When Irish stomachs are growling

Faith and Begorrah (a phrase that I’ve been told no self-respecting Irish person would ever utter) —St. Patrick’s Day is just a few days away! Since it falls on a Sunday, that phrase, which translates loosely to “by my faith and God,” seems especially appropriate. Besides, I’m no self-respecting Irish person. I’m mostly of German heritage, but I still feel inclined to celebrate the Feast of St. Patrick by wearing green and imbibing a pint while toasting the Emerald Isle’s patron saint.

I might also whip up a St. Patty’s Day-themed treat in my kitchen while practicing my abysmal Irish accent. Isn’t that what we non-Irish do to celebrate the day? I’ve chosen a few random offerings: a potato casserole that highlights an Irish favorite food and three dessert possibilities that fit the bill by being green.

St. Patty’s Potato Casserole

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, cook ½ cup diced onion in 2 tablespoons butter for five minutes until tender. Stir in 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard; cook for 1 minute. Add 1¾ cups milk; stir and cook over medium heat until slightly thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat to low. Whisk in 4 ounces reduced fat cream cheese and cook until smooth. Gradually add ½ cup grated Gruyere cheese and stir until melted. Stir in 2 tablespoons chopped green onions.

In a large bowl, combine sauce with 1½ pounds potatoes, sliced, and 8 ounces coarsely chopped ham. Transfer mixture to prepared dish.

Cover and bake for 1 hour or until potatoes are tender. Uncover and stir carefully. Sprinkle with an additional ½ cup cheese and bake, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes more, until cheese is melted. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Serves 6.

Shamrock Cake

Combine 1 box yellow cake mix, 3 eggs, 1 cup vegetable oil, 1 box instant pistachio pudding, 1 cup ginger ale and 1 cup pecans, chopped fine. Pour mixture into a greased 13- by 9-inch pan. Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool completely.

For icing, carefully fold together (do not beat) one 9-ounce carton frozen whipped topping (thawed), 1 cup powdered sugar, 8 ounces sour cream, ½ cup milk and 1 box instant pistachio pudding mix. Spread over top of cooled cake. Store in refrigerator.

Eatin’ O’ the Green Cheesecake Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For crust: Combine 1 cup graham cracker crumbs, ¾ cup finely chopped almonds, 1 cup flour, ½ cup butter, melted, ½ cup brown sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon cinnamon. Press this mixture evenly into a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly brown.

While crust is baking, beat 8 ounces cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add one 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk, 4 large eggs, ¾ cup lime juice and 1½ teaspoons lime zest; beat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add ½ cup flour, scant ¼ teaspoon salt and a few drops of green food coloring and beat until just mixed.

Pour the filling mixture evenly over hot crust. Bake until just set, about 20-25 minutes.

Cool on wire rack before cutting into bars. Dust top with 3 tablespoons powdered sugar, if desired. Store in refrigerator.

Green de Menthe Cupcakes

Grease and flour 28 muffin cups (or line with paper baking cups). Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small saucepan, heat 1¼ cups milk and 4 ounces sweet baking chocolate, chopped, until chocolate is melted; set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, ¾ teaspoon baking powder and ½ teaspoon salt; set aside.

Beat ¾ cup room-temperature butter with an electric mixture for 30 seconds. Gradually add 1½ cups sugar, beating on medium speed until combined. Scrape down bowl and continue to beat for 2 minutes more, until light and fluffy. Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add 3 tablespoons green crème de menthe and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Alternately add flour mixture and chocolate mixture, beating on low speed after each addition, just until combined. Beat on medium-high speed for 20 seconds more.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each about ¾ full.

Bake for 20 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool on wire racks for five minutes; remove cupcakes from tins and cool completely on racks.

Frosting: In a 1-cup glass measuring cup, combine 2 tablespoons cold water and 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin. Let stand for 2 minutes. Place measuring cup in a saucepan of boiling water. Cook and stir about 1 minute or until gelatin is completely dissolved.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups whipping cream, ¼ cup sugar and 2 tablespoons green cream de menthe. Drizzle the warm gelatin mixture over the cream while beating constantly with an electric mixer on medium speed. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. Spread frosting onto tops of cupcake.

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