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Gaelic and Garlic

Mamma mia: Jean Catherine McNulty Meade

Mamma mia: Jean Catherine McNulty Meade

When I was a kid growing up in Norwich, N.Y., and later Willow Grove, I can remember vividly the days when my mother made her tomato sauce. It seemed like an all-day project, the sound of sauce burbling away in the big aluminum stockpot, and the intoxicating Mediterranean ambrosia of olive oil and garlic filling the house.

No jarred Ragu for my mother; instead, the patient preparation of a thick, deep red, richly flavored topping for spaghetti or filling for lasagna, made all the more scrumptious by a generous dusting of Locatelli Romano cheese, grated fresh at the table, with thick, golden buttery slabs of garlic bread on the side.

Not at all bad for a woman born Jean Catherine McNulty.

How she came to cook Italian food so well is, in its way, a mystery. My grandmother died when my mother was very young, so she, her sister Mary Alice and brother Richie learned at an early age how to keep house, in a series of flats throughout Jersey City. Mary Alice in particular was the cook.

“Mary Al was good at whatever she made,” my mother recalls. “She was a great cook. She didn’t like to clean up afterwards … I was the cleaning person.”

How it came to be that Mary Alice was such a great Italian cook isn’t clear. The story I’d always heard—or thought I’d heard—was that Mary Alice learned to cook from her husband Tony Lionetti’s mother. Not true, says my mother … but the real story is lost in the mists of time. Whatever the story, Mary Alice’s in-laws were impressed.

“She was a better Italian cook than her in-laws,” my mother says. “They loved her cooking.”

The reason my mother became proficient in the ways of pasta is a lot clearer.

“When I got married, I couldn’t boil water,” she says. “The only thing I knew how to make was pancakes. I had my in-laws over for dinner, and we had pancakes. How dumb can you get?”

With Mary Alice’s help, my mother smartened up. “I was on the phone every day with Mary Alice, every time I had to cook something.”

The result, all these years later, is truly mouth-watering Italian food. (I hasten to add that, when I was growing up in Norwich, there were two Catholic churches: The snooty Irish church, St. Paul’s, up on the hill overlooking town, and the Italian church, St. Bartholomew’s, in the center of town, across from a deli. So some of my pseudo-Italian heritage comes from years of great food at festivals and spaghetti dinners, lovingly overseen by our black biretta-wearing pastor, Father Guido Festa.)

If you ask me: Why Italian food? Why Now? I can’t tell you. Maybe you should blame it on St. Patrick’s Day overload. And the truth is, if given a choice between ham and cabbage, and a simple garlicky dish of aglio y olio, I’ll go for the pasta every time.

So the first thing I thought of to share was my mother’s sauce and lasagna recipes. But then I reached out to our Facebook fans, looking for more recipes that were the offshoot, in some way, shape or form, of the marriage of tricolors.

Try them out and see if you don’t break out in a rousing chorus of “La Donna è Mobile.”

Jean McNulty Meade’s Sauce


4 diced or crushed garlic cloves
A little olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of a stock pot and a large frying pan (always Pompeian, in its distinctive grooved bottle, in our house)
2 6-ounce cans of tomato paste
2 tomato paste cans of water
28-ounce can of tomato puree or crushed tomatoes
15-ounce can of tomato sauce
1 teaspoon of parsley flakes
1 full teaspoon of crushed sweet Basil
½ teaspoon of sugar
½ to ¾ pound of sweet Italian sausage
¾ pound of groubd beef (93 percent fat-free)


Coat a stock pot with olive oil. Saute garlic cloves. Discard them when soft.

Add two cans of tomato paste and water. Stir.

Add tomato puree and sauce, sugar (it cuts the acidity a little), parsley and basil.

Coat a frying pan with olive oil.

Remove sausage from casing, and chop up in the pan. Add the ground beef and do the same. When cooked through, add to sauce.

Allow the sauce to simmer at least two hours. The longer, the better.

This is the same recipe my mother uses for both spaghetti and meatballs, and lasagna.

Jean’s Lasagna


1 16-ounce box of lasagna noodles
8 ounces of ricotta
Grated Locatelli (You’ll have to eyeball it. My mother swears by Sam’s on Moreland Road in Willow Grove)
3 cups shredded mozzarella


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook noodles according to the package directions. When done, place them in a strainer and run a little cold water over them.

In an oiled 13×9 pan, ladle in a little sauce, then place a layer of noodles (usually 4 across) over the sauce.

Next, place a third of the ricotta, mozzarella (space it out) and a little sauce on top of the noodles.

Layer noodles, cheeses and sauce two more times. Place the final layer of noodles on top, and then cover with sauce and Locatelli.

Cover the dish with foil (it helps to spray with cooking spray). Bake 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 10-15 minutes.

You’ll have a hard time sinking a fork into it right away, but let it sit for 10 minutes or so before serving.

