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Southwestern Fare, With an Irish Accent

The folks at Tex Mex Connection, a popular eatery in North Wales known for its tasty Southwestern fare, is no stranger to “spirit dinners”—special prix fixe meals pairing food with liquor tastings. They’ve hosted very popular tequila dinners several times.

They’re about to try something a little different—teaming up the spicy heat of chipotle and poblano with the peaty smoke of Irish whiskey and malt.

The restaurant’s first-ever Irish Whiskey Dinner—it’s on for April 18th—will pair dishes such as posole stew with red chile accent and chipotle mustard marinated salmon fillet, with four classic Irish spirits: Kilbeggan, Connemara Irish Malt, Greenore, and Tyrconnel.

It’s not such a stretch, says Tex Mex Connection General Manager Kevin Gross. “The format is not unfamiliar to us,” he says. “It was more just a question of persuading people we could do it with whiskey, and not just tequila.”

The original plan was to do a bourbon tasting, but those plans fell through. Serendipitously, Ruth Dunne, a brand ambassador for Cooley Distillery, which owns the four whiskey brands, was available to host an Irish themed dinner. Gross thought: Why not?

Dunne, he says, will probably wow people with the force of her personality. “She’s adorable. She really plays the part—you expect her to start dancing. Everything about her screams Ireland.”

Once the restaurant had committed to the tasting dinner, the kitchen responded with a mouth-watering four-course meal, marrying influences from both cultures. For example, marmalade whiskey glazed European chicken breast with chorizo apple cornbread stuffing and braised greens, and Irish cheddar, smoked bacon and caramelized onion quesadilla.

Gross was sure the kitchen would be up to the task.

“We have some very talented chefs,” he says. “You don’t need to go full-bore Irish with the food. It’s more pairing the food notes with the notes of the whiskeys.”

If you’re prepared to check your preconceptions about food at the door, Tex Mex Connections is still taking reservations. They’re at 201 East Walnut Street in North Wales. Phone number: 215-699-9552.

Food & Drink

Victory at QVC

Deborah Streeter-Davitt

Deborah Streeter-Davitt

QVC introduced the world to the Diamonique. On Wednesday, March 13, at 5 p.m., the iconic West Chester-based cable shopping channel will introduce another gem: Deborah Streeter-Davitt’s priceless MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes.

Buttery, moist and rich, the bundt-shaped Irish Victory Cakes are a popular item at Celtic fairs, including the recent Mid-Winter Scottish & Irish Music Festival. You can also find them in small markets, or purchase them online. The recipe is a secret, handed down through the generations from Streeter-Davitt’s great-grandfather James MacDowell from Belfast. Cakes come in a wide variety of flavors, from just plain butter to tempting little items chock full of chocolate, butterscotch, or marshmallow—and all of them spiked with just a wee bit of whisky.

Demand for Victory Cakes peaks around St. Patrick’s Day, when Streeter-Davitt and a small workforce of friends and relatives band together for marathon baking sessions in a rented kitchen at Paoli Presbyterian Church. There, they turn out nearly a thousand four-inch “minis,” about 150 eight-inch “petite” cakes, and 20 or so of the aptly named 10-inch “mighty” cakes.

It’s a killer production schedule, but with a high-visibility spot on QVC, this St. Paddy’s Day is going to be challenging. And probably equal parts rewarding.

“St. Paddy’s is our Superbowl,” Streeter-Davitt says. “Production gears up over 300 percent to fulfill corporate gifts, inventory in the lovely shops, restaurants and farmers markets that carry our product, and our increased website orders.”

For the QVC campaign, the so-called “head caketress” has partnered with a team of bakers from the Reading area to produce cakes in much larger numbers. Streeter-Davitt says great-grandad’s recipe will remain unchanged, using locally-produced butter, eggs, chocolate and other fresh ingredients.

Streeter-Davitt concocted a new career as a baker a few years ago following a layoff from her job in the financial services industry. Ironically, a connection she made in her old job led to her upcoming QVC debut.

