A modern day Irish dinner

IMG_0031Fresh shamrock

Forget corned beef, whatever that is anyway, and revamp your Irish food fest this week by celebrating the country’s Atlantic locale and its best known staple, the potato.Check out the Inland Fisheries Ireland website to read about Ireland’s salmon and sustainability efforts.

Years ago back in Chicago, a Dubliner friend and her boyfriend had a bunch of us over and served potatoes. The idea was brilliant in its thrift, its bow to their homeland, and its downright unique charm. It turns out that potatoes are a great accompaniment to dark beer. Raised in Ohio, I’m no stranger to the potato. It’s tough for me to turn down good mashed potatoes and there really is nothing better than mixing whatever else is around with ’em (think chili, soup, buttered vegetables, fish).

This year, my St. Patrick’s Day menu celebrates Ireland’s coastal regions as well as its agricultural hero by serving up a vegetarian Shepherds pie (generously topped with mashed potatoes!) alongside no-fuss skillet seared salmon. There’s also an easy Asian slaw recipe for some added zest.


A short-cut (know this first)     The traditional preparation is five steps but most of us are pressed for time so here’s the time saving strategy: pre-cut all of your your vegetables then put your carrots and sweet potatoes in to roast, your lentils in their water, and the yukon golds in their water and start a 30 minute timer; turn your lentils down to heavy simmer after they’ve reached boil. Meanwhile, saute your other vegetables (broccoli, mushrooms, celery) and make your sauce. Once the sauce has reached a boil turn down to simmer until just before topping with mashed potatoes. After the 30 minutes, pull out your roasted vegetables and mix with the sauteed vegetables atop then set aside; drain your softened potatoes and softened lentils.  Put your lentils on the bottom of your baking dish then layer the vegetables mix over them and let sit. Make your mashed potatoes then pour sauce over vegetable/lentil layers and top with the recently mashed potatoes. Bake for additional 30 minutes. Yes!

For another quick preparation, try Rachel Ray’s 30 Minute Shepherd’s Pie recipe, although it’s 15 minute prep, 25 minute cook, which equals 40.

Potatoes: cleaned, chopped, mashed

Step by step instructions

Step 1. 3 lbs yukon gold potatoes, 3 tablespoons salted butter, 3 oz half and half or sour cream, 1 teaspoon salt, fresh ground pepper to taste
Step 2. 1/2 cup French lentils, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, 4 cups water
Step 3. 1 medium onion finely chopped, 1 tblsp olive oil, 1 heaping teaspoon minced garlic, 2 tablespoons tomato paste; 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp tarragon, 1 cup white wine, 1 cup warm water
Step 4. 2 cups chopped carrots, 2 cups chopped sweet potato, 1 tblsp olive oil, salt, pepper; 2 cups chopped broccoli, one cup chopped celery, 1 cup chopped mushroom, 1 tblsp olive oil, salt, pepper

Step 1. Make mashed potatoes. Boil potatoes until soft then mash with half and half, butter, salt and pepper. Set aside (in refrigerator, if prepared an hour or more ahead of time).

Step 2. Prepare the lentils. Bring lentils, garlic, and salt to a boil in water then heavy simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes; be sure to test and adjust time as needed. Set aside (in refrigerator, if preparing an hour or more ahead of time). You may complete Step 3 while lentils are simmering.

Step 3. Prepare the sauce. Caramelize onion with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper by sauteeing over med/med-hi heat. Add tomato paste, wine, water, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon tarragon; bring to a boil then set to a low simmer.

Step 4. Prepare vegetables. Toss 2 cups chopped carrots and 2 cups sweet potato with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon rosemary or thyme, salt and pepper to taste, and roast on deep baking sheet at 450degrees for 25 minutes. Meanwhile, on stovetop, toss 2 cups chopped broccoli and one cup chopped celery and one cup chopped mushrooms and saute with one teaspoon olive oil, salt and pepper to taste until broccoli turns bright. When both vegetable sets are prepped, gently combine all on the roasting baking sheet.

Step 5. Layer and bake. Use 3 qt baking dish and create the following layers: lentils, vegetables, sauce, mashed potatoes. You may wish to create several lentil/vegetable layers before adding sauce and potatoes. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes, until potatoes have crisped and sauce begins to percolate around the edge. Can sit for up to 30 minutes before serving.

It will not take long to realize that you can have some fun with this recipe by changing up the lentils (someone suggested adding some sausage in there, demoting the vegetarian status ASAP), vegetable blends, and mashed potato seasonings.

The Shepherd’s pie prepared to bake and, at right, just out of the oven. I’ll post more pics later this week!


After labor-intensive Shepherd’s Pie, this is a fast, easy, delicious entree.



Douse Atlantic Salmon fillet(s) with olive oil and coat with blackening spices, amounts to your liking: salt, garlic, black pepper, thyme, oregano, cayenne, and paprika. Blackening spice is also available ready mixed at most groceries offering fresh seafood.

Pre-heat skillet over medium-high heat then place salmon skin side down and sear for 3-4 minutes. Flip over and sear the flesh side for an additional 7-8 minutes on slightly lowered heat. Sear until fish meat is desired serving color. Serve immediately.


Here’s a handy pan on sale now at Williams Sonoma, perfect for stove-top searing, the

All-Clad NS1 Nonstick Double-Burner Grill



If you have time and inclination, this is the perfect fresh complement to the seared salmon. (Yes, you’ll get compliments on this one.)

Slaw greens: 1/2 of a full size cabbage (green or purple or both), three scallions, three celery stalks, 1 medium green pepper, 1/4 cup cilantro, 1/2 jalapeno pepper.
Dressing: 1/3 cup coconut oil (melted), 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon raw cane crystals, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, juice from 1 small lime.

Shred greens for slaw either by hand, with a grater, or with a food processor. Melt coconut oil and add it and all remaining dressing ingredients in shaker to mix thoroughly. Pour entire dressing over shredded slaw greens and gently fold around. Serve well-chilled.


Below is the group enjoying this St. Patrick’s Day dinner. Susan brought wonderful homemade key lime pie for dessert, which tied in with the citrus tone from the slaw and was a further offset to the blackened fish flavor and heavy shepherd’s pie. Bain sult as duit féin!

From left: Jen, Amy, Susan, Paulette, Cathy, and Katherine (I’m taking the photo).
foodprocess.org: forget processed food, get a food process

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