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The Irish Spirit: Recipes Inspired by the Legendary Drinks of Ireland    by Margaret M. Johnson order for
Irish Spirit
by Margaret M. Johnson
Order:  USA  Can
Chronicle, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Having often added dashes of sherry to my Irish stews (and of course sherry trifles) and enjoyed pork chops cooked with Guiness, I was intrigued by the title of this recipe book, as well as by its mouthwatering pictures of resulting dishes, its scenic photos of Ireland, and intriguing anecdotes. The dedication alone gets readers into the right mood to take in this delectable cookbook: 'For friends near and far, and the Irish spirit in all of us. Sláinte!'

In her Introduction, Johnson speaks of the age-old, happy marriage of wine with food, of the Irish pub as the 'center of Irish life', and of the evolution of Irish cuisine from boiled potatoes to 'creations infinitely more delicious than anyone could have imagined.' Recipes are organized into chapters by type of spirit: Whiskey with an "E"; Affable Brews; Celtic Cider; Heather, Honey, Mead, and Mist; and Sweet Irish Creams. A Resources section at the back explains where to obtain ingredients like mead and Irish cheeses (including online sites). Insets interspersed amongst the recipes offer historical anecdotes on topics that range from Irish coffee to modern Medieval Castle Banquets and the origins of the term honeymoon.

Each chapter opens with a historical overview of the particular Irish spirit featured - from the importation of whiskey distillation by 6th century monks to the three decades old inception of cream liquers. Then come the recipes! I plan to include Smoked Salmon and Crab Roulade with Walnut Vinaigrette (whiskey is added to the mayonnaise) in a holiday menu this year, with soda bread on the side of course. Bushmills Duck au Poivre sounds like another winner, along with Buttermilk-Chive Mashed Potatoes, and Bushmills Marmalade Puddings to finish. After whiskey based dishes come those based on beers, such as Ale-Battered Mushrooms and Feather Gingerbread (made with Guinness).

On to apple-based spirits and such treats as Pumpkin-Cider Soup, Pork tenderloin with Apple Cider Sauce, Goat Cheese and Apple Salad with Cider Vinaigrette, and Cider-Glazed Scallops. Mead and liqueurs are used to enhance dishes from Craggaunowen Chicken to Roasted Rhubarb Trifle. Finally, cream liqueurs are folded into desserts like Bailey's Bombshell (with meringues, whipping cream and chocolate!) and Irish Lace Cookies. If you already enjoy cooking with spirits, or appreciate the Irish history and heritage, then this is the cookbook for you. It's filled to the brim with eclectic recipes and snippets of brewing history. Sláinte!

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