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Just because the weather is turning warmer, doesn’t mean I am prepared to give up comfort foods quite yet. These days I am balancing out entree style salads with light and Spring-y pastas. Leeks are everywhere right now: fresh, delicious and gorgeously fragrant, these allium transform any dish they grace from the ordinary to the extraordinary. As such, they are a staple in French and other mediterranean cooking, forming the core of a bouquet garni to flavour sauces and stocks. Here I’ve pureed them with lemon zest and parsley along with their cooking water to form the body of the pasta sauce – keeping it light but tasty at the same time. Serve this along side a crisp, dry white wine and your winter blues will be far, far behind you.

Serves 4

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  • 6 leeks trimmed
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 6 quarts water
  • 2 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 Tbsp. Italian parsley
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 16 oz penne
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan

Bring the water to a boil and add the salt.

Split the leeks 3/4 of the way down and rinse thoroughly. Cooke the leeks for 6 – 8 mins in the water or until tender. Remove the leeks with a slotted spoon, and plunge into cold water to refresh – squeeze to remove excess water. Retain the leek cooking water.

Roughly chop leeks and then puree in a food processor with lemon zest, parsley, olive oil and 1/2 cup of the leek cooking water.

Transfer the puree to a 3 qt. pot; add another cup of the leek cooking water and simmer all to thicken to a sauce.

In another large pot bring 4 – 6 quarts of water to a boil: add penne and cook until al dente (5-7 mins). Drain the pasta and add to the leek sauce – cook another 2-4 minutes in the sauce adding more leek cooking water if it gets dry. Stir in the parmesan and season with more salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Along with St. Patrick’s Day comes a host of foods identified with the Emerald Isle – all of which bring up fond memories of cozy comfort and family dining. Colcannon, Irish Soda Bread, Corned Beef & Cabbage, and of course, the infamous Steak & Guinness Pie. This is our version that classic all dressed up with balsamic mushrooms. Make the pie filling up the day ahead for a quick holiday crowd pleaser this Sunday – just reheat the filling and then follow pie instructions. Serve alongside a pint of your favourite porter or a Black &Tan, and may the luck o’ the Irish be with you and yours for years to come.

Irish Blessing 

May you always have walls for the winds,
a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire,
laughter to cheer you, those you love near you,
and all your heart might desire.

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Makes 8 individual or 1 large pie

  • 2 kg chuck steak cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 2 cups quartered mushrooms
  • 3 sliced onions
  • 1 cups frozen peas, blanched
  • 4 crushed cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup plain flour
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 400 mL Guinness or other dark porter
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ready-rolled puff pastry
  • 1 beaten egg

Toss the beef in flour, shake off excess. Heat oil in a medium sized pot to medium heat. Brown the beef cubes on all sides in the oil being sure not to crowd them in the pot – do in shifts if necessary. Turn off heat, add Guinness and beef stock, stir and set aside.

Sauté onions until soft and caramel coloured, add to beef pot. Sauté mushrooms in butter until browned, add balsamic and garlic, sauté 2 more minutes and then add to beef as well. Add peas, sugar, and bay leaf to the pot and return to heat. Simmer on low approx. 2 hours until beef is tender and liquids are reduced.

Preheat oven to 400° F. Remove bay leaf and spoon beef mixture into eight 250 mL ovenproof ramekins. Cut out eight circles of ready-rolled puff pastry to cover. Press firmly onto dishes and seal. Brush with 1 beaten egg, place on a tray and bake for 25 minutes until golden. Freeze uncooked pies, wrapped in plastic then foil. Defrost before cooking.

With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, I’ve been thinking of quintessential Irish flavours to draw some inspiration from, and none says “The Emerald Isle” quite like the classic taste of Guinness. And the best thing about Guinness (in my opinion) is that it naturally enhances the chocolatey-ness of chocolate! That’s why I love this cake so much! It’s rich and dense and completely satisfies my inner chocoholic. Be sure to watch the timing on this one – you don’t want to over bake it – be sure to pull it out of the oven the minute the centre has set. Cool completely before adding whip cream and serving.

Chocolate Guinness CakeTo make

  • 250 ml Guinness (not ale or any other beer it has to be Guinness)
  • 250 grams unsalted butter
  • 75 grams dark cocoa powder
  • 400 grams sugar
  • 142 ml greek yogurt 3 – 5%
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 275 grams flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking soda

To serve

  • 150 grams icing sugar
  • 125 ml heavy cream
  • Cocoa

Preheat the oven to 350ºF, and butter and line a 9 inch spring form pan.

In a large saucepan heat the Guinness and butter together until the butter has melted. Whisk the cocoa and sugar together in a mixing bowl and add to the Guinness. Mix the yogurt, eggs and vanilla together in a mixing bowl and pour into the Guinness mixture. Stir the flour and baking soda together and add this as well to the Guinness mixture.

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Pour the cake batter into the prepared spring form pan and bake for 45 – 60 mins. Leave to cool completely on a cooling rack. Remove from the spring form pan and place on a large round serving platter or cake stand.

Lightly whip the cream to soft peaks, sift in the icing sugar and whip to combine. Mound the cream on top of the cake. Dust each serving with a little cocoa. Enjoy!

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