out of habit, like craving turkey dinner every October.
It’s been a chilly month so far, but we’ve been taking comfort in the fact that new microbreweries are popping up all over the place, and that lagers, stouts and ales are perfect for simmering with beef to make the ultimate cold-weather comfort food: beer and ale pie under a puff pastry lid. The Irish have known this for a long time! It’s what parka season is all about – warming yourself from the inside out. (And coming up with excuses to use frozen puff pastry!)
Lamb is also popular not only around St. Patrick’s Day, but throughout spring - I like to do mine in the slow cooker to break down those tough connective tissues. It’s also perfect to make on the weekend for a family Sunday dinner that provides leftovers throughout the week! If you pick up a leg of lamb – with or without the bone – that has had the shank end trimmed off, it will fit perfectly in a slow cooker. Lamb needs little help – I like to rub mine with chopped fresh mint, rosemary and garlic in no particular quantity, helped along with a glug of olive oil. I let it hang out for a bit, then put it in the slow cooker, put the lid on, and cook it on low for 8 hours. I don’t even add any liquid – the meat will release moisture on its own, and since it’s all contained in the slow cooker, you don’t have to worry about it cooking off. If you want to add some stock, go ahead - the leftover broth, combined with bits of leftover meat, makes the most sublime Scotch broth the next day. Pick up some barley, too!
I always seem to forget during the rest of the year how simple a loaf of Irish soda bread is - it’s like a giant scone, risen with baking soda, so there’s no need to wait for the dough to rise. A perfect solution any time of year, when you need a little something to serve with chili, soup or stew, or to cut into wedges and spread with butter and jam for breakfast. I don’t know why I never remember this, but March brings a good reminder. It’s also a perfect way to use up dairy that may be reaching its expiry date - buttermilk is classic, but you could thin plain yogurt with some milk and use that instead, or even use up eggnog after the holidays are over. Make it sweet with a little sugar, raisins or chopped apples, or savoury by tossing the dry ingredients with grated cheese or fresh or dried herbs.
It’s a good time of year for eating, regardless of whether or not spring has sprung yet. Have a great spring break, everyone!
fresh mint and rosemary
aged white cheddar
frozen puff pastry
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