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St. Patrick's Day: Irish cookbook recipes come to life in Manhattan 

Darina Allen's rutabaga and bacon soup with parsley oil from her new "Simply Delicious" cookbook. (Kyle Books, $27.99)Who hasn't paged through a cookbook and wished for dishes from its pages to magically appear without her or his own effort?


It happened just ahead of St. Patrick's Day for about three dozen food writers and editors who stepped away from their own test kitchens earlier this week to watch -- and taste -- as three of Ireland's top chefs presented their recipes.    


While Noel McMeel, executive chef of Lough Erne Resort in Northern Ireland, was the only one not promoting a new cookbook, his 2013 volume, “Irish Pantry,” has been recognized by Gourmand International as one of the world's best cookbooks.


Bringing recipes from new cookbooks to life were Darina Allen, co-founder of Ireland's celebrated Ballymaloe Cookery School with its 100-acre organic farm, and Clodagh McKenna, a food-world darling known to many in the States through her recent appearances and witty presentation on “Today” show cooking segments.

McKenna made individual portions of her Guinness caramel tiramisu for “Today” hosts this week, and also for the cooking demonstration and luncheon at Cooking By the Book in Manhattan. The recipe, which can be found on the "Today" website, is a traditional raw-egg tiramisu with an Irish twist in its Guinness-infused caramel. The recipe can be easily adapted for the squeamish; simply heat the egg yolks and sugar gently over a double boiler while whisking to the proper consistency. (See links to the event recipes below.)


McKenna advised against too much whisking of the recipe's egg and mascarpone mixture to avoid having it break. For the Saviardi (lady fingers), a quick dip into strong coffee or espresso is all that's needed for the right level of moisture in the finished dessert, she said.


Thanks to the chefly event, I am among those who can endorse this exceptional dessert from McKenna's cookbook, “Clodagh's Suppers” (Kyle Books, $24.99). It was the sweet closer at this Tourism Ireland luncheon celebrating Ireland's culinary renaissance. A movement among Irish chefs and food purveyors is increasingly calling visitors to Ireland to experience excellence in cuisine based on the island's dairy, produce, meats and seafood.


Darina Allen, whose Ballymaloe courses have been among the draws internationally, showed just how easy it is to make soda bread, a St. Patrick's Day essential for many.  Her tips: Stir the bread dough in concentric circles by hand, with fingers bent like a claw to learn the right feel for the ready dough.  Don't knead after turning it out of the bowl onto a floured surface. Just move it back and forth to “tidy it up,” Allen advises.


There isn't a soda bread recipe in Allen's 17th cookbook, “Simply Delicious: The Classic Collection” (Kyle Books, $27.99), but Google is your friend here. The exact recipe she demonstrated, right down to the fun instructions, can be found on the US website of Kerrygold, described at the event as makers of the best butter in the world.  (See event recipe links below.)


Allen notes that American buttermilk tends to not be as rich as the Irish variety, so she advises adding a little butter or cream to the soda bread recipe to enrich it. After the rounded dough goes into the pan and is pressed into shape for baking, it is scored with a cross to bless it or “to let the fairies out,” Allen says. This also gives the bread an attractive top. Allen's soda bread recipe includes variations, with directions for cheese-topped scones that can be cut from the same dough. 


The luncheon began with a rutabaga and Irish bacon soup drizzled with parsley oil (shown above) from Allen's cookbook. It was a recipe we had hoped to test. I did make the herb oil (a cup of chopped flat-leaf parsley blended to liquid with 3-1/2 tablespoons EVO). It was a fantastic way to preserve leftover parsley that would otherwise have gone to liquid on its own in the fridge, as the fresh parsley I buy tends to do.


However, it was very difficult to find rutabagas. Those I did find were sprouting despite a heavy wax coating. Both conditions turned me away from testing the recipe with inferior ingredients.


I discussed this challenge with Allen after the luncheon, and she revealed that the day's soup, in a creamier color than what is shown above, had been made with white turnips, which are easier to find. The soup was wonderful with turnips as a substitution, but I wonder how it would taste with the very different flavor and texture of rutabagas. Perhaps I'll try growing some this year. 


McMeel, a five-star chef who trained under Alice Waters at California's Chez Panisse, produced the luncheon's main event: perfect salmon fillets, plated with a light sauce of fresh basil cream that was a delightful complement to asparagus and boxty cakes made with bacon and his take on colcannon – mashed potatoes blended with kale instead of the traditional cabbage.

McMeel advises adding herbs at the end of cooking to preserve their flavor and aroma.


“Think of the fresh, natural food from the earth as a gift, a gift of life. And treat it appropriately.” McMeel told the Saturday Evening Post around this time last year. "Cooking is fun: be creative and use your imagination when selecting herbs to enhance your dishes."


It was just my luck that this advice was so wonderfully illustrated last Tuesday in a simple but exceptional cream sauce.


Chefly St. Patrick's Day recipes: Irish soda bread and beyond


For Darina Allen's Irish soda bread shared with Kerrygold, click here.


For Darina Allen's rutabaga and parsley cream soup with parsley oil, click here. (Conversion required)

For Clodaugh McKenna's Guinness caramel tiramisu, click here.


For a Noel McMeel recipe and video sponsored by Ireland's SuperValue supermarkets that gives some insight into his sauces, click here.





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