My Irish Table – Recipes from the Homeland and Restaurant Eve, by Cathal Armstrong and David Hagedorn, is a great book for home cooks. It’s great for cooks who want to get to the bottom of regional cuisine or look into the heart of a well-known chef and the founding philosophy of his successful restaurants. And if you enjoy a good memoir, you’re good to go there, too.
For home cooks, this is food you can use. Many of My Irish Table’s 130 recipes are drawn from Armstrong’s youth in Dublin, and reclaimed with a contemporary attention to fresh, seasonal ingredients. In that sense the recipes work in three ways: this is uncomplicated, full-flavored food that that honestly represents a regional cuisine in recipes that are not beyond the reach of a home cook – because that’s where they originated.
My Irish Table is a good read for the same reason it’s a good cookbook. The chapter headings organize the recipes according to the holidays, events and places that marked Armstrong’s childhood. They reflect the habits of his family’s table, his childhood adventures, and his friends. The food comes to life in these memories, placing it squarely and uniquely in Ireland -- a living thing and not an artifact. It’s food he serves in his restaurants, and all these years later, still prepares for himself and his own children here in the United States.
But still, it’s easy to guild the lily. Armstrong was a Mid-Atlantic James Beard Best Chef (Mid-Atlantic) nominee. He was one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs. He’s been featured in Southern Living, Martha Stewart Living, the Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. Julia Child stopped by for lunch one day, and was so impressed that she came back the next day with a friend – Jacques Pepin. The White House honored him as a “Champion of Change” for his work on ending childhood obesity. And President Obama showed up one evening to celebrate his wedding anniversary (a phone call from the restaurant: “You need to come to work right away…”).
Right. And all of this tucked in with his Mam’s recipe for Bakewell Tart, and Auntie Joan’s Barmbrack.
To make My Irish Table’s Brown Bread recipe, you’ll need Irish-Style wholemeal flour, which can be ordered online from King Arthur Flour.
Apart from potatoes, nothing is more synonymous with the food of Ireland than brown bread. You find it served there with just about anything, from breakfast to Christmas dinner.
makes 1 (1-pound) loaf
- 2-cups Irish‑style wholemeal flour
- 2-cups all-purpose flour
- 1-teaspoon baking soda
- 1-teaspoon kosher salt
- ½-cup cold unsalted butter, diced, plus more for serving
- 1¾-cups buttermilk
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
Make the dough: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly dust a baking sheet with flour. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, and salt. Using your fingertips, rub the butter pieces into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the buttermilk and egg; work them into the dough with your hands just until they are incorporated. Do not overmix the dough.
Bake the bread: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form it into a round loaf about 8 inches in diameter. Place it on the baking sheet and, using a sharp knife, cut a cross into its top about 1/2 inch deep. Bake for 40 minutes, until well browned. Transfer the bread to a wire rack and let it rest for at least 20 minutes before serving with lots of butter.
Reprinted with permission from My Irish Table by Cathal Armstrong and David Hagedorn, copyright (c) 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.