I didn’t grow up in a devoutly religious family. My ethnic ancestry is a Celtic-Anglo Saxon mixture of Scottish, Irish, English, French, Finnish, Norwegian and German…basically a rural Montanan. St. Patrick’s Day to me is what Winter Solstice is to light-deprived northerners – a time to celebrate the last of winter and the promise of summer.
Winter-cum-spring can be one of the longest and most disheartening times in Montana. The winter snow pack is melting away what used to be a skier’s paradise. The abundance of mountain hiking trails are laden with snow and mud, and most of the rivers are inaccessible and jammed with ice. Bleary-eyed ranchers are busy with lambing and calving, and have been for weeks, if not months; and school children start showing cantankerous signs of cabin fever. Days can be snowy, windy, muddy and rainy…sometimes, the grey ones seem to last forever.
Then finally, March arrives with the promise of a celebration in the form of an Irish national holiday that’s embraced and beloved by people all around the world. The celebration of St. Patrick’s Day is so inclusive one doesn’t have to be a descendent of Irish heritage to participate in the enthusiasm of the holiday.
St. Patrick’s Day is a religious (Catholic, Anglican & Lutheran) and Irish heritage and cultural celebration, honoring the life and death of Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick (c. AD 385–461), who brought Christianity to Ireland. In the 17th Century the day was designated an official Christian feast day. Devout Christians attend church services on this day and because March 17 usually falls within Lent, Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted for that one day – ah ha, now it all makes sense.
My grandiose Irish spirit stems from a meager drop of Irish blood running through my veins, and my nostalgic love affair with dark, cozy pubs, pints of Guinness, fiery sips of Irish Whisky and foot stomping, heart thumping Irish folk music. All these combine into one day of festivities, sure to ward off the late winter and spring blues.
No matter what day of the week St. Patrick’s Day falls on, I like to treat it like any other special holiday by inviting friends and family over to share in the festive spirit, creating our own family traditions steeped in adoration of my wee-bit of Irish heritage. I take the day off – it is a holiday – to cook corned beef, oven roasted cabbage and potatoes, and my children’s favorite Guinness gingerbread.
Whether you are Irish or not, one can’t help but fall into the contagious spirit of St. Patrick’s Day. Please enjoy these simple, savory recipes I’ve collected over the years and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
My German Mother-in-law’s Corned Beef
This recipe is embarrassingly easy, sometimes I call it slow-cooked to make it sound more refined than it really is.
• 1 or 2 store bought, brined corned beef brisket with seasoning packet included
Place brisket(s) in a large crock-pot (do not wash), sprinkle with included seasoning packet, top off crock-pot with water to cover brisket and cook on low 8-10 hours or on high 7-9 hours, depending on your crock-pot. It’s impossible to over cook the brisket; it’s best to cook it longer because it renders the brisket so tender it flakes apart with a fork. To serve, scrape off as much fat as possible and separate with a fork. Serve with White Horseradish Sauce (see next recipe).
White Horseradish Sauce
The combination of spicy horseradish and the aromatic flavors of the corned beef make this an indispensable condiment for the meat. Inspired by – yet again – my German mother-in-law who serves her corned beef with straight horseradish. I use Cordon’s Horseradish found in the refrigerated section at the grocer.
• 2-4 Tbs good quality horseradish
• 1 cup sour cream
In a small bowl, combine horseradish and sour cream, mix well. Start with 2 Tbs. of horseradish then add more as desired for a more pungent sauce. Serve alongside corned beef.
Roasted Cabbage and Red Potatoes
A simple and modern twist to the traditionally boiled cabbage and potatoes.
• 2 heads of cabbage
• 2 lbs. small red potatoes
• ¼ – ½ cup olive oil
• salt & pepper to taste
Cut cabbage in half and slice ½-inch thick with a mandolin; try to keep the cabbage slices in tact. Place in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 375° for 35-45 minutes or until cabbage is tender. Wash and quarter the potatoes, about ½” thick. Place in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet, drizzle and toss with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 375° for about 45 minutes or until browned, crisp and tender.
Serve the potatoes with Green Spanish Mojo Verde Sauce (see next recipe), and the cabbage alongside the corned beef and potatoes.
Green Spanish Mojo Verde Sauce
This sauce, for the roasted potatoes, is a huge hit and was inspired from one of my favorite restaurants in Bozeman, Over the Tapas. Sure it’s from Spain, but it’s green and takes what traditionally was boring, soggy boiled potatoes to a modern culinary feat.
• 1 bunch cilantro leaves, about 3 cups (no thick stems)
• 3 garlic cloves, or to taste, crushed
• ½ tsp ground cumin
• 1 lime, juiced or 1 ½ Tbs. white wine vinegar
• ¼ tsp fine sea salt, or to taste
• 1/8 tsp cracked pepper
• 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Blend all the ingredients except the oil into a paste in the food processor. Gradually add the oil and blend to a creamy pesto consistency – add more olive oil if you want it thinner. Can be made one day ahead.
Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread
One of my fondest dessert memories is that of my mom’s warm gingerbread topped with whipped cream. I think she got her recipe from one of the only cookbooks she had at the time, Betty Crocker. I’ve been making this more imaginative gingerbread from Epicurious for years now. I don’t change a thing – why mess perfection!