Sunday, March 17, 2013

Corned Beef and Cabbage

I know I've written before about how food is so connected with memories.  Growing up, I was very close with my grandmother.  I would spend weekends with her during the school year, and in the summer, I would spend a few weeks at her house.  While Grandma was a very simple cook, the things she made were consistent and consistently good.  Even the most simple things she made, when made now, have the most profound effect on my memories.

For example, I loved the way she made a tuna fish sandwich.  Always on toasted bread with iceberg lettuce and a slice of tomato.  When she made hamburgers for us, she'd always sprinkle a little paprika on the burgers, which she said she did to give them a nice color.  She always made a few strips of bacon to put on them and she always toasted the hamburger buns.  She had this tiny little cast iron pan she used to cook the hamburgers... I broke down and bought one a few years ago.  It's a little thing I do to be at one with her, cook myself a paprika dusted hamburger in my little cast iron skillet.   She made pasta sauce.  I regret that I have never been able to replicate it, which is why I stick with Gram's spaghetti sauce.

And apart from the things she "cooked", there was something for me about just being in her kitchen.   I'd wake up in the morning and she would already have the red sauce simmering.  The whole house smelled like it.   Her washer was in the kitchen and some mornings, the kitchen smelled like fresh laundry and whatever she was cooking.   A breakfast "treat" for me at her house was Quaker instant oatmeal (apple and cinnamon flavored!) and although now I prefer to make my own oatmeals, whenever I smell apple and cinnamon instant oatmeal, I am transported back to my grandmother's kitchen, I am 7 years old, standing there in my nightgown.

I loved her whole house, but especially her kitchen.  It was small, but she had a small table in it, where we'd eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The dining room was for Sunday suppers.  The kitchen had a tin tiled ceiling, which I loved.  I loved the patterns and the textures.  Her stove and refrigerator were turn of the century (Wedgewood, maybe?) relics.  Although she had to light the pilot with a match every single time, that thing was solid.  Her fridge had those shelves that rotated out, which, why don't we have that anymore?? Talk about completely practical!  I loved her appliances.    I loved how I knew exactly where to find the goodies in her pantry.   Fudge stripe cookies and Andies candies, FTW!

Anyhow, my Grandma was an Irish girl who married an Italian boy and 75% of my food memories with her are Italian in nature.  But once a year, she'd make corned beef and cabbage and I loved it.   I didn't love it when just anyone made it, just her.  Two years ago, I mentioned that corned beef and cabbage gets a bad rap because it's very easy to make it bland and boring.  And in that same post I said I was going to make it that night, though it was with dismal results.  I've spent the last two years trying to figure out how to infuse flavor into it, the way she did.   This year, I had success!

I turned to Kevin, from Closet Cooking.  The man know's his way around a corned beef brisket.  He is full of St. Patrick's Day ideas, all are mouthwatering.  So I thought I'd look to him for some inspiration. I took cues from his Corned Beef Glazed in Honey Mustard.  I also did something I have previously turned my nose up at, I cooked it in the slow cooker.   I put it in the slow cooker for 1 hour on high, then added my veggies.  After another 2 hours, I removed the meat and veggies and brushed it with a mustard and brown sugar sauce.  I also removed the veggies, tossed them with some melted butter and put both into the oven for 20 minutes.   The results were divine!  It was the best corned beef I've had since my grandma made it for me last.   It was so good, I couldn't eat it fast enough.  And I as I ate, I thought of that sweet woman with the paper-y skin, soft white curls, and devilish laugh that I grew up admiring so much.

A meal can be emotional on so many levels and today, in honor of a great Irish lady, I shed a tear.   I know this is a widely known Irish blessing, but it hung on the wall in Grandma's kitchen, so I share it here with you:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Corned Beef and Cabbage
recipe adapted from Closet Cooking

1 corned beef brisket (mine was just shy of 3 pounds)
1 cabbage, cut into thick slices
4 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
8 red skinned potatoes, quartered
1 tablespoon mustard (I used a German delicatessen senf)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 stick of butter
salt and pepper

Remove the corned beef from the vacuum sealed package.  Place in the insert of a slow cooker along with any liquid that was in the package.  Cover with 2 cups of water and cook on high for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, add the potatoes, carrots, and cabbage.  I place these in this order: potatoes nestled around the corned beef, in the water; then the carrots; then the cabbage on top of all the other items.  Replace the cover and allow to cook for another 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the vegetables from the slow cooker and transfer to a baking sheet.  Melt the butter and pour over the vegetables, concentrating on the cabbage.  Gently toss the carrots and potatoes, but don't toss the cabbage, so it remains in its "sliced" shape.

Remove the corned beef from the slow cooker and transfer to a baking dish.  In a small bowl, I combined the mustard and brown sugar, then thinned it out with some of the cooking liquid from the slow cooker.  Brush this over the corned beef.

Place the corned beef and vegetables in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.   Let it rest for 10 minutes, slice and serve.  
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JV said...

I think this might be my favorite Cook au Vin post to date :) I love the memories! I have the same about bacon and coffee (my parents friend's house on Lake Ontario every summer) and Cheerios and coffee at my Granny's in Florida when we visited (I guess I love the smell of coffee..) and of course, home made chocolate chip cookies one day when mom surprised us by coming home early from work on a cold rainy day.

And now, despite having barely an Irish relative, I want to eat this corned beef and cabbage!

Jamie said...

lovely post Michelle! :)