And there’s more …

Kathy DeAngelo’s Lentil Soup

Kathy is the harp-and-fiddle half of Irish traditional music duo McDermott’s Handy. When she was growing up, lentil soup was Friday night dinner, especially during Lent. “It’s a pretty cheap meal, too, and full of nutrition,” she says, “which was very practical for our large family.”


1 bag of lentils
1 pkg frozen cut spinach
1 medium sized onion
Tomatoes (either 1 can tomato paste, 1 can diced tomatoes, or 1 can of tomato juice, whatever’s handy)
Parsley, Oregano, Garlic
Salt to taste

(In Kathy’s own words.)

Soak the beans if you can, overnight or for a couple of hours. It’ll take the sugar out of them and they’ll cook faster too.

Drain the lentils. Then put them in a big pot and add new water, enough to cover the lentils about 1.5 inches. Start cooking over a rather high heat.

Put in the frozen spinach (take it out of the package first!). Chop up the onion and throw that in.

You need some kind of tomatoes–look in the pantry and find whatever canned tomatoes are handy and throw that in.

How much parsley & oregano? I pour in enough to layer each on the top of the lentils, more or less. If you don’t like oregano, don’t put any in.

Garlic? For that big pot, you can start with 2 tablespoons, reserving the right to add more later if that’s what you like. Stir it all up and after the spinach breaks up, leave it alone.

When it all starts to boil, turn down the heat and cook it on medium heat. If the water steams away and it’s too thick, add more water but don’t overdo it. This should be a rather thick soup.

Serve hot and sprinkle lots of parmesan/romano on the top and a crusty slice of Italian bread with butter.

Optional adds: You can add pasta to this if you don’t mind the added calories. Little tubetini macaroni work best. Cook them separately al dente and add them to the lentils. If you’re not a vegetarian, get some Italian sweet sausage, slice it up in bite size chunks and brown it separately in a pan. Throw that into the boiling lentils mixture. You can also use tuna in this lentil soup and it’s pretty good too.

Monica Woolston-Versaggi’s “Toralli” Lemon Cookies

Monica is one of our Facebook friends, and she presented us with this sweet recipe, from her husband’s grandmother.


6 eggs
1 cup sugar
¾ cup oil
2 teaspoons lemon extract
5 cups sifted flour
4 teaspoons baking powder

(In Monica’s own words.)

Beat eggs; add sugar beat ‘til creamy. Add oil and lemon extract.

Add flour and baking powder which have been sifted together.

Let dough rest for 10 minutes. (It will be sticky; if I have time, I do refrigerate it overnight.)

Shape into a crescent shape ( about 1 ½ tablespoons).

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes.



1 egg white
½ teaspoon lemon extract
1 ½ cups of confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon milk


Mix until a thick consistency. It should not be too thin. Spread on cool cookies.

Enjoy with a cup of tea!!

Maria Gallagher’s Eggplant Parmesan

Maria’s one of our Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians pals. Both of her parents are second generation Italian.

“My dad’s family is from a town in Sicily called Messina, and my mom’s family is from up north near the Seashore Coastline. I am full-blooded Italian, but was able to join the LAOH because I am the spouse of an Irish member and I have a daughter who is a member of the Ladies. That is how our by-laws read.”

The recipe, Maria says, is her own, with some help from her mom.


2 medium-size eggplants
2 eggs
Bread Crumbs
Gravy (Known as “sauce” in some Italian households, but definitely “gravy” in Maria’s. Her gravy is homemade; you can use the jarred stuff, if you want.)
4 cups mozzarella cheese
Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Extra virgin olive oil


Preheat your oven tp 350 degrees.

Peel eggplant and slice into quarter-inch pieces. Salt and then pat dry.

Coat the eggplant slices in flour; shake off the excess. Dip in egg, then in bread crumbs.

Heat olive oil in pan and cook eggplant slices until brown on both sides.

Cover the bottom of a casserole dish with gravy. Add a layer of eggplant, mozzarella cheese and Parmesan or Romano cheese. Repeat with another layer until all eggplant is covered.

Bake for about 35-40 minutes.

Food & Drink


Margaret Johnson, aka “The Irish cook,” debuted her seventh Irish cookbook a few weeks ago. This food and travel writer—and retired teacher—from Weshampton Beach, NY, has introduced thousands of people to the taste of Ireland, particularly new Irish cuisine with its emphasis on fresh local ingredients and a gourmet twist on traditional food.

Margaret’s latest is called, appropriately, “Flavors of Ireland: Celebrating Grand Places & Glorious Food” (Ambassador International, 2012). A hybrid travel/cookbook, it takes you across Ireland via recipes from some of Ireland’s top chefs and skilled home cooks.

Here, she shares three recipes that offer a welcome change from the usual Ulster fry and ham and cabbage usually served on St. Patrick’s Day.

