Margaret Johnson has accomplished with her career is what most people only
dream of. She has taken her work experience of more than 30 years as a
high school English and journalism teacher and combined it with her love
of traveling in Ireland and her passion for cooking.
When Johnson first started writing on the topic of Irish cooking back
in 1991, she says "No one took me too seriously, but as the Irish food
revolution/renaissance began to take hold, I found that I was on the 'cutting
edge,'" Johnson said.
When Bon Appetit Magazine devoted its entire May, 1996, issue
to "The Food of Ireland," Johnson laughed that she was finally recognized
"as somewhat of a pioneer as an Irish-American author."
Johnson has strong ties to Ireland. Her maternal grandparents were from
Kerry and Cork. And while loathe to name just one location as her favorite
place in Ireland, she did divulge that "I do love Kinsale, in Cork, my
late husband and I rented an apartment there three different times. I also
love Dublin, but I feel comfortable everywhere." Johnson is so well traveled
in Ireland that she leads culinary tours there. The next jaunt will be
in October, 2014, in conjunction with Quinlan Ireland, a New Jersey-based
tour operator which also operates Celtic Golf.
Johnson explained that the excitement around Irish food is "more about
Irish food, rather than the cooking. There are so many artisan producers
in Ireland now-and, thankfully so many fabulous foods being exported and
available here in the U.S., that Irish brands are becoming household names.
Many of this is thanks to companies like Kerrygold/The Irish Dairy Board,
whose cheeses are sold Stateside from Costco to Whole Foods, she emphasized.
Johnson likes everything about her profession. "I love what I do and
am thrilled when people ask my advice about travel to Ireland and/or Irish
food. Having visited all 32 counties and forged friendships with people
from all over the country, I feel I am honored to be Irish," she enthused.
Currently, Johnson is working on her next cookbook, Favorite Flavors
of Ireland that will also serve as a 20-year retrospective about what
she loves best about the Emerald Isle. "It will be the most comprehensive
of all the books I've ever written," she predicted.
a special treat for readers of The Irish American Post, Johnson
has provided several recipes from her most recent cookbook,
Flavors of Ireland. The most iconic christmas dish is Christmas or
"figgy" pudding. Everyone serves it and even though it's a bit time consuming,
it's a must and is generally served with brandy butter," Johnson offered.
Christmas Pudding with Brandy Butter
The original figgy pudding, created sometime in the 1400s,
was a dish of dried figs, dates, raisins and spices boiled in almond milk.
Also called plum pudding, despite the fact 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
Curiously, plum pudding was a latecomer to Ireland, but
it caught on quickly and today it is a favorite Christmas dessert. Not
to be confused with fruitcake, it is actually more like a dense spice cake.
Serve this pudding, adapted from a recipe from the chef at Hayfield Manor
(Perrot Avenue, Cork City), with brandy butter, the quintessential topping
for Christmas puddings.
1 cup/150 g sultanas (golden raisins)
1 cup/150 g currants
1/4 cup/60 g chopped dried fruit, such as cranberries,
raisins, and figs
1/4 cup/60 g chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup/60 g candied cherries, halved
1/4 cup/60 g candied mixed peel
1/3 cup/75 ml brandy or dark rum
Juice and grated zest of 1 orange
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
8 tbsp./115 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup/115 g (packed) dark brown sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup/60 g chopped stem ginger
1 apple, peeled, cored, and grated
1 1/4 cups/150g all-purpose flour
1 cup/115 g white breadcrumbs
1 tsp. mixed spice (page xx), or pumpkin pie spice
1. Combine the fruits, candied cherries, and mixed peel
a large glass jar or bowl. Add the brandy or rum, orange zest, and juice,
and then cover; let stand at room temperature overnight.
2. Butter a 6-cup/1.5 L pudding mold or deep, heatproof
bowl and place a round of wax paper on the bottom. In a large bowl, beat
the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium until light and fluffy.
Gradually beat in the eggs. Stir in the soaked fruits, ginger, apple, flour,
breadcrumbs, mixed spice, and cinnamon.
3. Spoon the batter into the prepared mold and smooth
the top. Cover with a double piece of buttered wax paper and a double piece
of aluminum foil. Fold together and make a pleat in the center (to allow
for the pudding to expand). Tie the paper and foil in place with kitchen
4. Place the mold in a large saucepan or Dutch oven fitted
with a rack, or put 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 dish. Cover and
steam on medium-low heat for 2-2 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.)
