Beans On Toast – An Easy Lunchtime Staple For Irish Moms

Beans on toast featured regularly on my lunchtime menu as an Irish kid – a simple, nutritious meal I’m quite certain continues to be eaten regularly by many Irish and English children.

Beans on Toast

An American friend once asked me about Irish lunchtime menus. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the all-American, easy, lunchtime staple. No PB & J for me when I was growing up in Ireland. Even after spending over twenty years in the United States, I still don’t appreciate them.  I must confess I find it very hard to eat a peanut butter sandwich. The whole bread, jelly, and peanut butter combination is just too sticky for my Irish trained palate.

When posed with this Irish lunchtime inquiry I had to think for a minute before answering. What is the inexpensive, go-to lunch for Irish mothers? The answer I believe is beans on toast.

Now it’s not a menu item for school lunch boxes, but for midday meals served at home, beans on toast are just perfect.  In fact, beans on toast may be found on breakfast, lunch and dinner menus in many Irish or English homes, especially when budgets are tight.

Should I use a singular verb after beans on toast, or the plural form?  Beans on toast ‘is’ or should I type beans on toast “are”????  Not sure what the answer is, but I hope you’ll forgive any beany grammatical errors.

An Irish Lunch - Beans on Toast

Many Americans are probably saying “what’s the deal?”  For those whose palates are trained on spicy foods this meal may seem very bland. But let’s face it, we Irish think salt and pepper are spices, so beans on toast suit us perfectly.

And into the bargain they’re cheap and easy to store. A can of beans in the pantry and you’re set.

Furthermore, beans in red sauce are one of the most inexpensive forms of protein available to a busy mom, and preparation is a snap. (That “furthermore” is really making me sound like a bean aficionado.)

Here are my cooking instructions:

  • Heat some beans in a saucepan.
  • Toast a slice of bread.
  • Butter the toast if you wish.
  • Then pile the beans and sauce on top.

Some beans on toast connoisseurs forego the butter, but I find a slice of thick white toast spread with Kerrygold butter is a perfect bean base.  The salty butter adds a lovely complimentary flavor to the beans.

Fried Egg with Beans on Toast

To beef the beans up for dinner, a poached or fried egg can be served right on top. I suppose beefing them up is the wrong word when using an egg, but you know what I mean.

I hope you like how over cooked that fried egg is by American standards, but that’s how they turn out when fried Irish style. No sunny sides up or over easys for an Irish cook.

Another option is to top them off with a slice of grilled or fried tomato, and two slices of bacon or rashers as we say in Ireland. Yummy! Yummy! Yummy!

I knew someone who liked to spread Marmite on their toast, before topping it off with beans. Marmite is a dark brown, salty, savory spread made from yeast extract. Not for me, but everyone adds their own little touches to make their beans on toast special.

Finely diced onion can be caramelized in a pan before adding the beans for heating. A dash of Worcestershire sauce and mustard kick the flavor up a notch.  I suppose these steps bring the beans a little closer to American BBQ beans.

A slice of cheese, grilled to melting point on the toast, is delicious hidden beneath the beans. My mouth is now watering thinking about bland old beans on toast.

As children we loved to drink a cold glass of milk with our beans, but as I grew older I replaced the milk with a nice cup of hot tea with a little dash of milk. Again, most Americans are probably aghast at this menu combination. But the plain old fact is, I have Irish taste buds.

English Lunch - Beans on Toast

Here in America I buy vegetarian beans. No pork and beans in this house. I’m not fond of a piece of  pork rind floating in my beans as they heat. A can of vegetarian beans reminds me of Irish beans the most.  Luckily, my local supermarket stocks Heinz vegetarian beans.

The brand of choice when I was growing up in Ireland was Bachelor’s beans. Their advertising logo consisted of two little men singing to their hearts’ content:

“Bachelors! Bachelors!”

 

Anyone remember them?

 

I’d say there were, and probably still are, many Irish bachelors whose cooking repertoires consist of beans on toast; no more; no less.  The after affects of said beans may be one of the reasons for the aforementioned state of  bachelorhood.     :)

Wishing you all happy and easy lunchtimes.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

 

Blackcurrants – A Taste Of Ireland I Miss In America

I love the intense tart flavor of black currants, a distinctive taste of the British Isles I have missed during the past twenty-something years spent living in America. 

Black Currants

Last week my sister’s backyard black currant bushes were laden with fruit ready for harvesting. I willingly volunteered to be her fruit picker for the day.

Blackcurrants remind me of my Granny. Her garden boasted many fruitful shrubs. During the last week of July each year her finger tips were stained purple as she picked thousands of black currants for jam.

Black Currants Close-Up

Few Americans know the taste of fresh black currants, or have ever even heard of the fruit.  I never understood why, until I decided to do a little bit of research for this post.

I was surprised to learn most states banned cultivation of black currants for most of the last century.  Brought to America by early English settlers, the 20th century brought a quick end to their earlier popularity.