You can buy “Flavors of Ireland: Celebrating Grand Places & Glorious Food” on  Sign up on Margaret’s Facebook page for a chance to win a free copy.

Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon and Boxty

This special occasion breakfast or brunch dish if often served with champagne, Buck’s Fizz (half champagne, half orange juice) or Black Velvet (half champagne, half Guinness).

2 large baking potatoes, peeled
2 large eggs, beaten
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
pinch of ground nutmeg
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
2-4 Tbs salted Irish butter for frying
scrambled eggs for serving
12 slices smoked salmon for topping
crème fraiche for serving
lemon wedges for serving
chopped fresh chives for garnish

1. Cut 1 potato into 1 ½ inch pieces and cook in boiling salted water for 12-15 minutes or until tender. Drain and mash.

2. Line a large bowl with a piece of muslin, cheesecloth, or a clean linen towel. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the other potato into a bowl. Squeeze the cloth to extract as much of the starchy liquid as possible, and then discard the liquid.

3. Combine the mashed potatoes and grated potatoes and stir in the eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the flower, mix well, and pat into small cakes.

4. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 2 Tbs. of the butter. Working in batches, cook the potato cakes for 3-4 minutes on each side or until lightly browned and crisp. Transfer the cakes to a baking sheet and keep warm in a 250 degree oven.

5. To serve, divide the scrambled eggs onto plates. Put 2 potato cakes on each and top with a slice of smoked salmon and a spoonful of crème fraiche. Garnish with lemon and sprinkle with chives.

Mussels with Guinness

This recipe is adapted from a recipe served at The Brewery Bar at The Guinness Storehouse, Dublin’s number one visitor attraction.

4 Tbs salted Irish butter
2 large onions, chopped
1 (1 ½ ounce) bottle Guinness draught
6 lbs musells, scrubbed and debearded
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2 cups cream
2 Tbs chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbs chopped fresh dill

1. In a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and cook for 2-3 minutes or until soft but not browned. Add the Guinness, mussels, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and then cover and cook, stirring once or twice, for 6-8 minutes or until the mussels begin to open.

2. Add the cream, 1 Tbs of the parsley, and the dill. Return gently to boil and cook 2-3 minutes longer or until all the mussels open (discard any that don’t open).

3. To serve, ladle the mussels into shallow bowls and sprinkle with the remaining parsley.

Magners Glazed Ham

This recipe uses Magners, the US brand of Bulmers, cider produced in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, since 1935. The cider uses over 17 varieties of apples, is fermented using a unique yeast from the oak vats of the original Dowd’s Lane Cider Mill, and is left to mature for up to 2 years.

One butt half (6 lb) bone-in, fully cooked ham
12-15 whole cloves
2 cups Magners Irish cider
4 Tbs pineapple juice
2 Tbs packed dark brown sugar
1 Tbs Lakeshore French Mustard or similar brand

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, cutside down, on a rack in a large roasting pan. Pour the cider mixture over the top. Loosely cover the ham with aluminum foil and bake for 1 ½ hours.

3. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and mustard. Mix 3-4 Tbs of the cooking liquid with the 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.

Find even more Irish recipes at these locations on

Wonderful recipes from McGillin’s Olde Ale House, the oldest continuously operating pub in Philadelphia.

Feasts for your St. Patrick’s Day crowd.

Breakfast ideas from an Irish chef.

Spirited meals in more ways than one.

Food & Drink, People

Five Questions for Tullamore Tim

Tullamore Tim

Tullamore Tim

Tell us you don’t want Tim Herlihy’s job.

As the United States ambassador for Tullamore Dew, the second-largest Irish whiskey in the world, he has to travel from city to city sharing his knowledge about one of favorite spirits.

He’ll be in town Wednesday night, a guest of Irish Network-Philly at The Bards on Walnut Street, for a whiskey tasting and dinner. He’ll lead whiskey lovers through a tasting of three entries from the Tullamore line—10-year-old reserve, 12-year-old special reserve, and 10-year-old single malt. He’ll also talk about Irish whiskey, once second fiddle to other alcoholic beverages, has become one of the hottest-selling Irish exports.

We asked Herlihy to give us a sneak preview of his presentation. Here’s what he had to say.

Q. There are a lot of whiskeys in the world. How and why are Irish whiskeys different?
A. Irish whiskey is known for being a friendly spirit, smooth, sweet and approachable.

