Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Irish Table - Cookbook review

My Irish Table: Recipes from the Homeland and Restaurant Eve  Cathal Armstrong & David Hagedorn

I was excited to receive a copy of this beautiful cookbook because I truly appreciate the rich and rustic food I have tasted from Irish kitchens.  I grew up in a largely Catholic community and there were many Irish families who lived nearby.  I was lucky to sample the cooking of several of my friends' mothers and grandmothers growing up.  I adore potato soups and Irish stews, soda breads and hard tack candies all lovingly made in the Irish tradition and I had hoped this cookbook would help me bring this appealing and hearty food to my own table.

The pictures in this book are lovely.  The vibrant reds and greens leap off the page and tempt you with mouthwatering images of  hearty fare.  Many of the photos show the food with a portion removed or sliced to be served, so you get a real feel that these are something to be shared around a table and savored with friends.  There are also many pictures of Cathal Armstrong and his family.  Seeing photos of him and his mother and children cooking and enjoying the food made it really special.

Many of the recipes have short stories that accompany them on what is special about them and how they relate to the chef's life.  Some of my favorites are the story accompanying "President Obama Stew" wherein he tells of the stew he was making for his brother when he got the call that the President and Mrs. Obama would be celebrating their anniversary at the restaurant and the one accompanying "Meshelle's Tomato Thing" when he talks about how his wife who was unfamiliar with the Irish tradition of eating tomatoes at breakfast became a believer when he doctored them up with garlic, onions and bay leaves.  There are also lovely little vignettes about Ireland, the countryside, his love of farm to table and local ingredient based cuisine, his training in diverse restaurant kitchens and many family stories of holiday gatherings and laughter shared over a table of food.

As beautiful as this book is, I fear I don't have the skill to pull off these recipes.  I wish I could cook like this, but I know I cannot.  Luckily there are a few things that I think I could make with confidence and that will make this a useful book for me to own that won't just collect dust as I stare at it in my kitchen and desperately wish I had the skill it would take to make some of these dishes.  I am not a woman who could grind and case my own sausages, whip up a magnificent batch of puff pastry from scratch or poach lobsters in fine Irish Kerrygold butter.  I am however a lover of sauces, and the Marie Rose sauce (an Irish answer to cocktail sauce comprised of mayonnaise, ketchup, lemon juice and cayenne pepper), Tartar sauce and Tomato Marmalade recipes will get a workout.

Although there are a few seemingly impossible recipes in this book, one honestly baffles me, and it was of course the very first page the book opened to when I pulled it from the mailbox.  It was a recipe for "Cheese on Toast".  I think that my impression of this book as a collection of recipes that would be incredibly easy for me to accomplish was set by my glance at this.  I think perhaps it was included for people like me who wanted desperately to make something delicious but didn't have the skill set this amazing chef does.  Even I can handle slicing bread, cheese and tomatoes and sticking it under a broiler (I think!).  In my absolute confidence of handling this recipe I have found a little courage to try some of the other more difficult and quite probably beyond my skills entries in the book.

This Christmas season I believe I may try the recipe for "Christmas Pudding".  It seems madly complicated, but it has dried fruit and booze and is something that I think is so odd I just might love it.  I had a plum pudding at a Madrigal dinner I sang for in college and have never had anything so delicious since (although the fact that it was spoon fed to me by the incredibly handsome "King" while I was dressed as a comely serving wench may have something to do with it).  I will make these puddings this holiday and report back!

Visit the Random House website where you can go to read a synopsis, order a copy, check the table of contents and also see praise from other chefs about My Irish Table.  While you are there be sure and check out the author's recipe for Potato and Leek Soup.

I give this book a four out of five star rating.

Thank you, Blogging for Books for providing me with a copy of My Irish Table for review.

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