Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Great Brisket Freakout of 2012: Aftermath

In the wake of St. Patrick's Day, I realized that once again I never actually took any photos of dinner.  It was probably because I was crazily running around, trying to iron the tablecloths (plural, because we needed two tables and still didn't have enough seats) and napkins (yes, I iron napkins - it takes attention away from the walls that only have paint samples on them), make a double batch of brown soda bread, let HRH help me bake half-and-half brownies, and get some adult conversation in while we had friends over, all while Zooey, who was banished to the backyard for both allergy and food-stealing reasons, kept trying to implore me to let her in.  I also had a half-and-half (stout and ale) myself, so I was desperately trying to enjoy that, too.
My parents used to hold rather large dinner parties, and I recall me always being in the way when they were cleaning.  I hated it then, but I totally get it now.  There is always way too much to do and not enough time to do it, even though your real friends really don't care if you vacuumed under the couch or dusted the baseboards (for the record, we did vacuum under the couch, but the baseboards were left to fend for themselves).  Poor HRH was pretty pissed by the end of the evening, even though there were other kids over to play with her.  At one point I let her help me make brownies, as I could tell that all she wanted was to spend some time with her Momma, and she is truly a great kitchen assistant, especially where baked sweet treats are concerned.  Other than that, I used the time-honored parenting tradition of keeping her pumped full of sugar to keep her mood elevated until she just crashed out, with chocolate all over her face, in my bed, snuggled up next to me.  No regrets, people.
Despite the insanity of the day, it was a great time.  We had a house full of good friends to help us enjoy (and take home) a large portion of The World's Largest Brisket Purchase - the "goodie bags" of pastrami instead of dollar store junk went over EXTREMELY well, and I'm starting to worry that this will become The Husband's New Thing To Do At Events - "Here - take home a baggie of turkey giblets for the kids!"  The Husband ran to the store and got way too many things right before people came over, so he made bite-sized Reubens (sans Thousand Island dressing....ewwww) as an appetizer, while I whipped up a batch of green hummus (regular hummus with some kale in it) and put out some pita.  That was gone in about three minutes.
Our friends brought over cheesecake (curse you, friends, for leaving said cheesecake here for me to deal with, alone, during the week) and a loaf of soda bread from a different recipe than I used, and of course everyone brought beer, so we were well stocked for the evening.

Last year, when we had family friends over, I pulled out my china.  And then spent half of the next day washing it.  This year, The Husband suggested that we use the "fine Chinette."  So we did.  I have mixed feelings about creating all that trash, but I probably used more water last year than is appropriate to admit when you live in the desert and water is a touchy subject in the legislature.  So really the only cleanup was the washing of the various pots and pans that we used to make everything else.  So... everything in our kitchen EXCEPT flatware was washed.  But at least it didn't take half a day.

So... what did I make?

  • 675,839,296,693,103,672 pounds (not really, but it sure felt like it) of corned beef and pastrami.  The Husband smoked the pastrami the day before, and the corned beef portion was slow cooked all day in a bath of Guinness, Smithwick's, and lamb stock.  I also smeared the top of the briskets with a mustard and brown sugar mixture that I had read made for a good flavor, but honestly, I don't think that it added much to it.  But the color was a little freaky when we first took it out of the roaster, so there is that.
I took this over The Husband's shoulder
as he sliced the pastrami.  I got a few
tastes after I promised to go away.
Brown bread in the back, corned beef (on the left),
pastrami (on the right), and Guinness mustard -
I apologize for having eaten all the cabbage and potatoes.
A close-up of the pastrami - see the pretty pepper rub?
  • Brown soda bread - I forget how awesome this recipe is, and since it's a soda bread recipe (which means no yeast to fuss with), it's super easy to make.  I finally got my mitts on powdered buttermilk, so I can most certainly whip up a loaf when we run out (we're eating our way through the last loaf this week).  I used a Cooking Light recipe, and our friends brought over one that had used an Epicurious recipe, and they were both insanely good.  I may have filled up on bread.
  • Guinness mustard - take any mustard recipe and use Guinness as a substitute for part (or most... or all) of the liquid.  Trust me.  It's worth it.  We're already almost done with the entire pint that I made.
  • Cabbage - I followed Michael Ruhlman's advice and quartered the cabbages, browned them in butter, and then finished cooking them in the corned beef liquid.  It was totally worth dirtying those three extra pans (they were big cabbages) for the flavor.  I did keep one aside for our friend who has been vegetarian for a little over a year now, cooking it in a covered pan with water instead of in the lamb stock-beer liquid.
  • Potatoes - taking another Ruhlman suggestion, I poached the potatoes before slicing them and tossing them with butter and parsley.  Yum.  I like to use the red potatoes for this - they are a much softer texture, and their small size makes them easy to slice.  I wish we hadn't run out of these, but everyone likes potatoes, so we did.  That's OK - radishes and turnips make for a good corned beef hash, too.
  • For dessert we had the cheesecakes and the half-and-half brownies, which HRH helped me make.  The recipe, also from Cooking Light (the recipe calls them black and tan brownies, but I think we should move past that), calls for pecans in the bottom portion, but since I don't like nuts in pastries, I omitted them.  I just didn't tell The Husband, as he prefers baked goods that have so many nuts, fruits, and/or chocolate chips that the structural integrity is put into serious question.  
Mmmmm.... get in mah belly!
The Guinness flavor made the chocolate layer not too chocolatey...
Yeah, like there is such a thing as "too chocolatey."
And now that I've had 25 pounds of brisket to ruminate upon (which fortunately meant that while I didn't take pictures at dinner, I had plenty of leftovers to snap), I do think that I can say with certainty that I do prefer pastrami to corned beef.  The smokiness and the flavor of the black pepper rub added to the flavor of the brine makes for a great sandwich.  The Husband and his mom have repeatedly said that it was "really salty," but I love salty food (she wrote as she sucked down 16 ounces of water), so maybe that's why I loved it so much.
I think, however, after the drama that I created for myself over the excessive brisket purchase, next year I want to go down a different St. Patrick's Day path and go for a menu that is, you know, actually Irish.  Corned beef and cabbage is not actually Irish, and from what I have read, no one really knows how it became associated (in America, at least) with Ireland.  So while The Husband loves corned beef and cabbage, I am going to lobby for something more traditional and, you know, actually Irish.
But you can be assured that whatever we have, we'll have goodie bags.


  1. For someone who lives life mostly meat-free, you sure know how to throw a meatcentric party! It all looks fabulous. I may have to have The Complete Package attempt a pastrami now. And I'm definitely making that brown bread. Now I just need to find a way to get invited to next year's shingdig so I can score a meat bag as a 'thanks for coming' gift. And maybe a brownie, too.

  2. I'd LOVE for you and TCP to come over for a dinner party - we'll totally send you off with a bag o' meat!!! One thing about the pastrami - I wouldn't brine it for as long unless you like it as salty as ours was. The Husband said that he just looked at quite a few pastrami rub recipes online and just "eyeballed" it (clearly neither of us like to do that pesky measuring). #OKMH

  3. Sister, all I want to know is why I couldn't channel the #OKMH compound at this one, very pivotal, meat-laden moment. I DIE.

    Also, we used disposable stuff for Madelyn's shower. The reality: china is really good for small parties. For big parties where you want to be able to enjoy your guests, mingle and not worry about HOURS of cleaning it is absolutely terrible. Sometimes it's really nice to be able to just throw away the things.