Saturday, March 13, 2010
Learning how to cook the Real Irish way at Milestone Culinary Center on Friday
The things we cherish about St. Patrick's Day may not necessarily be Irish.
DALLAS Every year when St. Patrick's Day rolls around, one of the rituals people like to observe is the eating of your prototypical Irish meal, corned beef and cabbage.
Except that corned beef and cabbage aren't all that Irish, according to Irish food expert Rachael Gaffney. She should know: She grew up there. For the past 10 years, she's lived in Dallas, where she teaches classes, makes TV appearances (she was on Martha Stewart Show last week), and sells Irish products on her website.
She demonstrated some of her favorite recipes on Friday at the Milestone Culinary Center at a class on Real Irish Food that showed just how little of what we cherish about St. Patrick's Day is genuinely Irish.
"We don't drink green beer or any of that," Gaffney said. "We don't have these big parades, we have small parades. St. Patrick's Day is a holiday of obligation."
Her menu included dishes that she said she'd learned from her mother and grandmother, including Irish soda bread, potato-and-turnip gratin, mashed carrots and parsnips, and lamb with an orange glaze. Dessert was a cheesecake made with Brady's Irish Cream liqueur and baked on a shortbread cookie crust.
"I love cream and wine and butter," she declared.
The item that was easiest to spot the differences between the Irish original and our bastardization was the soda bread. Here, Irish soda bread has come to mean a sweet-ish buttery bread pocked with caraway seeds and raisins. But the soda bread that Gaffney grew up with was not so sweet. Raisins or caraway seeds weren't commonplace; they would have been luxury items. Her soda bread was a sturdy bread whose whole wheat flour made it more wholesome.
Root vegetables are a staple in Ireland, and so she made lots of them for side dishes. She sliced potatoes and turnips, then cooked them in a sauce made from shallots, stock, cream, and cheese. Her carrots-and-parsnips were a revelation because she added nothing to them. She merely cut them into chunks and boiled them in salted water until they were soft. She then mashed them roughly, and that was it. Their soft texture seemed inherently buttery.
As she cooked for the class of about a dozen students, she shared anecdotes about how it was to grow up in Ireland, versus life here. She moved to the area when her husband was transferred here. She has two sons, one who was born in London, and the second who was born in Texas, of which he was very proud.
She learned to never waste anything when she grew up, and as an example, she suggested using the crumbs and leftover pieces of your soda bread as a praline-like mix to stir into ice cream.
She quoted William Butler Yates, saying, "Being Irish, [you] have an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustains [you] through temporary periods of joy."
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