Q. When people taste an Irish whiskey, what should they be looking for? What should their mouths and noses be picking up? Maybe you could tell us what your far more experienced nose and mouth are picking up.
A. Most Irish whiskey is triple distilled, giving it an approachable and smooth taste profile, compared to Scotch, which tend to be more robust. With Tullamore Dew, it’s a triple distilled, triple-blend whiskey, giving it a smooth character, but it’s a whiskey made up of grain whiskey, which gives it a sweetness, malted barley which gives it great citrus fruit flavours, and pot still whiskey which creates a buttery, oily, melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Q. What’s the audience for Irish whiskeys these days? IN-Philly seems to be a younger crowd (though certainly not exclusively), and I’m wondering if younger folks are part of a trend? That is to say, perhaps they go through their college and young adult years, and then they start to crave something more adult in character. Is any of the above true?
A. The new wave of whiskey drinker is enjoying Irish whiskey because of its taste profile, but also because Scotch (by comparison) is seen as a very serious drink. With Irish whiskey, there are no rules; it can be sipped neat, on the rocks, or mixed. The only rule with Irish whiskey is to drink it with friends! Scotch, on the other hand, is a more reflective drink to be had on your own by the fire, plotting the downfall of your enemies.

Q. Tell me about Irish whiskey as a category, Tullamore being the second largest distiller. How has its popularity grown, and how do you account for that?
A. Right now, Irish whiskey is the fastest-growing spirit in the world. Historically at the beginning of the 20th century, Irish whiskey accounted for 60 percent of all world whiskey sales, before suffering a tragic decline due to Prohibition, a trade embargo with the United Kingdom and other factors, which led to Scotch replacing it as the No. 1 whiskey. Today, Irish whiskey is entering a new renaissance with drinkers falling in love with its taste profile, and it’s sociable nature.

5. Tullamore is promoting “Irish True,” a campaign that urges Americans to forget shamrocks and leprechaun costumes, and to focus on the true meaning of St. Patrick’s Day. ( is a shamrock-free zone, so we appreciate the sentiment.) How are you and the folks at Tullamore suggesting we celebrate the occasion, and how is it different from how we typically do, awash in green beer?
A. There’s much more to being Irish than leprechauns, Lucky Charms and pots of gold. Here’s a couple of St.Patrick’s Day tips:

  • Kick off the day with a hearty, traditional Irish breakfast; it’s going to be a long day and you’ll need sustenance—my favorites include bacon rashers (real back bacon, if you can get it), both white and black pudding, fried eggs and a strong cup of Irish breakfast tea.
  • Take in a local St. Patrick’s Day parade; in Ireland, a parade can be found in a big city, complete with massive floats, right down to a simple tractor parade in a small village. Every city, town and village has its own parade on St. Patrick’s Day. In America it’s no different—go out there and show your support!
  • Catch some Irish entertainment; pull up a chair at your favorite pub and listen to a traditional session band.
  • Go out and find an Irish True bar or pub; forget the green beer and shamrocks on the wall; an Irish True establishment has its own character and way of doing things; there’s sense of community and camaraderie and, above all, friendship.
  • Have a St. Patrick’s Day toast at the ready; toasting is a big part of Irish culture; it should speak from the heart and is meant to be shared with those most important to you.
Food & Drink

Your Post-Parade Menu Right Here

Irish Potato Martini. Mmmmmmm.

Looking for something a little different to serve after the St. Patrick’s Day Parade? Our friends at McGillin’s Olde Ale House at 1310 Drury Lane, Philadelphia are always looking for something unusual to fortify marchers and parade-goers who retire post-parade to this pub, the oldest Irish pub in Philly, just a couple of blocks off the city’s parade route.

This year, they’re going local, using lamb sausages available at the Reading Terminal Market for a delicious pairing with traditional colcannon, a potato and cabbage dish.

Fortunately for you, they shared their recipe with us, along with another for red cabbage, so you can make your own after Sunday’s parade.

They also passed us the recipe for an irresistible drink they call “Irish Potato Martini.” Now, we love the Irish potatoes made by the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians Div. 87. In fact, for a couple of years, we helped make them. Once the ladies get a sip of this, they may want to alter that recipe just a wee bit.

McGillin’s Lamb Sausage and Colcannon

10 pieces Martin’s Lamb Sausages (available at Reading Terminal Market)
4 onions, finely sliced
½ stick butter
2 cups Irish beer
½ tsp each salt, pepper, sugar
1 tsp olive oil

Simmer sausage in Irish beer. Melt butter in pan. Add onions then salt, pepper, sugar and cook approximately 30 minutes. When sausage is cooked through, take out of beer but put into sizzle pan with olive oil. Pour beer juice into onions and let it simmer for 15 additional minutes.

For Colcannon

1 small cabbage, chopped into ¼” slices
1 leek, chopped into quarter inch slices (green & white)
½ tsp each salt, pepper, sugar
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ stick butter, cut into small pieces
4 cups (approximate) mashed potatoes (instant, frozen or homemade using 10 small red skin potatoes)
3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat oven 400 degrees. Mix cabbage and leeks and seasonings and toss. Add olive oil. Put into a single layer in shallow pan with sides. Sprinkle butter on top. Bake uncovered approximately 30 minutes (longer if you prefer softer). Mix in mashed potatoes to complete the colcannon. Note: Can use mashed potatoes, without cabbage and leek mixture, if preferred. Sprinkle with parsley.

