This time last year, in our blog's infancy, we decided to do a big St. Patrick's Day meal.
Bon Appétit had a lovely menu, with Homemade Irish Corned Beef and Vegetables along with Irish Soda Bread with Raisins and Caraway Seeds. We had never cooked either dish, but we were up for the challenge.
The most daunting part? Curing (or, in this case, "corning") our own beef. In the run-up to that meal, we tried in vain to find "Insta Cure #1," a special curing salt that gives corned beef its signature pink color.
We were absolutely thwarted by Insta Cure #1. Insta Cure #1 became a swear word in our house. For Insta Cure #1 cannot be found in our nation's capital.
We exhausted all of our options -- ten different grocery stores, the farmers market, butcher shops, even specialty kitchen stores. We even tried calling restaurant supply places. No dice.
Defeated by Insta Cure, we went ahead with the corned beef (after all, the salt is completely optional in the brine).
How'd it turn out? Very, very average. The flavors were good -- maybe even better than good. But there was no getting around the color: dull, gray and lifeless, it looked more like cafeteria mystery meat than a St. Patrick's Day party.
Older, wiser, and determined to have a more authentic (or least more photogenic) St. Patrick's Day meal, we're prepared this year. And we're not using Insta Cure.
What's our secret?
This year, we're using a new recipe from Martha Stewart Living, which calls for Prague Power, a curing salt which is similar to Insta Cure #1.
At Martha's suggestion, we ordered the pink curing salt from AmericanSpice.com, which sells Prague Powder #1 Pink Curing Salt ($2.99/4 ounces). It arrived within a week via standard shipping, though express options were available as well. Insta Cure #1 is also available from SausageMaker.com for $9.99/pound.
In hindsight, of course, we should have just ordered online last year. But we were so convinced that we ought to be able to find curing salt in our city that we (stupidly) refused to turn to the Web.
Anyway, Martha's recipe calls for two full weeks of brining, so we're starting today!
With our brining out of the way, the next big decision is what to serve for dessert at our St. Patrick's Day meal. (The side dishes, while delicious, pretty much take care of themselves: carrots, cabbage and potatoes boiled along with the beef. And we'll probably make soda bread again.)
Last year we selected Chocolate Stout Cake from a back-issue of Bon Appétit. We loved the cake so much that we still salivate at the thought of it.
Any suggestions for a great St. Patrick's Day dessert? It'll be hard to tear us away from Chocolate Stout Cake (hello?! It has chocolate and Guinness!), but we could be persuaded.