Is your corned beef ready for simmering yet? Your potatoes set to be peeled and boiled, your cabbage simmered, your soda bread stirred up? It's too bad that no one thinks of smoked salmon and brown bread, thick bacon and Irish cheddar, champ and colcannon (to name but a few of the real delights of the Emerald Isle's table) when St. Patrick's Day comes around. Here in the States, it's corned beef and cabbage, to say nothing of the green beer and Irish coffees. (Alas, the Shamrock Shake, that minty McDonald's invention, is as rare as a four-leaf clover these days.)
As for the whiskey, well, an Irish blend would be only appropriate. You could follow the lead of the venerable Buena Vista, who serves 2000 Irish coffees a day, all spiked with Tullamore Dew. (After some 50 years using its own private label Irish whiskey, the bar switched to Tullamore in 2006.) Jameson's and Bushmills are the big boys, of course, and the players in a (somewhat spurious, given that both brands are now owned by enormous multinationals) Catholic vs. Protestant loyalty debate. Meanwhile, smaller brands like Red Breast, Power's, Midleton, Black Bush, Killbeggan, and The Tyrconnell all have their admirers. Care to compare? The Liberties in the Mission will be offering special tasting flights of some of the rarer Irish whiskeys all week long. There's also live music throughout the evening of the 17th, and a full menu with everything from smoked salmon on potato cakes to cross-cultural samosas stuffed with black pudding, bacon, and curried potatoes.
Now, I like my whiskey for sipping, for sure, but when you need to make a whole tableful of people happy with just one glass, nothing beats this Chocolate Whiskey Cake. Serving it at a recent birthday potluck, the question everyone asked after one bite was, "How much whiskey is in this??" Only a cup's worth for the entire generously-sized cake, but a liberal sprinkling after baking gives a potent warmth to every forkful.
The original inspiration came from food writer Melissa Clark's interpretation of a recipe in Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, first published in 1980. Clark's recipe ups the amount of whiskey (and salt) and boosts the chocolate quality. Remembering with longing the fantastic Chocolate Whiskey Cake served at Mrs. London's Bakeshop in Saratoga Springs, where my family would go every summer to follow the horseracing and bask in fine dining, I added in whiskey-soaked golden raisins, swapped out the espresso powder for straight-up strong coffee and cut back on both the salt and sugar, since I like my chocolate bittersweet.