If the weather is getting you down, today's recipe line-up is all about comfort during these cold months. For far too long the French have been laying claim to onion soup and it's high time we give it an Irish twist. At the risk of falling into that old Irish stereotype, I've done just that by adding some booze. The addition of some Irish stout for my take on this classic soup gives it even more depth and richness.
While Sofie was pregnant with our second son, Oliver, we got into the weekly habit of visiting a great German butcher nearby the doctor's office here in LA which conveniently has a Swedish bakery next door, making it the perfect spot for some coffee and cake to mull over the impending arrival. After a fix of cardamom-scented cinnamon buns and a slice of Swedish princess cake at Berolina Bakery, I would wander next door to Schreiners to pick up some meat for the week. It does great smoked meats and in particular smoked BBQ tri-tip and brisket. There's an old world feel here, the shelves are stacked with jars of sauerkraut, pickles and German beer and the 70-year-old lady behind the counter with a German accent offers our son Noah a slice of bologna without fail every time we visit.
It's been the source for a lot of our winter comfort food dishes and the reason my French/Irish onion soup randomly also has a German mash-up in the form of a reuben cheese toastie on the side with roast beef slices and sauerkraut in place of the classic cheese croutons that sit in the soup.
Like most Irish homes this time of year, stew is a firm fixture of our weekly meal plans and the one I come back to time and time again is our family's version of an Irish stew. Known fondly as Angie's Skehan family Irish stew. She was a lady who knew how to feed a crowd and this recipe brings back great memories every time. Simple recipes, great flavour and total comfort - enjoy!
Angie looked after my dad when he was growing up, and when I first started going to school, she used to walk me home and serve me her Irish stew, which is legendary in the Skehan family. Angie always knew how to feed an army of hungry mouths, so I hope this version of her recipe does it justice!
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1kg lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 2.5cm chunks
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
3 celery stalks, trimmed and sliced
4 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
1 litre beef or lamb stock
900g potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm slices
Good knob of butter
Sea salt and ground black pepper
Slices of white bread
1. Place a large, flameproof casserole pot over a high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and brown the lamb in two batches. Remove and set aside on a plate.
2. Reduce the heat to medium-high, add another tablespoon of oil and fry the onion, celery and carrot for 4-6 minutes or until the onions have softened.
3. Preheat the oven to 160°C /325°F/Gas Mark 3.
4. Return the meat to the pot, along with the bay leaf and stock, season with sea salt and ground black pepper and bring to the boil.
5. Remove from the heat and push the slices of potato down into and across the top of the stew, dot with a little butter and give a final seasoning of sea salt and ground black pepper. Cover and place in the oven to cook for about 1½ hours or until the meat is tender, then remove the lid and cook for a further 10 minutes until the potatoes have coloured.
6. You can serve straight away or leave it covered overnight in the fridge for the flavours to develop, then reheat. Serve in deep bowls with slices of white bread to soak up the liquid.
The trick to the lightest dinner rolls I've made is a little mashed potato, it creates a fluffy and irresistible roll. They are a nice change from soda bread and freeze very well, too. Delicious served up with Irish Stew or just covered in a thick slather of
2 tbsp reserved cooking water from potatoes
15g fast action dried yeast
450g white flour (warm the flour in a warm bowl if stored in a cool place)
1 tsp salt
Milk for glazing
100g of cheddar, grated
1. Cook the potatoes in salted water and drain, reserving 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid. (You can also use leftover mash here.) Mash the potatoes very well or use a potato ricer, then cover and keep warm.
2. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl with 1 teaspoon salt and rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre and add the sugar, yeast and the mashed potatoes, mixing well.
3. Warm the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until it's just warm. You should still be able to stick your finger into it without it scalding. Add the warm milk and 150ml water to the mixing bowl. Combine the wet and dry ingredients to bring together a rough dough and then tip onto a clean work surface. Knead very well until it springs back when pressed.
4. Shape into a ball and then roll the dough into a long sausage shape and cut into 10-12 pieces. Roll the pieces into dough balls and place in a buttered and floured casserole pot. Cover and leave in a warm place for about an hour, until the dough balls have doubled in size.
5. Once risen, brush with a little milk, sprinkle with cheese and bake at 220°C/425°F/Gas 7 for 15-20 minutes.
Irish Onion Soup with Reuben Cheese Toasties
An Irish twist on a classic French onion soup with an open-faced reuben sandwich on the side would easily make a meal on a cold dark night. Don't forget to season the toasties before you grill the sambos - plenty of cracked black pepper will help the beef and mustard sing.
For the soup:
2 tbsp butter
8 large onions, sliced
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp thyme leaves
1 tbsp light brown muscovado sugar
1 x 330ml Irish stout
1 litre beef stock
Small handful parsley, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the toasties:
4 small slices sourdough
3 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
4 slices roast beef
50g mature cheddar, thinly sliced
2 tbsp sauerkraut
1. Heat the butter in a large casserole over a medium low heat and add the onions. Season with sea salt and cook gently, stirring frequently until they are a rich dark brown colour - about 35-45 minutes. 2. Once the onions are softened completely and rich in colour, stir in the flour, sugar and thyme until the flour is evenly combined. 3. Season and pour in the stout. Bring to a steady simmer and allow to cook for 6-8 minutes until reduced. 4. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes until reduced. Season to taste.
5. Preheat grill to high. Toast the sourdough bread lightly on both sides. Remove from the grill and spread with mayonnaise and mustard. Then arrange the beef and cheddar on top and season generously.
6. Place under the grill until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Top with the sauerkraut and serve alongside warm bowls of soup sprinkled with parsley.
We're hooked on the new season of Dancing with the Stars on RTÉ One. Specifically as our neighbour and my old friend Brian Dowling is setting the dancefloor alight every Sunday night. Last weekend his husband Arthur came over to watch the show and we were all cheering him on! G'wan Brian!
Nuts about donuts
My guilty pleasure is a good donut and our local spot, Donut Friend, is worryingly close to home. Their salted caramel raised donut, Caramel Assault, is mega; The Angry Samoa, based on a Girl Scout cookie, is phenomenal; and their Youth Brulee filled with Bavarian cream and a hint of orange zest is hidden under a crackable sugar brulee topping. Too many donuts, too little time.
Taco Tuesday is a real thing where we live and our local spot Angel's Tijuana Tacos cook up some of the best. The showstopper dish is their tacos al pastor - marinated pork cooked on a spit, served with onions, coriander, salsa and a neon-green dollop of silky smooth avocado on top of handmade tortillas pressed right in front of you. They are the reason we don't cook at home on Tuesday nights.