For asparagus

15 spears asparagus
2 Tbsp salt
4 cups water

Bring salt water to boil. Add asparagus. Boil approximately 8 minutes. Remove and put into cold water bath. Save water. Then to re-heat, put back in water. Drain to serve.

For mint sauce

1 head fresh mint, chopped
½ cup sugar
1/2 tsp vinegar (any type)

Put mint into small bowl. Boil ½ cup water and add sugar. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until it gets syrupy. Pour over chopped mint and let it steep for 5-10 minutes (like tea). Add vinegar.

To finish

Put colcannon on plate. Top with Sausage and onions. Arrange asparagus next to it. Drizzle with sauce (or on side).

Red Cabbage

2 strips of bacon, diced
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
10 – 12 cups red cabbage, shredded
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
4 or 5 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
2 tsp sugar
¼ cup cider vinegar

Fry bacon until crisp. Add onion and cabbage, stir well.
Add remaining ingredients and stir.
Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 – 1 ½ hours until cabbage is tender.

Irish Potato Martini

1 ¼ ounce sweetened coconut milk
1 ¼ ounce whipped cream vodka
1 ¼ ounce Malibu Rum
1 tsp coconut tossed in cinnamon sugar

Shake and strain into a martini glass rimmed with cinnamon sugar, sprinkle with coconut and cinnamon.

Food & Drink, Music

A Little Bit of Ireland and Old Lace in Smithville, NJ

Kelly Coleman with Gaelic Storm at Ireland and Old Lace

I know a magical place, about an hour’s drive from Philadelphia, where a visit on any day of the week can get you some of the finest Irish things in life. And I mean the good stuff:  Cadbury Time Out & Curly Wurly bars, Nestle Smarties, Erin Farmhouse Vegetable Soup mixes, bangers, rashers, black and white puddings, meat pies, HP Hot Sauce, Bisto gravy… and it only gets better from there.

Where is this modern-day, non-disappearing Brigadoon, you ask??? It’s a quaint and beautifully established store called Ireland and Old Lace, situated among the approximately 60 shops on The Village Greene in Historic Smithville, New Jersey. And much the same as Brigadoon, on occasional days like this Saturday, October 7, bagpipes and music wondrously appear as if conjured out of the mist as the town plays host to The Smithville Irish Festival.

From the beginning, owner Kelly Coleman has carved her own path for her Irish shop, from opening it on a whim in 2002 to the big name concerts she regularly sponsors on the premises (Dropkick Murphys, Gaelic Storm, Barleyjuice, Flogging Molly).  This Saturday, the Irish Festival, which kicks off at 11AM, will feature performances by Bogside Rogues, Jamie and the Quiet Men, The Barley Boys and Amadaun, as well as the Mist of Ireland dancers.

But it’s the stuff inside the store that hooks people once the music stops. In May of 2010, Ireland and Old Lace launched the only licensed U.S. sales of Emerald Crystal, the company formed by several former glassblowers from Waterford after Waterford Crystal went out of business. In addition, Coleman has a large stock of scarves, hats and stoles from Branigan Weavers of Drogheda, County Louth, ladies and men’s hats from Hanna Hats and Shandon of Cork, and Belleek and Galway Crystal.

“We got a new load of woolen sweaters in yesterday, just in time for the change in temperature! We haven’t raised the price on our sweaters in five years, and still didn’t this year,” Coleman told me.

Coleman is committed to finding and selling real Irish goods, designed and made in Ireland. She makes several buying trips a year to make sure that what she has on offer is the real deal.

“My first buying trip, after I’d rented the store, I got on a flight to Dublin and started knocking on doors around Ireland and asking if I could see their products. I’d rented a hotel room, and went around to the gift shops, looked up websites and just started making phone calls. I had a week to put together an inventory.

“My big seller is always the fisherman’s sweaters, but I make sure that they are made in Ireland. Most Americans don’t understand, but they don’t mass produce, and they don’t create handmade junk. It’s a cottage industry over there, and that’s what is represented in my store. All the jewelry I sell has to be hallmarked.”

“I do have the filler stuff that changes around seasonally. I get a lot of repeat visitors who are looking for new things, so I’m always discovering new inventory. And I have the sort of stereotypical St. Patrick’s day items around that time of year. But I try to stay away from too much of that. I feel that Ireland is often misrepresented in the U.S.—it’s not all green beer and shamrocks.”

Coleman herself is Irish on both sides: her mom’s family is from Limerick, and her dad’s side is from Mayo. And even her husband, Mark Radziewicz, better known as “Razz” from Philadelphia’s country station 92.5 XTU, has Dublin born grandparents.

It was her husband who brought her to the area and provided the impetus to open Ireland and Old Lace (he also came up with the name). They’d been living in New York, where the two had met, when Razz got a job with the Philadelphia radio station. Coleman had been living out every 80’s child dream of working for MTV; she’d been a part of their international marketing department, a job that had required such arduous tasks as traveling to Cannes twice a year. Sigh.

