There’s no blarney in Barbara Scanlon’s baking. Scanlon channels her energies and a bit of Irish luck when preparing food for her large clan — husband, Ed, of 46 years, four children and eight grandchildren — and friends in her Kansas City kitchen.
Scanlon, a former preschool teacher, says much of her good fortune comes from a close connection with family and the community at large. Granddaughter Erin Scanlon, 14, concurs.
“We come over to my Grammer’s (Grandma’s) kitchen a lot and always have something to eat,” she says. “The Scanlon family and food are just a good combination.”
Q: What does your Irish heritage means to you?
A: The Irish are a warm and hospitable people, and I think as Midwesterners we identify with that mindset. There is a large Irish-American population in the Kansas City area, so much so that I have worked as a genealogist researcher at the Kansas City Irish Fest helping people trace relatives on their Irish family tree.
The Irish are open to having a good time, because they don’t really need an excuse to get together. Of course, there’s always eating, drinking and storytelling, which goes along with any gathering. Also, the Irish have a strong sense of family, and over time friends become part of your extended family.
Q: What are your plans for St. Patrick’s Day?
A: The Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day parade route basically end blocks away from our home, so about 100 people will make their way to our house to eat something and continue the party. Last year, I made five pans of shepherd’s pie and corned beef with all the trimmings to feed the hungry masses.
For me, St. Patrick’s Day is also a celebration of my ancestors, who came to the United States during the potato famine in Ireland. I think it’s important to know your family’s roots and to find the stories that make your ancestors real people. Cooking and passing down recipes is definitely a way to share family shenanigans. Two years ago, I cooked once a week with my grandchildren and took pictures of the finished product. I compiled the recipes and pictures into “Grammer’s Cookbook” and shared copies with the family.
Q: Why did you choose to share your recipe for shepherd’s pie?
A: Shepherd’s pie is a staple of the Irish dinner table. The filling is rich with lamb, vegetables and gravy, and topped with, of course, mashed potatoes. This is a wonderfully hearty and filling meal for any family and group of friends. Shepherd’s pie is also known as “Irish dancer food” in my home, since my granddaughters and their friends have devoured it after Irish dance practice. Shepherd’s pie made with ground beef is known as “cottage pie,” and that meat can be a good substitute for lamb.
A friend from Galway, Ireland, taught me how to make this recipe more than 30 years ago. Last year, we had guests from Waterford, Ireland, come to our home after the parade, and one of the women said that my shepherd’s pie tasted just like her mother’s!
Q: Were Irish recipes also passed down in your family?
A: I learned basic cooking and baking techniques from my Irish grandmother Mary Veronica McTygue. I have added scones, brown bread, Irish tea brack — a cross between cake and bread with raisins — and colcannon — a traditional Irish dish of mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage — to make new family favorites.
I love to cook basic comfort food and share stories and the traditions with my family. There’s no denying that food brings people together. And, regardless of a person’s true heritage, everyone is at least a little Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Celebrating St. Pat’s
For more information on St. Patrick’s Day festivities on March 17, go to KCIrishParade.com.
Makes 16 servings
For the topping:
4 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
For the filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and minced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
2 pounds ground lamb
3/4 cup beef stock
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons steak sauce (see note)
2 tablespoons brown gravy mix (see note)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (13-ounce) package frozen spring peas
To prepare topping: Place potatoes in a large pot and fill with water 2 inches above potatoes. Season with salt and bring water to a boil over high heat.
Reduce heat to medium-high, cover pot tightly with lid and continue to boil least 15 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender. Do not boil potatoes until they are mushy and falling apart.
Drain potatoes over sink in a large colander. Return potatoes to pot and immediately add milk and butter. Using a potato masher break up potatoes until mixture reaches desired consistency. Place lid back on pot and set aside.
To prepare filling: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large Dutch oven, warm olive oil over medium-high heat on stovetop. Add onion and sauté until soft, or about 10 minutes. Stir in carrots and sauté another 2 minutes.
Add ground lamb to pot, break up chunks with a wooden spoon and brown meat until no pink remains. Drain and discard fat from pan.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk beef stock and flour together until no lumps remain. Stir beef stock mixture, steak sauce, brown gravy mix, tomato paste and wine into pot until well combined. Season with salt and pepper and gently stir in peas.
When heated through, pour mixture into a 9- by 13-inch pan. Evenly spread prepared mash over filling and drag a fork over top of potatoes to give texture.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until filling is bubbling and top is lightly golden.
Using a big spoon, dish out portions that include filling with potatoes on top and serve immediately.
Note: Scanlon uses HP Sauce for the steak sauce and Bisto Gravy Granules for the brown gravy mix. These can be purchased from Browne’s Irish Marketplace, 3300 Pennsylvania Ave., or Sheehan’s Irish Imports, 410 E. Gregory Blvd.
Per serving: 261 calories (64 percent from fat), 18 grams total fat (8 grams saturated), 50 milligrams cholesterol, 11 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams protein, 403 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.