Saturday, March 16, 2013

Weekend Cooking...Review of "Rachel's Irish Family Food" [23]

Rachel's Irish Family Food: 120 classic recipes from my home to yours by Rachel Allen 
Collins ISBN 978-0007462582
February 19, 2013, 256 pages

I am of two minds about corned beef.
We had it when I was a kid, and not just at St. Patrick's Day but it's mistaken identity as a common Irish dish just sets me on edge. Like green beer and drunken leprechauns and calling the saint St. Patty.
What we should be having is pork, bacon..which as Rachel Allen defines it in this lovely cookbook is back bacon or cured and smoked pork loin.
Good luck finding that in your typical American supermarket.
I need a butcher...a really good butcher!
So I went with a pork butt, a smoked pork shoulder butt, something we also had frequently on the dinner table when I was a kid.

So, where did this connection of Irish Americans and corned beef come from?
Well, believe it or not, scholarly articles have been written about it, like this one,
Irish Corned Beef: A Culinary History by Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire

"It is considered by most Americans to be the ultimate Irish dish, so much so that Allen (2010) notes ‘I can’t believe how many times I’ve had to emphasize that we don’t just live on corned beef, potatoes and cabbage in Ireland.’ However, corned beef and cabbage is seldom eaten in modern day Ireland. It is widely reported that Irish immigrants replaced their beloved bacon and cabbage with corned beef and cabbage when they arrived in America, drawing on the corned beef supplied by their neighbouring Jewish butchers...

From ancient times in Ireland, cattle were highly prized as a sign of wealth....
This paper identifies that corned beef has always been an aristocratic food in Ireland and particularly a festive dish eaten at Christmas, Easter and St. Patrick’s Day. It suggests that the most probable reason for the popularity of corned beef among the Irish Americans was not the lack of availability of bacon, as sometimes argued, but that corned beef was widely available at a reasonable price. Irish immigrants aspired to better themselves in America and part of this betterment was the consumption of foodstuff they might not have been able to afford at home."

So, enough with the research, and back to the cookbook, Rachel's Irish Family Food by Rachel Allen.
I am not familiar with Rachel Allen, but I am quite familiar with her mother-in-law, the well known chef and cookbook writer Darina Allen, who started a famous cooking school at Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland...and her mother-in-law, Myrtle Allen, she who started the now famous hotel and restaurant in Ballymaloe. It is quite an accomplished cooking family. So when I saw a review of Rachel's latest book..she has written 8 or 9 cookbooks..I thought it would make a nice gift to myself.
And I was right!

It is a very attractive book, full of many beautiful pictures of the completed recipes, some lovely ones of the Irish countryside and a few of Rachel and her handsome family. There is a nice variety of dishes, soups, everyday dishes, ones for special occasions, vegetables and side dishes, breads, desserts, cakes and cookies, many with a unique Irish feel. There are 120 recipes in total, many marked as being vegetarian, but a nice selection of meat and seafood dishes as well.
I must say, the number of recipes I am looking forward to making after paging through this book is long. Kale and Bean Stew..Sticky Cumin and Apricot Roast Carrots and Parsnips...Pork and Mushroom Pie...Dark Sticky name just a few.

Every recipes includes a little introduction by Rachel, telling the place of this dish in Irish culture, such as Ballymaloe's recipe for spiced beef, or in her own family history, like her father's favorite Ginger Cookies.
I have a number of Irish cookbooks and yet found many new ideas in this one. Still, for those not familiar with Irish cooking, beyond that corned beef and cabbage, this would make a wonderful introduction.

I will leave you with a recipe...or two..
a sauce to serve with your bacon, or ham, or corned beef
and a different way to cook your cabbage, both from Rachel's Irish Family Food.

Parsley Sauce

For the basic white sauce...

1 ¼ cups whole milk

few slices carrots
few slices of onion
1 sprig parsley
1 sprig thyme
3 peppercorns
2 Tbs. Flour
2 Tbs. Butter 
Salt and pepper to taste

Pour the milk in a small saucepan and add the carrot, onion, parsley, thyme, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, decrease the heat and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to infuse for about 10 minutes.

 While the milk infuses, make the roux. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low to medium heat ad add the flour. Allow to cook for 2 minutes, stirring regularly. Set aside. Strain the milk through a sieve placed over a small saucepan and bring the milk to a boil. Whisk in the roux, a little at a time, until well blended and allow to simmer gently 4 to 5 minutes or until thicken to the desired consistency.

For the Parsley Sauce...add

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
7 Tbs. Finely chopped fresh parsley 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Sliced pork butt, steamed red potatoes and carrots and buttered cabbage with parsley sauce

Buttered cabbage 

1 pound Savoy or other dark cabbage 
2 Tbs. Butter 
2 Tbs. Water 
Salt and fresh ground black pepper 

This is the way we prepare cabbage here at Ballymaloe Cookery School. The cabbage isn't boiled, but cooked in butter with only a splash of water. This way the water doesn't leach out any flavor or nutrition. 