But it was one of those visits to Cannes for MTV that had gotten her hooked on Ireland after she added on a vacation trip to the Emerald Isle. So, when she found herself living in South Jersey and jobless, she knew she had the grain of a great idea.

And nearly 10 years on, she is still excited about what she does.

This weekend promises beautiful weather, and Coleman knows just how it should be spent: “We recommend a Blacksmith — 1/2 Guinness 1/2 Smithwicks —to be enjoyed with The Barley Boys!”

For more information on Ireland and Old Lace, visit their Facebook page: Information on Saturday’s Smithville Irish Festival can be found on their website:


Food & Drink, News, People

Bar Rescue?

Brian Duffy in Downey's kitchen.

Back in May, Spike TV’s newest series, “Bar Rescue,” came to Philadelphia to take on Downey’s Pub and Restaurant at Front and South. They sent in a restaurant turnaround artist, an experienced Irish chef, and a bar guy. They should have sent in FEMA.

When the show airs on Sunday night, July 24, at 10 PM, you’ll see why.

“This was absolutely the worst and dirtiest restaurant I’ve ever set foot in,” says Brian Duffy, the chef who has helmed the kitchens of the Shanachie Irish Pub and Restaurant in Ambler, the Kildare’s Irish Pub chain, and once, many years ago, Downey’s.

“There was trash in the hallways. Dead lobsters everywhere. The walk-in fridge was more like an air conditioner. The products in there were rancid. It was 52 degrees and it’s supposed to be under 40. It’s like throwing a festival for bacteria,” says Duffy, the culinary expert who served as menu doctor for two previous struggling bars in the series.

Few are struggling as much as Downey’s, once a Philly Irish institution during the decade’s long reign of the late Jack Downey. Two days before St. Patrick’s Day this year, Philadelphia health inspectors shut down the place for 51 health code violations. It opened two days later, but will be re-inspected in September.

Owner/chef Domenico Centofanti is already in financial trouble. The bar could face sheriff’s sale because Centofanti owes the city more than $100,000 in back taxes. Beset by lawsuits—including from unpaid employees—Centofanti filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last September.

What Gordon Ramsey is to “Kitchen Nightmares,” Jon Taffer is to “Bar Rescue.” One of the country’s top restaurant and bar consultants, Taffer, the brains behind Pulsations and Rainforest Café, specializes in giving last-chance establishments one more chance. Spike calls him “the man to call when your bar is on the rocks.” And like Ramsey, his style is in-your-face.

“He’s tough to take, but he knows what he’s doing,” says Duffy. “Jon’s a very scientific man. He even designs menu based on studies of where the eye goes and what your thoughts are when you’re reading it.”

The third man on the Downey’s team was Keith Raimondi, whiskey maven from Iron Chef Jose Garces’ Village Whiskey on South 20th Street. (The show also hired a retired health inspector to give the place a once-over.)

Three guys, five days. That’s all the time they got to raise the bar on Downey’s, which shut down for the makeover. “There was no bar manager, no general manager, no chef, just the three of us,” says Duffy. Plus the crew that came in to clean the kitchen.

“The first thing I did was look at the menu and it was funny, because it still had some of my items from when I was the chef,” Duffy says. But it also had veal parm and other Italian dishes. “They had to go. It just didn’t make sense. So we added some Irish stuff, simple fun stuff that was more appropriate.”

Spike TV paid for new walk-ins, a stove (“When we started cleaning the stove the whole thing collapsed on itself,” says Duffy) and other equipment, as well as new menus and uniforms for the wait staff. “It was painted inside and the bar was reorganized,” says Duffy, who is now corporate executive chef for Seafood America in Warminster, a supplier of fresh and frozen seafood products to retail stores.

Duffy worked with the staff on establishing schedules for daily and weekly cleaning, creating prep lists and other organizational tools, and worked closely with Domenic Centofanti—that is to say, engaged in screaming matches with the chef-owner—to help get the kitchen back on track. “It’s really a shame, because Dom is an amazing chef,” says Duffy.

The show ends with the major re-launch, when even the health inspector Spike hired “couldn’t believe it” when he not only re-inspected the place but also ate there, says Duffy.

But this particular bar rescue may have been too little, too late. Not only is Centofanti facing some high legal hurdles, some of what was done appears to have  been undone, Duffy says.

“I thought Dom and had kind of gotten through to each other, but we left on a Thursday and the old menu was back up on Friday morning,” he says.

Bar Rescue’s Downey’s episode airs Sunday, July 24, at 10 PM, on Spike TV. Check your local listings. And keep an eye out for some familiar Irish faces. Besides Duffy, local singer John Byrne made an appearance on the show.

Food & Drink

Lift a Cup of Kindness



Originally published December 16, 2006. (But it was so good, we just had to bring it back.)

