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After Hours: Irish Spring

By Kathy Biehl, Published on February 23, 2004
Kathy Biehl is the food writer for Diversion magazine and the former longtime dining critic for the Houston Business Journal. She has reviewed restaurants as well for the Houston Press, Time Out New York, My Table and the TONY guide Eating & Drinking 2000. Her food writing has received awards from the Association of Food Journalists and the Houston Press Club. She is also the author of the LLRX Research RoundUp and Web Critic columns, a member of the State Bar of Texas and co-author of The Lawyer's Guide to Internet Research.

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Link to Kathy Biehl's cookbook recommendations here.

New Product Alert

New Morning has a solution for those of us who prefer to eat organic or natural foods but still fall prey to the lure of the cookie aisle. Correction: Nature's Morning great-tasting new sandwich cookies are for any cookie fan, regardless of stance on organic. Graham-Wiches are an organic-grain sandwich cookie with no trans-fats, dairy ingredients or artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. The cookies come in three flavors: chocolate graham with a peanut butter creme filling, honey graham with peanut butter creme and honey graham and vanilla creme. The vanilla creme, my favorite, puts Snackwells to shame, and the other two are well worth a munch. Nature's Morning has also introduced snackable Mini-Bites Graham Crackers, which are tiny rectangles of chocolate or honey graham in a reclosable 7.5-ounce bag. They are firmer than traditional graham crackers and sweet in a way that does not leave an overbearing aftertaste, due to the use of evaporated cane juice. The cookies retail for $3.19-$3.69, the crackers for $2.39-$2.79, and all are available where natural foods are sold.

Recommended Book

History, research and a love of food happily converge in The Food Journal of Lewis & Clark, by Mary Gunderson (History Cooks 2003). The author, a food historian and lecturer who calls her approach paleocuisineology, makes the journey come alive with eleven chapters of recipes that follow the geography and chronology of the expedition. The story begins well before the pair set out, with a look at foods from the menu of President Thomas Jefferson, whom Meriwether Lewis served as private secretary. As the journey progresses, recipes spotlight foods mentioned in the explorers' journals, which are excerpted in the margins. While some of the dishes are unlikely to fit easily into most contemporary menus (braised elk brisket, for example), many are not a stretch at all, such as Cornish hens with sweet potato stuffing, roasted parsnips with pinenuts or new potatoes with hazelnuts and fennel. Too, the book has special delights for anyone with a bent for research. How often do you see footnotes (Ibid, even!) in a cookbook, much less one that might actually see use in the kitchen? The book is available for $19.95 from History Cooks, 877/581-8422.

Irish Spring

There are only two kinds of people in the world: The Irish -- and those who wish they were (Irish saying).
There's a lot more to Irish cooking than corned beef and cabbage. The dish does dominate our perspective, since the savoury combination has become indelibly (and sometimes it seems inescapably) linked with St. Patricks Day on these shores. So if its your tradition, don't let me interfere. By all means, indulge. But grant me this one favor: leave room to explore some of Irelands culinary treasures. The country's not called the Emerald Isle for nothing. Ireland is lush with verdant expanses that yield the stuff of hearty, farm-fresh foods.

Blue Velvet

Made on nearby farms in Tipperary, rich, buttery Cashel Blue (made from cows milk) and salty, perky Crozier Blue (made from sheeps milk) have the luscious spreadable texture of a triple creme, without the butter fat content. If you can't find either of these farmhouse blue cheeses at a local cheese counter, Murray's Cheese Shop, a Greenwich Village mainstay, will ship them to you. The Cashel Blue is $16.99 a pound; the Crozier Blue is $26.99.

Bally High

One of the countrys pre-eminent culinary centers is the farm estate of Ballymaloe, in County Cork. Here several generations of the Allen family have built a restaurant, inn, and cookery school that have gained renown throughout the world for their emphasis on high quality, fresh ingredients. Sample the estates charm in your own home with Ballymaloe Relish, a stunning, savoury tomato-based chutney that goes equally well with sausages, hot meats, and cold meat sandwiches. A 310-gram jar is $6.49 from FoodIreland.com. Or cook up authentic seasonal recipes from The Festive Food of Ireland (Roberts Rinehart) or Ballymaloe Cooking School Cookbook (Pelican Pub. Co), both by Darina  Allen, head of the school and daughter-in-law of Ballymaloe House founder Myrtle Allen.

Just Add Water

Odlums may be a 150-year-old flour mill, but its Irish soda and brown bread mixes are perfectly suited for the hectic pace (okay, limited attention span) of modern times. It takes only a couple of minutes to pre a loaf of either type of bread, which are staples at the Irish table. All you have to do is mix in water, turn the dough over a time or two, put it on a tray, and place it in a pre-heated oven. A one-kilogram bag of either bread mix ($6.95) contains the makings of two peasanty, hand-shaped loaves. Available from The Celtic Harp.

Tea Time

Tea is an integral (and recurring) part of the day in Ireland. Bewleys has been importing fine teas to the country for more than 160 years. For eye-opening effects, try Bewleys Irish Breakfast, a bold but harmonious blend of Assam and Darjeeling. For anytime sipping, brew up Irish
Afternoon, a subtler, smooth mix of Kenyan and Assam black teas. Baltimore Coffee and Tea carries both, in a box of 25 tea bags, for $5.80, or an 8.8-oz box of loose tea for $8.18.

Cafe Chocolates

Since they're in Dublin, its hardly convenient for most of us to pop into a Butlers Chocolate Cafe for a cup of coffee and the fine handmade chocolates for which Butlers has been known for more than 70 years. Fortunately, Butlers Chocolates ships directly to the States and, conveniently, offers a handy currency converter on its website. (On each product page, even.) Indulge in milk truffle or milk chocolate Irish cream bars (a dozen for $23.01). Their richness and creaminess will charm even a world-weary chocoholic.

Bunalun Organic Farm

Irelands largest organic farm, in County Cork on the island's southwest coast, has been in operation for less than a decade. Bunalun Organic Farm grew out of Tony and Alicia Chettle's Georgian mansion-style farmhouse, which is surrounded by acres of berries, vegetables, hens, Charolais cattle, and an herb garden in the shape of a Celtic cross. The farm sells some of its crops fresh in its shop; everything else is processed on the grounds, within minutes of being harvested. With a staff of chefs, Bunalun has developed several hundred products, in distinctive, minimalist packaging designed for reuse. Its orange marmalade, seasoned with cardamom, is a rare testament to the delicate potential of citrus (the peel is soft and not at all bitter); the bramble berry jam is a torrent of berry flavors with little noticeable or necessary sugar; the pumpkin chutney is a smooth, savoury spread alive with sweet red peppers. Bunalun ships to the U.S.  At the current Euro exchange rate, the prices are within reach (each of the mentioned products cost about $6.45). With DHL shipping rates starting at about $35, large orders are definitely the cost-effective way to go. Some Bunalun products are available in the U.S. from Pure Seasons.

ã Kathy Biehl 2004