Apparently the bushes can be carriers of a fungus lethal to pine trees. Identified as a threat to the vital logging industry in the U.S. black currants were simply outlawed in 1911.

Blackcurrant Bush

And over the next one hundred years the poor black currant was simply forgotten.  They faded from the American countryside, supermarket, and memory.

New disease-resistant varieties of currants were developed in the 1960′s. When the federal ban on growing currants was transferred to individual state jurisdiction in 1966, this lowly berry made no comeback whatsoever.

Not until recent years did a few states in the north east repeal the ban on their cultivation. Black currant growing is still outlawed in several states. I hope in years to come more and more Americans will welcome back the black currant, and farmers will start jumping on the currant cart so-to-speak.

Bowl Of Black Currants

With a deep and musky aroma, these dark berries are no where as sweet as the favored American blueberry.  Their distinctive mouth-puckering sourness mean they are best when tempered with a little sugar

Black currants grow in bunches of small, glossy, black fruit and are perfect for making jams, jellies and syrups.  Their perfect balance of sweetness and tartness, make them an ideal ingredient for sauces to accompany fattier meats.

Used in Europe for making juices and cordials, delicious purple sorbets, or compote’s for ice cream, the fruit is extremely popular in Ireland.

Growing Black Currants

The currants ripen fairly evenly, with harvest typically taking place during the last week of July. My sister’s berries ripened on cue this year, especially after all the wonderful sunshine enjoyed over this amazing Irish summer.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out black currants have four times more vitamin C than oranges, and twice the antioxidants of blueberries.

Are blackcurrants after all the berry best fruit for you?

And so I hope you have enjoyed my photos and ramblings through an Irish fruit garden where last week I spent some very relaxing hours picking the berries of my childhood, with happy thoughts of days gone by swirling through my mind.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

 

A Taste Of Sligo

I’m coming to the end of a wonderful trip full of warm welcomes in Sligo, where I learned all about the versatility of Irish stew, feasted on the most scrumptious food Ireland has to offer, and above all met some wonderful new friends.

Garavogue River, Sligo

Sligo’s Garavogue River At Night

I am thrilled to say my Guinness Beef Stew was awarded a Silver Award in the World Irish Stew Amateur Competition.  A big thank you to the organizers of this fantastic, fun contest which I hope will continue to grow in years to come.

The official event photographer is going to send me some of his photos, so in the coming weeks we’ll have a stewing good time.  I never imagined there are so many ways to cook, season, plate, and savor the humble stew.  So stay tuned to learn all about Irish stew.

Warm Tomato And Local Basil Shot

Warm Tomato And Local Basil Shot

But rest assured there was far more to my gourmet trip to Sligo.  I was thrilled to attend the Gala Banquet honoring the chefs and students who made this event possible.  Before I picked up my fork or spoon, or lifted a glass, I remembered to raise my camera to take a shot of these delicious dishes to share with you.

To-MAY-to or to-MAH-to, whatever you choose to call it, this was the most delicious soup I ever tasted.  I don’t even like tomato soup, but I could have thrown back a few more shots of this one.

Mixed Achonry Lettuce Leaf With Blacklion Duck Liver Parfait

Mixed Achonry Lettuce Leaf With Blacklion Duck Liver Parfait

Simply delicious – what more can I say.

Grilled Fresh Mullaghmore Mackerel and Lissadell Mussels, Fennel Remolade and Herb Dressing

Grilled Fresh Mullaghmore Mackerel and Lissadell Mussels, Fennel Remolade and Herb Dressing

No gourmet meal is complete without a fish course.  Fresh, local fish from the shores of Sligo helped create this sumptious feast. Just perfect!

Duo of Local Pork Belly and Sous-Vide Rump of Sliced Lamb, Black Pudding Croquette, Carrot Puree and Red Wine Jus

Duo of Local Pork Belly and Sous-Vide Rump of Sliced Lamb, Black Pudding Croquette, Carrot Puree and Red Wine Jus

Irish chefs know how to cook good, wholesome food, plating it in a unique and inviting manner, to get your taste buds tingling and your mouth watering.

Chef's Seasonal Platter of Rhubarb

Chef’s Seasonal Platter of Rhubarb

This dessert was my favorite course, a perfect combination of sweet and tart.  My Irish sweet tooth was delighted by this combination.  I always find American desserts a little too sweet, so I was in heaven as I savored my rhubarb blancmange.

To tell you the truth I am a little bit of a rhubarb freak.  This summer I’ll share some of my favorite rhubarb recipes with you.  Can’t wait to see some for sale in Louisville.  Just like Ireland, rhubarb grows well in Kentucky soil.

IMG_0885

Don’t worry! It’s Irish craic, not the American variety being promoted in this poster.  After experiencing the culinary excellence of Sligo, my faith in and love of Irish food grew stronger. I definitely will make no apologies for Irish food.

Sligo By Night

Sligo’s Glasshouse Hotel By Night

Thank you to the Glasshouse Hotel and their amazing chefs and staff for treating us to such a wonderful meal.