Remove the tough outer leaves from the cabbage. Cut the head of cabbage into four from top to bottom. Cut out the core, then slice the cabbage crossways into fine shreds, about ¼ inch thick. Combine the water and butter in a wide saucepan over medium heat and allow the butter to melt. Toss in the cabbage and season with salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until just softened; do not allow the cabbage to burn. 
Taste for seasoning and serve. 

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.


  1. Hello Caite, a great review on Rachel Allen's cookbook. Perfect timing with tomorrow being Saint Patrick's day. Thanks for sharing the recipes. Have a happy weekend!

    1. the timing was not an accident, of

  2. I always suspected that corned beef thing was very American. Anyway, my (non-Irish) family did grow up eating corned beef, but we went for cold slices from the kosher butcher as part of our Sunday brunch.

    I'm going to look for this book; I'm not sure if I have any good Irish books in my collection.

  3. We heard the same story about corned beef when we were in Ireland (our guide said the same was true for other "traditional Irish" dishes as well), but then when we got back and looked into it, we found out that most of the Irish immigrants antedated most of the Jewish immigrants, so now I wonder about how all this actually worked out!

  4. Fabulous review, Caite. So glad you brought this book to my attention. I've been looking for a good Irish cookbook for awhile and this looks like it will fit the bill. :)

  5. What a wonderful post Caite! It makes sense that the Irish immigrants ate corned beef because it was available in the delis, what an interesting fact. I hope you have a Happy St. Patrick's Day.

  6. Don't get me started on green beer. People came into the store looking for it yesterday. I told them they could add food coloring to any beer they bought. lol The cookbook looks great!

    1. it is a sin against beer! A sin a tell ya!!!

  7. Two questions: (1) What are you doing for St. Patricks dinner ( I've got the Murphys and it's a Sunday in Lent!) and are you going to tell about your almost encounter with Darina at Ballymaloe House?

    1. well annonymous person...I am working so my celebration will be very limited. I do have left over taters, cabbage and pork butt. but no Murphys, sadly. The Man says no drinking at work.

      I did almost meet Darina once at Ballymaloe. I had just bought one of her books in their lovely shop and saw her walking across the parking lot...but was a coward to ask her to sign it.

      I regret it deeply.

  8. I thought the author was Rachel Ray the whole way through your post, until I finally realized you said Rachel Allen! These recipes sound good. I wonder how this cookbook compares to another new cookbook that we have at the library, Real Irish Food by David Bowers.

  9. I love Rachel's TV show on PBS. If I happen to find it on I always stop and watch. This simple way to prepare cabbage sounds really good. I love cabbage and I wish I could get my family to like it too.

  10. We have a corned beef thing going on in New Zealand - the cut of beef is not brisket but silverside. I didn't realise the Irish connection. Cheers

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  12. A whole book of Irish recipes sounds great! I'm going to have to check this book out.

  13. I did not know this about corned beef-I always assumed so much about the green beer-the whole green food thing is rather odd to me. I am all about celebrating just not with green food.

  14. Hi Caite and a Very Happy St. Patrick's Day to you.

    Corned Beef was part of our staple diet as children, here in the UK and we are most definitely not Irish and have no Irish connections in the family. I think it was more a matter of stretching the family housekeeping budget!

    Potatoes we had with almost every meal, as pasta and rice were not considered suitable as a wholesome meal for a working man and besides which, were not readily available in most grocery shops.

    So whether the dish is traditionally Irish or not, I don't really care. I love it anyway! Not that we eat it much these days, nor the smoked and crispy cooked back bacon which you talk about, but that's mainly a healthy eating issue more than anything else. These health frekes have a lot to answer for and take a lot of enjoyment out of eating a wholesome meal.

    Rounded off of course, with the Dark Sticky Gingerbread from this wonderful sounding book .... Oh Well! In my dreams .... back to the diet food!!


    1. I think I will HAVE to make that gingerbread this

  15. Oh my we do think alike.
    I just posted on another blog that no Irish person would ever drink green beer.
    I bit my tongue on another blog not to comment on the mis-spelling of St.Paddy (all my friends know better than to use Patty!! it is such a pet peeve of mine).
    I agree (I was born in Dublin) that corned beef is not Irish and most times I order it (maybe once a year) it is disappointing.
    However, one of my favourite meals would be going to my mother's house and having bacon, turnips and mashed potatoes!!

    1. Actually I loved boiled tongue..but it tends to gross folks out. Lol

  16. Mmmm. That sauce sounds delicious! I'll bet it's good on just about everything.

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  18. I agree with you regarding the corned beef - we always had boiled bacon in Ireland when we went home to my grandparents. This book sounds very good - here's to modern Irish cooking!

  19. Enjoyed studying this, very good stuff.


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