It's not that I don't appreciate corned beef and cabbage.
Actually, I find it quite enjoyable.
But there's more to Irish culture — and cooking — than corned beef and cabbage. There's a whole lot more, to be sure, despite what seems to happen every March 17.
Before getting on with the cooking, and the bread making, let me explain a few things.
Irish is just one of the Celtic bloodlines coursing through the veins of the Mooneys, who back on the auld sod (Donegal region) may have been known as the Ó Maonaighs. It's also possible the family has a Welsh connection as well. My grandfather William Mooney may have been known as William Mona of Wales before he made his way to Chicago and met my grandmother.
Whether Mooney, Ó Maonaigh or Mona, grandfather's mother was Irish.
Mum, meanwhile, was born in Cornwall (near Devon) — she and Dad met during World War II. Her maiden name was Castle and some of her people, mainly on her father's side, came from Scotland.
So, the family history is a bit muddled.
But as Dad always said, "The Irish trumps everything else!"
And Mum (who converted to Catholicism when she married my dad) went along with that sentiment, dressing my three sisters and me in green every March 17.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the scent of the season for me is all about stew.
There's nothing quite like a simmering pot, filled with potatoes and onions and chunks of lamb meat still clinging to the bone.
My stew is built upon a traditional preparation method featured in Monica Sheridan's book, "The Art of Irish Cooking" (Doubleday, 1965). I found my copy in an antiques store some years ago.
Now, I'm not saying this is the ONLY way to make stew.
I'm constantly experimenting and tinkering with recipes — adding a dash of Mum's experience and cooking secrets here and a bit of my own inimitable style there.
Don't be afraid to improvise!
Sheridan's Irish stew, however, is the traditional method of preparation.
At this point, I'll share one of my cooking secrets. I use a cup of Guinness as the basis of my stew meat marinade. I also add salt and pepper to taste (I'm partial to pepper) and white onion.
I typically put the meat in a marinade and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, however, I let it stand at room temperature for a bit to help unlock the flavors.
Due to a mix-up with the butcher, the lamb used in the stew featured today had been cut away from the bone. Meat still attached to the bone is superior for stew — the bone helps flavor the broth.
Another thing to remember — slow is better when it comes to cooking the stew.
Your meal of Irish stew, however, will not be complete until you add the perfect complement — a loaf or two of traditional Irish brown bread.
I know, Irish soda bread gets all the ink. And we've also included a traditional recipe. But it's the brown bread that's the staple.
Again, Sheridan offers a very traditional preparation method, right down to the hand sifting of the flours, salt and baking soda.
Do not rush the process. And, by all means, don't overdo the kneading.
One more tip: Add the buttermilk slowly — you don't want the bread dough to be too wet or too dry. Sheridan's amount is a suggestion; you may need more or less liquid depending upon the absorbancy of the flour you use.
The same goes for the soda bread.
For best results, always use stone-ground whole-wheat and unbleached white flour.
Finally, I recommend taking some time to understand the customs and culture of Ireland. This will give you some context for the food you're preparing. Today's recipes are laced with a taste of history, one worthy of exploration.
And that's no blarney.
Bee staff writer Mike Mooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2384.