So, what are you washing down your Irish Christmas pudding with this year? Our friends at McGillin’s, the oldest Irish pub in Philadelphia (1310 Drury Lane), shared with us some holiday recipes which, if they’re not strictly Irish, do have a distinctly holiday flavor.

So what do you say when you lift your glass of Poinsettia Punch or your Pumpkin martini? A few choice Irish toasts:

“Nollaig shona duit!” (Happy Christmas!)

“Nollaig faoi shéan is faoi shonas duit.” (A prosperous and happy Christmas to you!)

“Go mbeire muid be oar an am seo aris!” (May we be alive at this time next year!”)

One caveat: Please, drink responsibly, so we all may be alive at this time next year.

Poinsettia Punch


  • 1 magnum champagne
  • 64 oz. (2 quarts) cranberry juice
  • 16 oz. orange juice
  • 10 oz. Triple sec
  • Orange slices, for garnish


Mix ingredients together. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Martini


  • 1-1/4 oz. vanilla vodka
  • 1-1/4 oz. pumpkin smash (a liquor)
  • 1/2 oz. milk or half and half
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon


Mix first 3 ingredients. Pour over ice in martini shaker. Shake well. Then, mix sugar and cinnamon and rim martini glass with mixture. Strain liquid martini ingredients into chilled martini glass rimmed with the cinnamon and sugar mixture.

Food & Drink

Dreaming of an Irish Christmas

A great finish to your Christmas meal.

A great finish to your Christmas meal.

When it comes to Christmas meals, every family has traditions. For some, it’s a repeat of Thanksgiving: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and green bean casserole. in other families, ham, rack of lamb, roast beef or even pasta takes center stage.

Here’s another tradition you might want to try: Celebrate an Irish Christmas.

Once upon a time, a traditional Irish dinner would have started with smoked fish, and moved on to roast goose with a potato stuffing, and maybe baked or boiled ham, says Margaret M. Johnson, celebrated author of “Tea & Crumpets,” an afternoon tea cookbook, and the forthcoming (September 2011) “Flavors of Ireland: Celebrating Grand Places and Glorious Food”. These days, she says, the Irish do celebrate more American-style: turkey with all the trimmings, cranberry sauce and all the rest.

But there are differences. Stuffing might be apple and black pudding, for example, or prepared with apricot, she says. “Tart ingredients are often mixed with bread and spices to counter the flavors of the poultry,” she says.

Of course, there’s no end to the ways the Irish can prepare spuds. Champ (mashed potatoes with scallions or chives) might find their way to the table, or colcannon (mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage). “You might also find garlic mash, fondant potatoes, or potato gratins with local Irish cheeses,” Johnson says.

Desserts might be a bit different, too. “Christmas cake and pudding are almost always included in the Christmas menu,” she says. “The cake is a traditional fruitcake where the fruit begins to ‘mature’ in whiskey for at least a month or more; Christmas pudding is a ‘steamed’ pudding, with the fruit ‘plumped up’ with Guinness or whiskey and served with brandy butter (hard sauce), and mince pie–originally dried fruit mixed with suet, but now maded with jarred mincemeat.”

Want to try your hand at replicating Irish Christmas traditions? Try these dessert recipes by Margaret Johnson. File one of these–Christmas Cake–away for next year. It takes several weeks. But two other desserts can be made with far less preparation. Here they are in her own words:

Traditionally, the biggest and most important festival in the Christian calendar is Christmas, and nowhere is it greeted with more enthusiasm than in Ireland. The spiritual preparation begins with Advent, but the practical preparation begins as early as late October when Christmas cakes, puddings, and mincemeat start to be made and readied for the season.

A well-known chronicler of tales of rural Ireland, Alice Taylor says that Christmas was the highlight of the year—“a time of great expectations which climaxed with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and then the Wren Day (December 26) brought a burst of color and music into the quiet countryside.” In her book The Night Before Christmas, she says, “The thought of the variety that Christmas would bring filled us with great anticipation. Lemonade, sweet cake, and chocolates in our home at that time were like manna in the desert.” 

These three Christmas treats are the most popular. (Recipes from Margaret M. Johnson’s Puddings, Tarts, Crumbles and Fools, Chronicle Books, 2004)

Irish Whiskey Christmas Cake

This is the “Great Irish Cake,” the traditional pièce de résistance into which every Irish cook sinks her reputation. Spiced, sweet desserts like this cake have been a part of Irish holiday celebrations for centuries and were highly prized because they included spices and dried fruits that were once difficult and expensive to obtain.

The traditional topping for the cake is a layer of almond paste and Royal Icing.