“When I was working in corporate America,” Streeter-Davitt says, “I met this amazing entrepreneur at an area diner. I saw her again shortly after I launched MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes, and told her about my new venture. She asked me for a sample and loved it, and through her incredible contacts and savvy she got a MacDougall cake in front of the buyers at QVC’”

Acceptance by the very particular QVC was nothing like a sure thing. Thousands of items are pitched to the QVC producers, but in the end MacDougall’s cakes made the cut—an outcome Streeter-Davitt attributes to the luck of the Irish—with more than a little help from her old corporate colleague. “This amazing lady was on our side. The buyers loved the MacDougall cake and our story, and here we are … on QVC!”

The story is as rich as the cake. “The recipe is my great-granddad’s gold medal-winning butter pound cake from Ireland,” says Streeter-Davitt. “He baked and beautifully decorated cakes for the rich and famous and royalty of the British Isles. Great-granddad sacrificed his fame and accolade to fulfill his dream of bringing his clan to the United States, where he worked in obscurity for his American sponsor in a tiny bakery in Syracuse, N.Y.”

Great-granddad’s cake, Streeter-Davitt says, is all about family, love and perseverance.

Judging by the incredible success of MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes, the tradition lives on.

Food & Drink, News, People

Victory at QVC

Deborah Streeter-DavittQVC introduced the world to the Diamonique. On Wednesday, March 13, at 5 p.m., the iconic West Chester-based cable shopping channel will introduce another gem: Deborah Streeter-Davitt’s priceless MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes.

Buttery, moist and rich, the bundt-shaped Irish Victory Cakes are a popular item at Celtic fairs, including the recent Mid-Winter Scottish & Irish Music Festival. You can also find them in small markets, or purchase them online. The recipe is a secret, handed down through the generations from Streeter-Davitt’s great-grandfather James MacDowell from Belfast. Cakes come in a wide variety of flavors, from just plain butter to tempting little items chock full of chocolate, butterscotch, or marshmallow—and all of them spiked with just a wee bit of whisky.

Demand for Victory Cakes peaks around St. Patrick’s Day, when Streeter-Davitt and a small workforce of friends and relatives band together for marathon baking sessions in a rented kitchen at Paoli Presbyterian Church. There, they turn out nearly a thousand four-inch “minis,” about 150 eight-inch “petite” cakes, and 20 or so of the aptly named 10-inch “mighty” cakes.

It’s a killer production schedule, but with a high-visibility spot on QVC, this St. Paddy’s Day is going to be challenging. And probably equal parts rewarding.

“St. Paddy’s is our Superbowl,” Streeter-Davitt says. “Production gears up over 300 percent to fulfill corporate gifts, inventory in the lovely shops, restaurants and farmers markets that carry our product, and our increased website orders.”

For the QVC campaign, the so-called “head caketress” has partnered with a team of bakers from the Reading area to produce cakes in much larger numbers. Streeter-Davitt says great-grandad’s recipe will remain unchanged, using locally-produced butter, eggs, chocolate and other fresh ingredients.

Streeter-Davitt concocted a new career as a baker a few years ago following a layoff from her job in the financial services industry. Ironically, a connection she made in her old job led to her upcoming QVC debut.

“When I was working in corporate America,” Streeter-Davitt says, “I met this amazing entrepreneur at an area diner. I saw her again shortly after I launched MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes, and told her about my new venture. She asked me for a sample and loved it, and through her incredible contacts and savvy she got a MacDougall cake in front of the buyers at QVC’”

Acceptance by the very particular QVC was nothing like a sure thing. Thousands of items are pitched to the QVC producers, but in the end MacDougall’s cakes made the cut—an outcome Streeter-Davitt attributes to the luck of the Irish—with more than a little help from her old corporate colleague. “This amazing lady was on our side. The buyers loved the MacDougall cake and our story, and here we are … on QVC!”

The story is as rich as the cake. “The recipe is my great-granddad’s gold medal-winning butter pound cake from Ireland,” says Streeter-Davitt. “He baked and beautifully decorated cakes for the rich and famous and royalty of the British Isles. Great-granddad sacrificed his fame and accolade to fulfill his dream of bringing his clan to the United States, where he worked in obscurity for his American sponsor in a tiny bakery in Syracuse, N.Y.”

Great-granddad’s cake, Streeter-Davitt says, is all about family, love and perseverance.

Judging by the incredible success of MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes, the tradition lives on.

Food & Drink, People

McGillin’s Checks in as Philly’s Best Bar

Chris Mullins, Jr.

Chris Mullins, Jr.

