An Irishman is never drunk as long as he can hold onto one blade of grass to keep from falling off the earth.”
Ah, St. Patrick’s Day, a day that offers the Irish and non-Irish alike the opportunity to celebrate their “Irishness” in a so many ways—some authentic, some innovative, and usually, some downright tacky. In the culinary realm of celebration, most opt for the traditional Irish dish, corned beef and cabbage.
First off, “corning” is a form of curing; it has nothing to do with corn. Now that we have that out of the way, the name “corning” comes from Anglo-Saxon times before refrigeration. In those days, the meat was dry cured in coarse “corns” of salt. Pellets of salt, some the size of kernels of corn, were rubbed into the beef to keep it from spoiling and to preserve it.
Today, brining—the use of salt water—has replaced the dry salt cure, but the name “corned beef” is still used, rather than “brined” or “pickled” beef. Commonly used spices that give corned beef its distinctive flavor are peppercorns and bay leaf, but these spices may vary regionally.
I am a HUGE fan of corned beef, but since it’s not always very lean when cooked on St. Patty’s Day, Chuck and I opted not to partake. We did however make roasted pork loin, scalloped potatoes, and parmesan spinach cakes … a super tasty meal, well within our “points” for the day.
The recipe for the scalloped potatoes is from the “Light & Healthy 2010” issue of America’s Test Kitchen magazine. This dish was amazing … the potatoes were perfectly cooked, and the sauce was creamy, cheesy, and out of this world. If I didn’t tell you these were a “lighted-up” version, you’d never know!
Lighter Scalloped Potatoes
1 medium onion, minced
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
2 cups 2% milk
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons light cream cheese
2 ounces grated parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450°F.
2. Combine the onion, oil, and salt in a Dutch oven. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, thyme, and pepper and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Add the potatoes, milk, and bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until partially tender, and a fork can be slipped into a potato slice with some resistance, about 10 minutes. Discard the bay leaves. Whisk the cornstarch and water together, then add to the pot and bring to a simmer. Off the heat, stir in the cream cheese and 2 tablespoons of the parmesan, being careful not to break up the potatoes.
4. Transfer the mixture to an 8-inch-square baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until the potatoes are completely tender, a fork can be slipped into the center of the dish without resistance, and the top is golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Serves 8; per serving: cal 210; fat 5 g; sat fat 2.5 g; chol 15 mg; carb 35 g; protein 8 g; fiber 3 g; sodium 340 mg; Weight Watchers points = 4.
Up next, here is the recipe for parmesan spinach cakes from the September/October 2008 issue of Eating Well magazine. Again, we have a winner! These tasty little spinach cakes have a nice “spinachy,” cheesy flavor and the leftovers will hold up well for tomorrow.
Note: The second step in this recipe calls for you to chop the spinach in a food processor, which I highly recommend. Alas, we do not have a food processor and let me tell you … finely chopping 12 ounces of fresh spinach isn’t a quick task! Also, it will look like you have way too much filling for 8 muffin cups; don’t worry … just pack them tight, and they will turn out just right:
Parmesan Spinach Cakes
12 ounces fresh spinach
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese or low-fat cottage cheese
1/2 cup finely shredded parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
2 large eggs, beaten
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Pulse spinach in three batches in a food processor until finely chopped. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add ricotta (or cottage cheese), parmesan, eggs, garlic, salt, and pepper; stir to combine.
3. Coat 8 cups of the muffin pan with cooking spray. Divide the spinach mixture among the 8 cups (they will be very full).
4. Bake the spinach cakes until set, about 20 minutes. Let stand in the pan for 5 minutes.
5. Loosen the edges with a knife and turn out onto a clean cutting board or large plate. Serve warm, sprinkled with more parmesan, if desired.
4 servings, 2 spinach cakes each; per serving: 141 calories; 8 g fat (4 g sat, 3 g mono); 123 mg cholesterol; 6 g carbohydrates; 13 g protein; 2 g fiber; 456 mg sodium; 560 mg potassium, Weight Watchers points = 3.