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Corned Beef & Cabbage and Other Irish Myths

The Irish have been celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day with a giant pot of corned beef and cabbage for centuries. Or have they? If you are Irish-American you may want to sit down before reading on.The dance style made famous by Michael Flatley is not called Riverdancing. Danny Boy is not an Irish song.  They do not drink green beer in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day.  Corned beef is not a traditional Irish recipe, it’s Jewish.

The Irish recipe that evolved into corned beef and cabbage here in the States was boiled bacon and cabbage. However, when early 20th century Irish immigrants started Jonesing for a taste of the old country they were shocked to find no collar bacon in their new homeland. Collar bacon differs from what we are used to because it contains less salt and has more of the natural flavor of bacon employing the Wiltshire Cure method.

The Irish do not understand the concept of quitting and soon they stumbled on a phenomenon in the neighborhoods of New York called delicatessens.  Within these shops run mostly by Jewish artisans there existed a magical cut of bovine called corned beef, a brine-cured then boiled slab of brisket.

The pungent brine and fat cap resembled the collar bacon enough that New World Irishmen had found a new favorite meal.  It’s relative inexpensiveness was also advantageous for an immigrant community that was treated as a social pariah and therefore blocked from upward mobility and higher paying jobs for over half a century.

To make your corned beef from scratch is time consuming as it must be in the brine for several days.  However, most super markets have corned beef briskets in their meat departments that are perfectly cured and ready for boiling.

The package will tell you how long to boil them, usually 30 minutes per pound.  Simply add chopped cabbage and diced potatoes and carrots during the last half hour of cooking and your corned beef and cabbage are ready.  Serve with Irish soda bread for soaking up the pot liqueur.  I like to rub my brisket with coarse mustard and sear it on all sides before boiling, but that’s just me.

Left over corned beef is perfect for Reubens put please do not put Thousand Island dressing on them – that’s just gross.  Russian Dressing is traditional (if you can find it) or mustard are perfect condiments along with sauerkraut and Swiss cheese.  You can use Darina Alleneither Jewish rye or pumpernickel but only rye breads will do.  You can thank fern bars like Bennigan’s for that whole Thousand Island fiasco.

Once considered a purgatory for foodies, Ireland is now making a bid to supplant France and Italy as Europe’s culinary capital thanks to the likes of talented chefs like Darina Allen.  If you want to be true to your Irish roots collar bacon is now available in the US.  However, if you are going to be true to those roots then you will not drink green beer at a pub but rather go to mass as there is little partying on the Emerald Isle on March 17th.  It is a religious holiday.

And now I will leave you with this traditional Irish blessing:

May those who love us, love us.
And those who don’t love us,
May God turn their hearts;
And if He doesn’t turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles,
So we will know them by their limping.

Erin go bragh!

Separate Checks – When it’s OK. When it’s Not.

Originally posted June 3, 2008.

Just to touch on this topic since there seems to be a lot of confusion about it.

Separate Checks – When it’s OK. When it’s Not.Most restaurants are equipped to easily calculate and print separate checks. Much of the time separate checks are a breeze and pose no problems. However, there are a few situations when it is better or proper for one or two people to pick up the whole check.

Parties constitute a situation where separate checks are improper. There are many reasons for this like etiquette – the person who invites is the host and the host should foot the bill, however the changing climate of the modern dinner scene has watched a lot of 20th Century etiquette fall by the wayside so today this is more of a guideline than a hard fast rule. But even today the chief reason for one or two people picking up the bill is to make sure the people who have just provided your party with food and drink get paid. Otherwise, more times than not someone in a large party will not only leave without tipping but without paying at all.  That’s right, I said more often than not.

Think of all the times you have been part of a large group at a restaurant. This should shock you – half the time a member of your party has skipped out without paying anything. They are not just stealing from the restaurant but also from the server who often has to pay for the meal out of their tips and they steal from the other people in their party as well. If I intend for this $10 of my hard earned money to go to the person who gave me service but you use it to cover your bill then you have stolen my $10. Skip outs are the main reason restaurants have to put gratuities on large parties – to assure that there is enough money to cover the total bill once the dust settles. One check solves this.