The city’s oldest continuously operating bar is now officially the best, according to the location-based social networking site Foursquare. Not that this is the first time McGillin’s has been singled out for honors from local and national media—far from it—but it is the first time the GPS-based social networking site chose the 150-year-old-plus Drury Street tavern to top the “best bars” list, as determined by the site’s registered users.

The longtime Irish watering hole ranked 9.6 out of 10 points, based on “check-ins” by users.

Media praise never gets old, says owner Chris Mullins, Jr. On the contrary, he laughs, it just reaffirms his career choice. “Running a bar is an exhausting but thrilling profession to be in. You can’t do it unless you love it. It’s in my blood. I’m thrilled by it every day.”

Watch our interview with Chris, above.

Fado Irish Pub, 1500 Locust Street, scored a 9.0 for best beer. Fado also scored a 9.0 under “best pub.” O’Neal’s, 611 South Third, tapped in with an 8.9 score; The Bards, 2013 Walnut Street, pulled an 8.8.

Food & Drink

A Happy and Tasty New Year

/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/magnersham-229×300.jpg” alt=”Magner’s Glazed Ham” width=”229″ height=”300″ /> Magner’s Glazed Ham

You can probably tell that cookbook author Margaret Johnson is one of our favorite people. We’ve asked her for recipes many times, and she has come across with some tasty dishes every time. One of the reasons we go to her so often is that her recipes come right from the source: the cooks, chefs and bakers of Ireland.

To read Johnson’s cookbooks, you might think that this retired New England schoolteacher had been traveling to Ireland since she was knee-high to a butterfly, but in fact she didn’t make her first journey until she was 40. The trip, back in 1984, was a birthday present from her husband.

Johnson grew up in an Irish family, and her grandparents—her mother’s parents in particular, who came from Kerry—never forgot their roots. “That’s all they ever talked about, was the old country,” Johnson says, though she didn’t take it seriously as she might have.

She started to pay more attention later on in life, when she pursued a Ph.D. in English. “I took three or four doctrinal seminars in Irish literature. That was the turning point. I became obsessed.”

The trip to Ireland, on the other hand, was a revelation. “That was kind of like the jumping off point,” Johnson says. “After that, I kept looking for ways to reconnect. I thought about what I could do to keep this connection, and the answer was food.”

Nine cookbooks and more than 60 trips to Ireland later, Johnson has made that connection, and then some. Each book is part food, part travelogue, lavishly illustrated with photos, many of them her own. Her most recent cookbook (which we’ve mentioned before) is “Flavors of Ireland,” published by Ambassador International. Like all of her cookbooks, “Flavors of Ireland” draws on the relationships she has established and nurtured with Ireland’s top culinary artists.

When asked why so many cooks are so willing to share their recipes, Johnson explains: “I am a good correspondent. If I meet someone who has an inkling of an interest in contributing a recipe, I always keep in touch with that person.”

Of course, Johnson doesn’t develop those relationships with the sole intention of getting Ireland’s cooks to part with their recipes. Warm, lasting friendships have developed and blossomed over the years.

With frequent trips back to Ireland and the opportunity to spend each trip savoring the best food Ireland has to offer, you might say that Johnson’s one-time interest and now full-time passion seems like a dream job. She agrees.

“Without question, it really does. People ask, ‘Did you plan it this way?’ and I say, no, not really. I’ve always been a cook, always had an interest in food, and always had a passion for Ireland. I’ve just kept at it.”

Stay tuned for Johnson’s next cookbook, the “Christmas Flavors of Ireland,” coming out in mid-summer.

In the meantime, Johnson offers these two recipes sure to be big hits at your New Year’s dinner party. They’re from from Flavors of Ireland © 2012 Margaret M. Johnson.

MAGNER’S GLAZED HAM

Ingredients

One butt half (6 lb.), bone-in, fully cooked ham
12-15 whole cloves
2 cups Magner’s Irish Cider
4 tablespoons pineapple juice
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon of Lakeshire French Mustard or a similar brand

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Score the ham in a diamond pattern, and stud with the cloves
  2. In a small bowl, combine the cider and pineapple juice. Place the ham, cut side down, on a rack in a large roasting pan. Pour the cider mixture over the top. Loosely cover the ham with foil, and bake for 1-½ hours.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and mustard. Mix 3-4 tablespoons of the cooking liquid with mustard mixture, and spoon it over the ham.
  4. Continue to cook, uncovered, basting frequently, for 30-40 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees F. when inserted into the thickest part of the ham. Remove the ham to a platter or cutting board. Cover with foil, and let stand for 10-15 minutes or longer.
  5. To serve, cut the ham into slices.