Sligo is a beautiful town situated in one of the most scenic settings in the whole wide world.  The sun may only have peeped out for one day of my stay, but that didn’t stop me from taking photos.  I’ll share my shots over the coming days and weeks.  So come back again for another taste of all that Sligo has to offer, or even better, make sure to visit Sligo and experience some of the wonderful restaurants throughout the town and county.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

World Irish Stew Championship

Entries are flying in for the fourth World Irish Stew Championship which takes place in St Angela’s College in Sligo, Ireland on 1st and 2nd May 2013.

irish-stew-11Photo Courtesy Of World Irish Stew Championship

The 1st of May will see professional and student chefs from kitchens and colleges all over the world demonstrate their skills to create the ultimate Irish Stew! The judging panel, a team of chefs and competition judges selected by head judge Gabriel Mc Sharry, will decide who will earn the title in two categories – professional and student chef.

irish-stew-51

Photo Courtesy of World Irish Stew Championship

Entries can be made online on the World Irish Stew Championship website, where there are also application forms for other culinary competitions including the Sligo Signature Dish, and a Mystery Basket competition.

Not only professional chefs can enter their stew, but home cooks can enter the competition by taking a photo of their stew and uploading it along with the recipe on the World Irish Stew Championship website.  The best will be selected and brought to beautiful County Sligo to compete in the final on 2nd May and they will also be treated to a Sligo Gourmet Adventure!

the-winning-irish-stew-2012-by-samuel-mullholland-2Photo Courtesy of the World Irish Stew Championship

The World Irish Stew Championship has been running since 2010 as part of So Sligo Food Festival and this year thanks to the Gathering IBB Fund and assistance given by the Gathering initiative, it has become what is hoped to be an annual global event in County Sligo.

The organizers would love to see some international entries, so why not get cooking here in the US, and share some of your recipes handed down through the generations.  Who knows, you might win a trip to Ireland!

Wishing all entrants every success in this great competition.  Happy stewing!

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

 

I’ll Make No Apologies For Irish Food

I love Irish food.  My childhood was happy and healthy, nourished by plenty of potatoes, succulent meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, and my mother’s homemade cakes, breads and desserts.  When I moved to America over twenty years ago I was astonished to hear so many disparaging remarks about my national cuisine.

I remember watching the Today show one morning.  Bryant Gumble was hosting back then.  His recent trip to Ireland was a highlight of that particular show.  I watched with pride as he praised the beauty of my homeland.  My bubble soon burst.  He threw his eyes to heaven once he mentioned Irish food.

 

When Irish American comedian Dennis Leary was being roasted by

his friends at Comedy Central, he joked it should have been a boil

instead of a roast. His Irish mother and most Irish women have a

penchant for boiling nearly every meal.  

 

Irish born actor, Peter O’Toole, said his three favorite Irish foods were all Guinness.   Poor Irish food! It often takes a beating here in America.

Our cooking has a reputation for being bland, sauceless and lacking in flavor.   This opinion is understandable in a world where exotic spices are over-rated, and food is expected to appeal to the eye more than to the palate.  The old joke tells how the Irish cook’s spice drawer holds nothing but salt and pepper.

Irish food may seem dull to some, but for me it is the straightforward simplicity of its ingredients and techniques that put it in a distinctive, satisfying class all of its own.

French cuisine is magnificent, yet not for the everyday cook with little time to fuss and fume over sautee pans and steaming pots.  In years gone by the Irish cook had little more than an open fire and a big black pot for cooking.  As a result traditional Irish meals are not elaborate.

 

Simple and economical, Irish food does not try to mask the true

flavor of wholesome, quality ingredients.  It is an unpretentious

cuisine, whose strength lies in its simplicity.

Many Americans eat out way too often.  Sometimes I think the home cook is intimidated by the complexity of many ethnic cuisines.  Cooking shows focus on elaborate recipes and visually appealing dishes, rather than assisting the home cook to learn simple, economical family favorites.

Irish Americans have an unjustified, inferiority complex about the traditional recipes of our forefathers.   We need to learn to be proud of our cuisine.  To this day it is the rustic food of my childhood that I long for, not the fancy food I first tasted when I lived in New York.

Anyone who has tasted a Guinness beef stew, or a roast leg of lamb, can testify to the glories of Irish cooking.  With Thanksgiving fast approaching America is now planning the great family get-together and time-honored dinner menu.  This week I plan to share some of my recipes that can help give an Irish twist to a traditional American Thanksgiving meal.

We’ll learn how to cook rutabagas, and roast potatoes.  Remember, the Irish know plenty about cooking turkey.  An Irish Christmas dinner usually features roast turkey.

 

And so I make no apologies for Irish food.  I plan to keep cooking as

my mother cooked, and her mother and grandmother before her.  

 

Come back and visit often.  Together we can bring Irish American food to a new level of excellence and appreciation.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom