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Joni Woolf: Cook up some Guinness Stew for St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner (March 17), and that has me thinking Irish. I hope to be in Savannah celebrating in the early part of the day. I outgrew the evening rituals several years ago (like before I was born.) One of the myths of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is that he drove all the snakes out of Ireland. Alas, modern science tells us there never WERE any snakes in Ireland — but myths persist, and we believe what we choose to believe. I think I can safely say that poor Patrick never had any Guinness Stew, or Guinness the brew, for that matter. But his name lives on, along with all the lovely mythology that surrounds him. In his memory, I am thinking of cooking up some Guinness Stew, using the recipe that Terry Holland gave me years ago (that same Terry Holland who has shared so many recipes with me). We once used it as the main dinner item at St. Paul’s Church in Macon, not paying attention to the last part of the recipe that instructs “allow to cool five hours … ” Dinner was very late that year.
This is a very hearty stew and one that needs little accompaniment. It does need time, so plan ahead. A good yeast bread or cornbread as a side will be sufficient.

Guinness Stew
Salt and pepper (to taste)
4 lbs. cubed chuck roast
4 white onions, chopped medium
1 lb. streaky bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons Colman’s prepared mustard
1 bouquet garni (mild shrimp boil mixture)
Several sprigs fresh rosemary
1 parsnip, sliced thin
12 medium-sized carrots (or the equivalent in baby carrots)
12 cooked white potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 cups Guinness beer (any dark beer can be substituted)
Vegetable oil (not olive oil)
2 cups fresh mushrooms

This dish is to be cooked twice (see notes that follow). Brown the meat in a stock pot in small amount of vegetable oil. Add the onions and streaky bacon. Cook together till onion is golden, then add the brown sugar, mustard and bouquet garni. Now add the beer, carrots, parsnip, and rosemary. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 hour. Remove garni. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Approximately five hours later, collect all the fat that will have congealed on the top. Put back on the heat, adding the potatoes and 2 cups fresh mushrooms. Simmer slowly for another two hours in the pot, or remove to tightly covered casserole dish and cook in the oven at 350 degrees F. for one hour. If serving in this manner, place small slices of toasted French bread on top of the stew. Serves 10.

Several years ago I found a lighter cornbread recipe in Southern Living that is just as tasty as the one I make with a stick of butter and full cup of cheese — and much better for you. I have made it several times and find it a good complement to a hearty dish like the Guinness Stew. If you’re serving a crowd with the stew, you might want to make two pans of the bread. After all, it’s just as good re-heated.

Sour Cream Cornbread
(Makes 8 servings)
1 ½ cups self-rising white cornmeal mix
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 (14.75 oz.) can low-sodium cream-style corn
1 (8 oz.) container light sour cream
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
½ cup (2 oz.) 2 percent reduced-fat shredded Cheddar cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Heat a 10-inch cast iron skillet in oven 5 minutes. Stir together cornmeal mix and flour in a large bowl; add corn and next 3 ingredients, stirring just until blended. Pour batter into hot, lightly greased skillet. Top with cheese, if desired (I omit the cheese; the pre-shredded simply has little taste and not worth the calories. Or forget calories and shred a bit of extra-sharp Cheddar cheese for topping! Cabot’s is a good brand that can be found locally.) Bake at 450 degrees F. 22 to 24 minutes, until golden brown and cornbread pulls away from sides of skillet.
After this hearty meal, no dessert is needed. If you must, I’d suggest a light sherbet or small serving of fruit. And raise a toast to St. Patrick, who surely never enjoyed a meal so grand.

-Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net