For many years, I assumed that Irish soda bread always meant a slightly sweet, caraway and currant laced bread easily mistaken for a giant muffin. Frankly, I never liked this version of the quick bread, much preferring to eat "real bread" with my soup. It's a good thing I was mistaken about the scope of soda breads. Most of these loaves, like those featured in Rachel's Irish Family Food, are a much simpler (and more appealing) combination of flour, baking soda, and buttermilk. Rachel Allen's brown soda bread adds a bit more oomph with a hefty dose of whole wheat flour, a couple tablespoons of mixed seeds, and just a touch of butter. The resulting bread is an exemplary accompaniment to any number of soups, pickles, marmalades, or a generous swipe of butter.
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As Rachel Allen explains in her new book, Rachel's Irish Family Food, there is no definitive recipe for Irish stew. The meat and vegetable stew is often a household specialty with its own family tricks and tweaks. Allen's take is a no-frills version with a short ingredient list. Her technique, however, builds a good amount of flavor and body with so few components: She picks bone-in lamb shoulder chops for the bulk of the stew, which contributes extra body to the broth and keeps the lamb succulent. In addition to browning the chops, Allen also browns the vegetables to build extra fond and give the usually wan roots more color. The stew is finished with a generous sprinkling of both chives and parsley to give a final burst of freshness.
According to Rachel Allen, mussels with bread crumbs were immensely popular in Ireland back in the 1980s. Yet their retro appeal holds true today and her version in Rachel's Irish Family Food, is anything but kitschy. In it, plump, just-steamed mussels get a quick trip under a hot broiler topped with super buttery breadcrumbs laced with garlic and parsley. The final result is a briny, succulent bite, colorful and rich.
I'll admit it: I have a hard time saying the name "bangers and mash." It comes in a close second to that other British speciality, "spotted dick," in the list of foods I can't even begin to picture without giggling. Yet Rachel Allen's take on bangers and mash in her new book Rachel's Irish Family Food is sophisticated enough to warrant my serious attention. Her simple pork sausages are bound lightly with egg, bread crumbs, and a bit of garlic and parsley to season. Instead of going through with the trouble of casing the mixture, she simply rolls them into small, breakfast-sized links and gives them a slow brown on the stovetop. And in lieu of ordinary potatoes to serve alongside, Allen advocates for a verdant colcannon mash made velvety soft green cabbage buttery mashed russets. A dollop of quick stovetop applesauce adds a contrasting sweet-tart tang to each bite.