KNAPPOGUE CASTLE LEMON CHEESECAKE

Ingredients

Filling
1 3-oz. package of lemon-flavored gelatin
1 cup boiling water
1 8-oz package of cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
Zest of two lemons
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 8-oz container of plain yogurt
Fresh berries for serving (optional)

Crust

8 tablespoons salted Irish butter, melted
3 cups digestive biscuits or graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the butter, biscuit crumbs, and sugar. Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes to firm the crust.
  2. In a small bowl, dissolve the gelatin in the water. Let cool until thick, but not set.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice with a mixer on high until smooth. Set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, whip the cream with an electric mixer on high until stiff peaks form. Pour in the gelatin mixture and continue to mix until well blended. Fold in the yogurt and then fold in the cream cheese mixture. Pour over the crust, cover and refrigerate overnight, or until set.
  5. To serve, release the side of the pan, and cut the cake into slices. Top with fresh berries, if desired.

For additional info about Margaret Johnson and her many cookbooks and recipes, please visit her website, http://www.irishcook.com

And check out our related links for many more recipes from Margaret Johnson.

Food & Drink

Happy Feast of the Dead!

p-content/uploads/2012/10/Barmbrack-300×225.jpg” alt=”Scarily good barmbrack” width=”300″ height=”225″ /> Scarily good barmbrack

With Halloween just around the corner, we thought it would be fun to bring an old story back to life. It’s a story from 2007 that was pretty popular because it featured a yummy, seasonally appropriate recipe. Dig in.

If you’re being Irish this Halloween, first, you need to call it Samhain, which, of course, is not pronounced at all as it looks. (We checked the message boards of the Daltai na Gaeilge and they say, “sa-whin. The a in sa should rhyme with the a in ‘a-ha!’ and there is a slight ‘wh’ as in ‘who’ and then win.”)

Most experts agree our Halloween has Celtic origins. In the old days, people believed that as summer gave way to fall (which it’s showing little signs of doing these days), the dead roamed the earth, so to keep them outside, the Irish would leave little offerings of food on their doorsteps. Today, those little offerings of food include bite-sized Snickers, which seem a bit trivial when you’re dealing with the dearly departed, but what do we know?

The ancient Celts may have been trying to keep the dead away from their Barmbrack cakes, which is a traditional Samhain food. Really a fruit bread, it’s usually studded with little items–a rag, a coin, and a ring–that presage your fortune for the next year. If you get the rag, you have probably invested unwisely in bank stocks and can look forward to a miserly year. If you get the coin, most of your money is tied up in safe investments or in an ING account where it is multiplying like bunnies. Getting a ring is a sign of impending romance, continued happiness, or, if it’s an emerald-cut diamond in a platinum setting, a current romance that is moving to the next level. We made some of that up.

In any case, it’s a yummy cake, and Margaret Johnson, author of “The Irish Pub” and “The Irish Spirit” cookbooks, who has shared recipes with us in the past, offers this delicious version that does not contain any of those crunchy ingredients.

Barmbrack

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
3/4 ounce active dried yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 cups milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups golden raisins
1 1/2 cups currants
1 cup candied mixed peel

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, nutmeg, and salt. With a pastry cutter, blend in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. In a separate bowl, combine the yeast with 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Add the remaining sugar to the flour mixture and blend well.

In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk to just below boiling then add to the yeast and sugar. Stir in the all but a little of the eggs (reserve a tablespoon for use as a glaze) and add to the dry ingredients. Knead lightly to produce an elastic dough. With a wooden spoon, fold in the fruit. Transfer to a well-greased 8-inch round cake pan. Cover with a clean cloth and leave in a warm place to rise (it should double in size in about 1 hour.) Preheat oven to 400°F.

Brush the top of the brack with a beaten egg to glaze. Bake until golden, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes.
Serves 8.

October 26, 2012 by
Food & Drink

Happy Columbus Day!

Mamma mia: Jean Catherine McNulty Meade

My mom Jean Catherine McNulty Meade, with her famous lasagna.