2 cups dried currants
2 cups golden raisins
1 cup dark raisins
2 ounces candied cherries
2 ounces candied mixed citrus peel
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2/3 cup chopped almonds
1 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup Irish whiskey
1 cup (8 ounces) Kerrygold Irish butter, at room temperature
1 cup soft brown sugar
5 large eggs
2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 egg white, beaten until frothy, for brushing
One 7-ounce package almond paste, such as Odense brand

Royal Icing

2 large egg whites
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Holly sprigs for decoration (optional)

The day before baking (and several weeks before serving), combine all the dried and candied fruit, peel, zest and juice, almonds, and spices in a large bowl with 1/2 cup of the whiskey. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight.

Preheat the oven to 275° F. Butter a 9-inch round spring form pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment or waxed paper. In a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating in each thoroughly and adding some of the flour with each egg. Fold in the remaining flour, and mix in the soaked fruit one half at a time. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until the top is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Prick the top of the cake with a skewer in several places and pour the remaining 1/2 cup whiskey over the top. Run a knife around the sides of the pan and release the sides. Invert the cake onto the rack to cool completely. Remove the lining paper and turn right side up. Wrap the cake in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil, and store in a cool, dark place to allow the cake to mature. Unwrap the cake every week and sprinkle a few tablespoons of Irish whiskey over the top.

On the day before serving, unwrap the cake and brush the top with the egg white. Shape almond paste into a flat disk and place between 2 sheets of wax paper. Roll out to a 9-inch circle and place on top of the cake. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

To make the icing: In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg whites, confectioners’ sugar, and lemon juice. With an electric mixer, beat for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is stiff enough to spread. With a flexible rubber spatula, spread the icing over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with sprigs of holly, if desired. 

Serves 10 to 12

Guinness Christmas Cake

1 cup (8 ounces) Kerrygold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/4 cups Guinness Stout
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3 1/2 cups mixed raisins and sultanas
4 ounces candied mixed citrus peel
4 cups self-rising flour
2 teaspoons mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice
4 ounces candied cherries
3 large eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 325° F. Line an 8-inch square cake pan with a double thickness of waxed paper. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, sugar, Guinness, raisins, sultanas, and citrus peel. Bring gently to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and spice. Stir in the raisin and stout mixture and the cherries. Add the eggs and stir until well blended. Spoon into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Invert the cake onto the rack to cool completely. Remove the lining paper and turn the cake right side up. If not serving immediately, wrap the cake in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil, and store in a cool, dark place for several weeks to allow the cake to mature.

Serves 8 to 10

Christmas Pudding

Often called “plum pudding” — despite the fact that it contains no plums whatsoever — this  steamed or boiled pudding was first recorded as “Christmas Pudding” in 1858 in a novel by British author Anthony Trollope. The name is probably derived from the substitution of raisins for dried plums as an ingredient in pies during medieval times. In the 16th and 17th centuries, dishes made with raisins retained the term “plum,” and in the Victorian era, Christmas plum puddings became a well-loved dessert. Curiously, plum pudding was a latecomer to Ireland, but it caught on quickly and today it’s one of the most traditional of all Christmas dishes. Not to be confused with fruitcake, it’s actually more like a dense spice cake and is delicious served warm with Brandy Hard Sauce.

3/4 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup candied cherries, halved
1/3 cup chopped candied pineapple
1/2 cup brandy or dark rum
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted Kerrygold Irish butter at room temperature
4 large egg whites
1/3 cup pecan halves
2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

Combine the raisins and candied fruit in a glass jar or bowl. Add the brandy, cover, and let stand at room temperature for 3 days. Butter a 6-cup pudding mold or deep, heatproof casserole dish. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, orange rind, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.

In a large bowl, beat the brown sugar and butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg whites and beat well. With a wooden spoon, stir in half of the flour mixture, then half of the fruit mixture. Repeat, stirring in the remaining flour and remaining fruit. Stir in the pecans. Spoon the batter into the prepared mold, cover with parchment or waxed paper, then cover tightly with foil. Tie the foil in place with kitchen twine.

Place the mold in a stockpot or Dutch oven fitted with a rack, or place a folded kitchen towel on the bottom of the pot to prevent direct contact with the bottom of the pot. Add enough hot water to the pot to come halfway up the sides of the mold or casserole dish. Cover and steam on medium-low heat for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. (Check the water level once or twice during cooking and add more water when necessary.)

Carefully remove the pudding mold from the pot. Remove the foil and parchment, and run a metal spatula around the sides to loosen. Place a serving plate over the mold and invert. Drizzle the whiskey over the top. Slice and serve warm. (If not serving immediately, let the pudding cool, covered, in the mold. When completely cool, unmold, wrap in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil. Refrigerate the pudding for up to 1 week or freeze. To serve, put the pudding back into its mold, cover with waxed paper or foil, and steam for 1 hour, as above, or until heated through. Thaw frozen pudding before reheating as above.)

Serves 10 to 12

Brandy Hard Sauce

1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted Kerrygold Irish butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons brandy

In a small bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the brandy and beat until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl or crock, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 days Return to room temperature before serving.

Makes 3/4 cup