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A serious consideration of buying a brisket for an Irish party

Buying any large cut of meat is becoming more of a consideration these days. Quite aside from the price you are expected to pay per pound, which is rising all the time, the quality and safety of meat is in question as politicians seek to eliminate food inspection and regulation by crossing the Food and Drug Administration off the federal budget.

So who you gonna call? You are on your own in the supermarket. I don't have occasion to buy a beef brisket right now, but if I did I would go directly to either Sprouts or Whole Foods in Tucson for it. If necessary, this would be a good time (this week, I mean) to place a special order for a brisket at Whole Foods' butcher counter if you are thinking of putting together a dinner party for St. Patrick's Day.

The famous Irish dish of corned beef and cabbage is made by braising a beef brisket (or a piece of brisket) in seasoned liquid that imparts the characteristic spicy flavor to the meat (as in pickling spices, not hot peppers). Once the meat has been cooked low and slow in its braising solution, the last hour or so of your preparation will be adding quartered cabbage heads to the braising pot and making either boiled or mashed potatoes to go with this traditional meal.

Another dish to serve on the side of this dinner would be Irish Soda Bread, which is basically a large biscuit. Self-rising flour is ideal for this bread because it is not generally made with yeast, hence its name. Many recipes for it exist, but as far as I am concerned, it makes sense to bake individual portions (or biscuits, in fact) so that they cook through and are not gummy in the center.

A cast-iron skillet is a good tool for baking soda bread if you make it in the traditional form, though, because the hot iron is likely to get through the larger mass of dough and bake it all up. We will take a look at recipes for all these dishes as we count down to green beer.

The color green is now so entwined with St. Patrick's Day that it is a nice touch to include green on The Day. Perhaps you will tote a batch of cupcakes to work, frosted with green-tinted icing and sprinkled with something sparkly--even nicer if you make mini-cupcakes for those who want to cut back on the sugar. And please, forego the cake mix and make them up from scratch.

Starting there, with green-frosted cupcakes, let's look at a simple recipe for a surprisingly-good treat. The recipe comes from the Magnolia Bakery in New York, one of the premier bakers operating today. They can be made in mini-cupcake pans just as well, and I have discovered that in Tucson's supermarkets you can find paper liners for mini-pans as well as the normally-sized ones.

You can see that if you bought self-rising flour for Irish Soda Bread, you can use some of it in this recipe also.



1-1/2 cups organic self-rising flour
1-1/4 cups organic all-purpose flour
2 sticks unsalted organic butter, softened
2 cups organic sugar
4 large organic eggs, at room temperature
1 cup organic milk
1 teaspoon organic vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Line 2 (1/2 cup-12 capacity) muffin tins with cupcake papers.

In a small bowl, combine the flours. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over beat. Using a soft spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended.

Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes in tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

If you want to make your Soda Bread in the traditional Irish loaf, here is what to do: once the dough is mixed and ready to be baked, turn it onto a clean working surface and pat it gently into a shape to fit your baking dish, whether it is round, square or oblong. This is important: be sure the loaf is flattish rather than round. That will enable it to bake properly. Once you have the shape, transfer it carefully into the baking pan and proceed. Again, I recommend a cast-iron skillet for this approach to the soda bread.

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