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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When Life Gives You Cabbage...A St. Paddy's Day Tale - Irish - Sides 3

ISt. Paddy's Day is apparently a big deal here in Baltimore, but as one who really doesn't drink beer (green, Guinness or otherwise) and fares very poorly when day drinking, it's never been a major holiday in my book. I turn up my nose at the idea of raucous bar crowds, because you know, I am too old for that and well we're not actually IN Ireland, and up until this year rather loathed the day.

My fiance, while better at day drinking, is similarly aligned on his opinion of the traditional form of celebration. However, growing up in a 50% Irish Catholic household, he has a much stronger association with the holiday. He spent his youth in Syracuse NY, and all of his family members at one point or another, worked at Coleman's - at one point dubbed "Most Authentic Irish Bar in America" and an iconic Syracuse institution ubiquitous to the Irish Americans of the city. Located in the predominantly Irish-American community of Tipperary Hill, replete with upside down stoplight (explained here), Coleman's is home to a large and exuberant St. Paddy's Day parade and played host to many community events about which Mark and his family share countless hilarious and heartwarming stories. So, it's no surprise that Mark has developed his own tradition, having moved away from Syracuse, to mark the day and conjure up those fond memories. Each year he prepares the traditional Irish feast of Corned Beef & Cabbage and shares it with those with whom he lives. 2015 was my first experience, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. So when March began and the shamrocks started to appear in Baltimore bar windows, I was excited for the return of Mark's yearly culinary event.

It must be said, while I am the main cook in the house, Mark is not merely a culinary side kick, in fact he has a broad repertoire, good instincts and I should note, brought at least 25 cooks books to our newly combined household. If you know me, however, the idea of standing by and letting another person take the lead on a meal in my house...well that's a recipe for disaster (pun intended)...

We decided to shop together, bad idea. Had I been the chef, I would have researched best cuts, creative alternatives and fancy spins on staple ingredients, essentially bucking tradition in favor of making it all my own. So naturally, as we strolled the aisles of Harris Teeter one Saturday afternoon, I let my creative juices flow, and to my chagrin my ideas were shot down left and right. Potential moments of culinary brilliance reduced short lived flights of fancy, I was stewing.

It all came to a head at the butcher case. The mere mention of preseasoned beef elicited an awful sneer that I had difficulty removing from my face. That, combined with the condescension that came over my entire being proved to be the tipping point. I was sternly reprimanded, and definitely removed from the project, fired from St. Paddy's Day dinner. I trolled the store in dramatic forlorn fashion for the remainder of the shopping list, clearly moping in my relegation to lowly guest. Fortunately, my resolve or perhaps attention faltered, and dismay was forgotten as soon as we departed for home.

Over the weekend prior, we'd decided to invite our neighbors with whom we have GFD (Gay Family Dinner) as well as another close friend who doesn't live far, and title it as such in honor of our weekly tradition. I could have allowed the naming to add insult to the injury of my non-producing role, but I was honestly happy to be taking a back seat, or really no seat at all. On Thursday morning, while I ironed our shirts, Mark kicked off his process of chopping the various ingredients. He quickly learned our eyes had been bigger than our Crockpot, and we needed to go to the basement for back up. By 8am we had two crock pots full of pickling spice, brisket, cabbage, carrots, the works... And I was only asked my advice a smattering of times (I obviously obliged with the most genuine sweetness).

The beef cooked for 8 hours, and I came home to a house that smelled like..well..St. Paddy's Day, we'll leave it at that. When we pulled the meat out, the last vestiges of bitterness faded, as I could see we were going to be in for a treat. The meat was perfectly cooked, just on the edge of completely falling apart. The vegetables mysteriously treading the line between firm and too tender, and the cabbage, just right. Mark engaged me to do the cutting and I took the liberty of heading up the plating, he knew better than to trust himself with my Instagram subject.

The meal featured Uveja Blanca, a delicious dry Muscat from central Spain with Gewurztraminer traits, that stood up beautifully to the salt and fat that both punctuates and premeates this meal. It was followed by what I think was a Rioja (the label is blurry in my memory) and then to a Bota box, if we're being honest (might explain why I can't remember the name of the other red). In typical GFD fashion we laughed a lot, told questionable stories, and recounted memories from dinners and holidays of the past, all of the things that make GFD such an important part of our lives. I managed to stay awake to see our guests out the door (a challenge for me occasionally) and apparently to promise to do ALL the clean-up, at least that is what Mark tells me...

Ultimately I realized this dinner had been yet another of what will be many undocumented tests in the journey of our relationship, and in its success we had passed a coupledom threshold with flying colors. Despite my near meltdown in HT, and my initial dismay at giving up the dinner reigns, I ended up enjoying observing Mark's pride in his process and in his ability to year over year deliver his own tradition and honor memories of the St. Paddy's days of his youth. I may never don a green tuxedo or down a pint of Guinness in the morning, toasting the most famous of Irish saints, but I am happy to have this new tradition to look forward to for many years to come.

I am not going to share a recipe, it belongs to Mark. While I am happy to partake in this tradition as his partner, it is still his to share not mine to appropriate. I'll simply say he did a wonderful job, and honestly elevated what is typically a very basic dish to new heights of richness and flavor. The process, the preparation, the buttery tender result, they were all his own, traditional yet unique in their own right. He deserves all the credit for making the dinner a mouthwatering success.

Don't worry, there is still a recipe coming... As I mentioned, our eyes were bigger than our crock pot, and even after expanding to employing two such appliances in the cooking process, we were left with a (huge) half a head of cabbage. Normally, I'll admit, something like this would sit in the back of my fridge for weeks, I'd glance at it and pretend to be thinking of a good recipe for which to use it, until it started to turn rancid and then I would dispose of it as soon as it started to smell. Food waste at it's worst.

Fortunately, Mark is what I would term a cole slaw aficionado. Without exception, if there is even a chance a restaurant we visit serves cole slaw, Mark is going to ask, and if available will order it as a side. He LOVES cole slaw about as much as he HATES bacon, so you know it's serious. This fondness offered the perfect to solution to the cabbage food waste dilemma, and I decided to make a slaw from the leftovers. I was even able to incorporate the remnants from several other ingredients from St. Paddy's Day dinner to compound my food utilization success. Inspired by a posting in September of 2015 (the original recipe is actually from 2011) on cookout favorites like baked beans and slaw, I decided to heighten the typical mayonnaise base with the addition of cider vinegar and whole grain mustard (apparently a technique with roots in Tennessee cooking). I added shaved radishes for bite and color, and then grated carrots for their sweetness and ability to mellow the more bracing preceding ingredients. It was delicious fresh and just mixed, but even better the following morning once the dressing had been able to break down the cabbage and the flavors had married. Next time you have left over cabbage, or are in the mood for a delicious slaw, I hope you enjoy!

Tennessee Style Mustardy Cole Slaw:


  • 1/2 head of Green Cabbage - Sliced very thin (or to your slaw texture preference)
  • 4 Medium Carrots - grated on the large side of a cheese grater
  • 4 Large Red Radishes - halved and then sliced very thin
  • 1/4 cup Whole Grain Mustard
  • 1/4 cup Mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Honey


Combine all vegetables in a large bowl, toss until evenly distributed. Add the vinegar first and toss. Combine mayo, mustard and honey in a small bowl, whisk together. Add to the vegetable and vinegar mix and toss well until evenly coated. Add more mayo or mustard to your taste. Cover with plastic and chill overnight before serving.

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