I'm a bit sad to report that St. Pat's day in New York creeps closer and closer into Halloween territory with each passing year.
This year I saw the now-ubiquitous Mardi Gras-style plastic beads joined by kelly green handlebar moustaches, flowing green nylon wigs, sparkling green eye shadow and green short-shorts. And that was just on my subway commute. I didn't dare hit the bars.
I don't mean to sound like a hater, but hosting a St. Pat's party these days almost seems like a dangerous invitation. "Come, friends! Bring your booze! Eat my green cupcakes! Vomit outlandish colors on my carpet!"
Kate's surprisingly moist Irish Soda Bread
But a clever coworker, the lovely Suzy Hotrod(TM) came up with an ingenious idea for our latest department potluck: The Post-Patrick's Day Hangover Brunch. No hangover, derby hat or green food coloring required.
The crew was inspired, and the ensuing feast was a delight, with not a drop of green food coloring in sight. It was truly a St. Patrick's day miracle surpassing all that snake harassment for which the old legends give him credit.
Suzy Hotrod's Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes
I contributed Irish Cheddar Mac & Cheese (with both veg-friendly and Berkshire Bacon variations), Suzy contributed Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, Mike brought the home fries, Kate brought a moist and flavorful Irish soda bread, Marc brought Orangina (because everything's better with Orangina), Ryn made what may be the most tasty boiled brisket and cabbage dinner I've ever had and the mighty-mighty Anna Bollocks brought the totally tasty bangers (as well as Cadbury Chocolate Roses and Irish tea) from the 61st Street Deli in Woodside (3967 61st Street, Queens).
Honestly, the Mac & Cheese was so tasty and simple to make, I think it'd be a shame to reserve it for those few days fore and aft the ides of March. And clearly, you can use whatever cheddar you happen to have on hand.
With bacon in the foreground, veggie-friendly in the back
Irish Cheddar Mac & Cheese (Makes three 8" x 8" pans)
1 16oz box macaroni elbows
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp dry ground mustard (or 3 Tbsp prepared mustard)
5 cups milk
1 tsp salt
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/4 lb Irish Cheddar, shredded
6-8 strips bacon, cooked, cooled and chopped (optional)
Sweet paprika (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 375°F., and cook macaroni elbows in a large pot of salted, boiling water until tender (about 8-10 minutes). Drain in a colander, rinse with cold water and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat butter in a heavy-bottomed stockpot until it bubbles. Whisk in flour, mixing well.
3. Add mustard and salt to the mixture, then gradually whisk in the 5 cups of milk, working out any flour lumps that appear.
4. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens and burbles.
5. Remove sauce from heat and stir in half the shredded cheese.
6. Combine the sauce with the macaroni and distribute evenly in the pan or pans. (Don't overfill the pans... they need room to bubble a bit in the oven.)
7. If using, sprinkle bacon across the macaroni, then evenly top with the remaining cheese. Sprinkle on sweet paprika for a jaunty garnish.
8. At this point you can cover and refrigerate for baking later, or for immediate enjoyment, bake approximately 40 minutes (60 if it's been in the fridge) or until lightly browned and bubbly. Let rest 10-15 minutes before serving.