The other reason large parties should never ask for separate checks is because it becomes inconvenient for everyone. One person cannot check out 30 people at the same time, that is why WalMart has more than one cash register. And it never fails, someone will always be in a hurry which starts a snowball effect, suddenly everyone is in a hurry.

Which brings us to the other situation where it is not a good idea to ask for separate checks – whenever you, the customer are in a hurry. If you are truly crunched for time then you will pick up the check. Cashing out a check is a one to five minute process – when you go separate checks for three people you have tripled the cash out time up to 15 minutes. If you are running late it is not the restaurant’s fault nor is it the server’s because when push comes to shove you getting somewhere on time is not as important as them getting their money.  So decide what is more important to you, the money or the time. As much as the server wants to provide you with both it simply is not possible all the time.  The choice is totally yours, as should be the consequences.

HERE is another great article on this subject by Leon Scott.

The Never-Tipping Pasta Bowl

Tis the season for all-you-can-eat specials.

There’s a nip in the air, the kids are back in school and restaurants are empty.  It must be Fall.  The main giveaway is that restaurants are running “bottomless” specials.  After buying uniforms and school supplies parents are tapped out.  There’s no money left for a night on the town.  For this reason it is the slowest time of the year for the restaurant industry.

Servers hate this time of year because it means they have to work harder for less money.  Why?  Because to lure customers in many eateries are offering all-you-can-eat specials at super low prices.  This is great for mom and dad but not necessarily for that struggling undergrad trying to put themselves through school.

Now this lecture is not aimed at those of you who take advantage of such bargains and leave a proper tip for service received.  It is for those of you who rationalize that if you don’t tip the neighborhood mega buffet then why should this be any different.  The difference is that you don’t have to go get your refills yourself.  Someone brings them to you, freshly cooked mind you not poaching on a steam table for hours.

There are probably some of you reading this wondering, “How could anyone think that you wouldn’t have to tip just because the menu says all-you-can-eat?”  That’s the other reason servers hate this time of year.  These specials draw non-tippers like politicians to a kickback.

It also brings out the bingeaholics as well.  These are people whose goal is to make the restaurant lose money.  They will actually skip meals so that they can put away five, six and even seven portions of the never-ending special.  What’s worse many bingeaholics are also non-tippers but even those who aren’t need to realize that if you are going to make the server fill your trough a half a dozen times with unending meatloaf you need to up your tip.  Hey, you are already getting a break on the price so why not throw a few extra George Washingtons at that single parent trying to make ends meat?

Now from the consumer’s standpoint – if they can possibly offer you all-you-can-eat for under ten bucks do you think it is something you want to put in your body?  Doubtful.

The Gift of Julia

Today is Julia Child’s 100th birthday.  Like many other chefs around the world I would like to share one of my favorite Julia memories.  The following happened in 2009 while I was the executive chef at Mars Hill Cafe.

With the Oscar buzz for Julie & Julia, the nation is savoring the gem that was Julia Child. Julia was one of the original cheflebrities and her first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking changed the way Americans eat forever. Her bigger than life persona inspired a generation of home cooks to attempt classic French dishes like Coq au Vin and Coquilles Saint-Jacques.

The French Chef CookbookRecently a regular customer to the café presented me with the gift of a first edition copy of Julia Child’s The French Chef Cookbook. The book was published in 1968 as a companion to her long-running TV show, The French Chef. The book had belonged to the customer’s mother who passed away in 2007. I would like to share with you the note she signed inside the book. I am only including first names so as to protect my benefactor’s anonymity.

Dear Stuart,
This book belonged to my mother Mary. When I discovered it I thought of you. The tasty dishes you prepare for Mars Hill Café are wonderful and delightful to the taste buds. It is my hope that this book of treasured recipes enhances your career and aids your dream of becoming a top rated TV chef.

Bon appetite!
Glynis

The book now occupies a prominent place in my living room. It is a treasure I will keep the rest of my life. Or at least until my niece graduates from culinary school. That gives me about 15 years to enjoy it.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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