5. 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. Slice and serve warm with
brandy butter or sauce. (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 one week or freeze).
6. To serve, put the pudding back into its mold, cover
with waxed paper or foil, and steam for one hour, as above, or until heated
through. Thaw frozen pudding before reheating as above.
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups/175 g confectioners sugar, sifted
2 tbsp. brandy
In a small bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with
an electric mixer on medium until light and fluffy. Add the brandy and
beat until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl or crock, cover, and refrigerate
for up to two weeks. Return to room temperature before serving.
Makes 18 tarts
Mincemeat, a mixture of chopped dried fruits, spices,
and spirits, is one of Ireland's most popular Christmas foods. It was developed
more than five hundred years ago in England as a way of preserving meat
without salting or smoking and was esteemed as holiday fare there during
the era of Henry VII (1457-1509), who proclaimed Christmas a day of feasting.
Some early recipes for mincemeat used suet, veal or mutton,
and gradually cooks added ingredients like apples, Seville oranges and
even red wine.
When there was no longer any need to preserve meat with
honey or spices, the meat in mincemeat was eliminated and replaced with
fruit alone, although some cooks still use a bit of suet in their recipes.
In Elizabethan England, huge mince pies were made during
the 12 days of Christmas, and it became customary to offer a visiting guest
a slice. The leap from England to Ireland was a short one, and mincemeat
soon became a favorite ingredient in an Irish Christmas as well, especially
in the form of little mince pies.
Along with steamed pudding and fruitcake, mincemeat has
been the standard-bearer of traditional Christmas desserts in England,
Ireland, and elsewhere for centuries. These little pies, which can be made
with homemade or prepared mincemeat, come covered with a Christmas star
instead of a top crust and are delicious served with brandy butter. You
will need two tart pans for this recipe.
2 cups/225 g all-purpose flour
1/2 cup/60 g ground almonds
5 oz./150g chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Grated zest of 1 orange
4 tbsp. sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp. ice water
1 cup/250 ml prepared mincemeat
1 large egg white, beaten
Confectioners sugar for dusting
1. Combine the flour, almonds, butter, zest, and sugar
in a food processor. Pulse 8-10 times, or until the mixture resembles coarse
crumbs. Add the egg yolk and water and process for 10-20 seconds, or until
the dough comes together. Dust a work surface with flour. Turn out the
dough, form it into a ball, and then flatten into a disk. Cover with plastic
wrap and refrigerate for thirty minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 350° F/180° C. On the
floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/8 in./2.5 cm-thick round. With
a 4 in./10 cm cookie cutter, cut out 18 rounds and put each round into
the well of a 12-well tart pan. Reroll the pastry scraps, and with a star
shaped cookie cutter, cut out 18 small stars.
3. Divide the mincemeat into each of the pastry shells
and top each with a star. Brush the pastry stars and tart edges with the
egg white and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and
the filling is bubbling. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack
to let cool for about ten minutes. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar before
Burren Smoked Salmon on Potato Pancakes
Makes 12 small cakes
Hosting a holiday party is meant to be a fun experience,
and festive small bites, inspired dips, and tasty spreads, especially ones
made with traditional oak-smoked Irish salmon, can mitigate stress. For
the festive season, serve hot- or cold-smoked salmon from the Burren Smokehouse
(Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare), one of Ireland's premier producers, on these
little potato pancakes. Top the dish with a dollop of sour cream or crème
frâiche and a sprinkling of fresh chives.
2 large potatoes, cooked and mashed
1 large egg, beaten
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4-1/2 cup/125-250 ml whole milk
Butter for frying
1/2 lb./250 g smoked salmon, cut into
24 (1/2-in. /1 cm-wide strips
1/2 cup/125 ml sour cream or crème frâiche
Fresh chives for garnish
1. To make the pancakes, put the potatoes, egg, flour,
baking powder, salt, and pepper in a food processor. Pulse 4-5 times to
blend, and then gradually add enough of the milk to make a thick, smooth
2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brush
the pan with butter. Drop spoonful of batter into the pan and cook for
2-3 minutes on each side, or until browned and heated through. Repeat with
additional butter and remaining batter. Cakes can be served immediately
or refrigerated, covered, overnight; reheat in a hot oven.
3. To serve, put a spoonful of sour cream or crème
frâiche on top of each pancake. Put a piece of rolled salmon on top,
sprinkle with pepper, and garnish with chives.