Judging by all the “mixed” marriages we run into, it’s a pretty safe bet that there are a lot Irish families out there with Italian relatives, and vice versa.

Several months ago, we celebrated “Gaelic and Garlic” heritage by posting several really scrumptious Italian recipes. Columbus Day is celebrated on Monday, so it seemed like a good idea to resurrect that story.

Food & Drink, People

Tullamore Crew: Bringing a Bit of Ireland to You, One Bite at a Time

When The Shanachie Irish Pub and Restaurant closed its doors for good at the end of March, it wasn’t just the patrons who were sad to see this local gathering place close. After spending more than 8 years together, the folks who prepared and served the food felt like more of a family than a workplace full of co-workers. After all, they’d spent holidays together, even survived last year’s flood in Ambler together. So, one evening in the waning weeks counting down to The Shanachie’s end of days, a brainstorming session by the restaurant’s staff brought them to a light-bulb moment.

If we cater it, they will come.

And the Tullamore Crew Catering Company was born.

“It was really heartbreaking for us when The Shanachie closed,” Crissy Farley, former Shanachie server/bartender/manager and one of the Tullamore Crew’s founders, explained.

“It was our home. When something would happen to one of us, we would automatically show up at The Shanachie. We spent every New Year’s together; some of us have known each other since before we started at The Shanachie.

“We knew that in a community where people are really enthusiastic about their Irish heritage, that if we marketed ourselves, we could find a way to bring what people had loved about The Shanachie directly to the public.”

And that is exactly what they have done. It was Farley, along with fellow Shanachie expat Cynthia Farley, and former Shanachie head chef, Chef Paul,who took the lead in founding the new venture.

Last weekend, Tullamore Crew offered the Irish community an opportunity to sample their menu at a food tasting at The Commodore Barry Club in Mt. Airy. The event sold out, and with good reason. In a word, that reason is “Yum!”

“Chef Paul is originally from Dublin. He is amazing. He came up with the curry chicken recipe; Indian food is very popular in Ireland. You’ll find traditional Irish items on our menu, like shepherd’s pie, beef stew and steak and Guinness pie, but also appetizers like mini bangers in a blanket (they’re real bangers, imported from Ireland) and bite-sized fish and chips.”

There’s also a section of the menu called “Drunken Entree Options” that offers a choice of meat and fish served in their signature Tullamore whiskey sauce. Named after several of the Crew’s children, you can opt for Maddy Ohara’s Baked Breast of Chicken, or Mackenzie Murphy’s Marinated Pork.

The tasting event at The Irish Center confirmed that Tullamore Crew has fulfilled their pledge to bring the best of The Shanachie, and more, to the community. The trays of mini crab cakes didn’t always make it past the line of people queued up for seconds on the curry chicken. When the desserts came around, no one wanted to choose between the chocolate cake, the apple cobbler or the rice pudding. So they tried a bit of everything. A few times. Every member of the Tullamore Crew team was on deck, including Sherri Timlin-Windhaus, daughter of former Shanachie owner and music legend Gerry Timlin. She’s one of the Crew’s managers. It’s truly a group effort and a labor of love.

“After we knew The Shanachie was closing, Paul became the chef at the Hinge Cafe in Port Richmond. It was around February that we came up with the idea, and things took off almost immediately. The owner of Hinge, T. DeLuca, helped make this happen; he partnered with us. He lets us use his space, and has taken us under their umbrella.

“Our first job was catering a jewelry party for a friend, Chef Paul made all the food. Out of that, we got booked to do a reception for a wedding. They loved it! And word started spreading through the grapevine,” Farley said.

“The menu is really versatile. We will tailor a menu to your budget. People have asked us why we don’t have prices on our website and brochures; it’s because we can work with what you can afford. We’re able to do everything from showers to tea parties, weddings, Irish brunches. Even whiskey tastings!  You can have a St. Patrick’s Day celebration any day of the year.”

And, Farley added, “We are part of a coalition in the city, an urban gardening foundation. We use all organic, locally grown produce and products.”

“We’re still coming up with new ideas. The other day we thought up the idea of a mashed potato bar. We’re gonna keep this thing going.”

To book Tullamore Crew for an event, and to peruse their menu, check out their website: Tullamore Crew Catering Company

And, follow them on Facebook: Tullamore Crew on Facebook