Sunday, January 2, 2011

Corned Beef, Cabbage and Chocolate Cake (virgin sail, with recipes)

In all of my 41 years, I had never once made corned beef and cabbage, either together or as separate meals. Until today.

My boyfriend's birthday and his mother's are within a day of each other, so we have been celebrating them together, usually on January 1st (her birthday). This year, we decided to celebrate it at my house. I am an Italian cook, but I love cooking all types of foods, and always look forward to trying new recipes. I wanted to make a meal that she would really like, and that meal just happened to be corned beef and cabbage. (What a blessing it turned out to be.)

Having never made it before, nor knowing what cooking corned beef entailed, I was a bit nervous. I looked to W for help, and he told me that his brother, Will, was a pro at making it, and that I should get the recipe from him. Will told me it was pretty easy, that you just boil the corned beef with the pickling spices. He told me what to buy and do, regarding the meat and the cabbage. He did make it sound foolproof. 

I also talked to my mother about it; she makes this meal at least once a year, on St. Patrick's Day. She walked me through the list of groceries, the what, how, and how long to cook it. We spoke a couple of times over the past two days; me asking questions, her answering them and assuring me that the meal couldn't fail. I felt ready.

The week leading up to today was a crazy one. W's birthday was this week, and we had a celebration at a restaurant for him with our closest friends. And there was New Year's Eve, and the following day which was a wash, due to a hangover that beat all hangovers. Horrible. This morning, W and I went to hang his photo exhibit, which left me just about three hours to make the corned beef and cabbage, and to bake the cake.

I stopped at the grocery store to pick up cocoa for the cake, and fresh rolls. My cart was quickly filling up, and a woman in her 70s commented, "New Year's Dinner, eh?" Being a sharer, I told her what I was doing. Immediately, she looked down the aisle and called, "Kathleen! This woman is making corned beef and cabbage for the first time." That was all that she needed to tell Kathleen, her daughter. Irish Kathleen started in with tips and tricks. After about 10 minutes talking about the meal with Kathleen and her mother, Moonie, I headed back home to get cooking.

W arrived early with the girls, and while they played, he helped ready the house, took out the garbage, and did man things. 

Well, it was a success. Everyone walked in and immediately warmed the house. The kids were running around, and everyone was telling stories from the past week, smiling, and relaxing. It was so much better than I ever could have hoped. I asked W's brother to check the meat -- I was very concerned it wouldn't be cooked enough or taste right. He walked me through it, tasted a piece of cut meat, and nodded yes with closed eyes. Good sign. I took the corned beef out, first one then the other (I made two cuts of corned beef), and Will sliced it. He showed me how to slice, but I was having quite a time with it so I left it to the pro.

I served it with the cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and bread (both rye and crusty rolls). Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

The cake was really good, as usual (see the recipe below - it doesn't require more than two bowls and a wooden spoon, and is a decadent cake), but I took it out of the bundt pan before it cooled, anticipating, with excitement, the perfect peaks of the cake. Poor judgement. A peak detached on the dump out, and the cake was a mess. Yummy, but a mess. The lesson? Always let the cake cool completely in the pan before flipping it onto the plate.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

I bought two packages of pre-seasoned corned beef, in the butcher's section of the store. Freirich's brand. (I didn't know they were pre-seasoned, so my mom suggested buying pickling spices and bundling them in cheesecloth.)

Put the raw corned beef in a big pot of boiling water, and then bring it down to a simmer (medium heat). Cook three hours, or longer. I did just over three hours but apparently it just gets more tender as it cooks. So four or five hours is good, too, just don't let it get tough.

In a separate pot, place about 16 oz. of salt-free chicken stock and then enough water to make the pot full. Bring to a boil, and add chunks of cabbage (I did two cabbages, quartered). Allow it to cook at a boil for at least 30 minutes, or until soft. I was advised to cook the potatoes and the carrots in the same pot as the cabbage, but I wasn't sure how long it would take, so I did everything separately. I did small red potatoes and cut up carrots. Easy, and very delicious.

Ultimate Chocolate Cake (modified from Lake Champlain Chocolate Co. recipe)
   Preheat oven to 350*
  • 1 c unsweetened cocoa
  • 3 scant c flour
  • 2 1/3 c warm water
  • 1 1/2 t salt
  • 2 T vinegar
  • 2 c sugar
  • 2 t baking soda
  • 1 1/4 c melted butter (2 1/2 sticks)
  • 2 t pure vanilla extract
  • 1 t chocolate extract
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Stir wet ingredients into dry. Beat until smooth. Pour into butter and floured bundt pan. Bake at 350* for 50 minutes - 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before turning cake out onto plate. Frost with confectioners sugar blended with water. 

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