Imbolc is the time when sheep give birth, renewing the supply of milk. This holiday's foods emphasize dairy products. The meat of sheep and goats figures strongly. So does bread, and other grain products, often baked in honor of Brigid. Winter vegetables and preserved items provide side dishes. Featured colors are white, yellow or gold, and red. For background information and ritual ideas, see our main Imbolc page.
Ingredients: 2 pounds ground venison 1 can chicken broth 2 cups chicken stock 2-4 tomatillos 2 cans hominy 1/4 cup dried cilantro 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon ground cumin
Brown the venison. Scoop it into a large crock pot. Add 1 can chicken broth and 2 cups chicken stock. Turn crock pot on Low.
Remove the husks from the tomatillos. Rinse the tomatillos, then dice them. Add to the crock pot and stir.
Drain 2 cans hominy and add to the crock pot. Add 1/4 cup dried cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon cumin. Stir to combine.
Cook on Low for 4-7 hours. Tomatillos should be soft and translucent. Makes about 8 servings.
If you don’t have ground venison, this recipe also works fine with chopped venison or with venison stew meat. Other game meat such as elk should also work. It would probably be okay with lean beef, just not as robust.
Use whatever kind of cooking liquid you like; most flavors of broth or stock will work with this.
Tomatillos are Mexican green tomatoes in papery green husks that make them look like little Chinese lanterns. They range from the size of cherry tomatoes to slightly larger than a golf ball. If they’re tiny or have bad spots, you’ll need several; if they’re larger and firm, two should be enough.
Hominy is corn with the kernels puffed up and skin removed. It comes in yellow and white. Use whichever you prefer; I use white hominy. If you plan to cook the stew for a long time, you can wait and add the hominy about an hour before serving. It doesn’t need to cook, just needs to get hot. Also if you add the hominy later, you can include some of its liquid rather than draining all of it, if the stew looks too dry.
This recipe was originally published in The Wordsmith's Forge on 3/31/09, then revised for reprint 6/23/11.
Berry Sweet Dumplings
Filling: 3 cups of mixed berries 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 cup water 1/2 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
Dumplings: 1 1/8 cup Jiffy baking mix 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger 1/3 cup half-and-half
Put the berries in a medium bowl. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup sugar. Allow berries to macerate for 10-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Test flavor and add a little more sugar if necessary.
Pour berries into a small crock pot and turn it on High. Pour 1/2 cup water into the berry bowl and scrape the bottom with a spoon to release any stuck-on sugar and berry juice. Pour all that into the crock also. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon.
Cover the crock pot and allow berries to cook for 2 to 3 hours, until bubbling.
In a medium bowl, combine 1 1/8 cup Jiffy baking mix, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger. Add 1/3 cup half-and-half, then stir to form dough. Dumpling dough should be fairly stiff and slightly sweet; add a little more Jiffy mix or sugar if necessary.
Use a tablespoon to drop dumpling dough onto the surface of the bubbling berries. There should be enough dough for 7 dumplings: 6 in a ring and 1 in the center.
Cover the crock pot and cook for 15-20 minutes, until dumplings are done. They should be fluffy inside.
To serve, scoop out one or two dumplings into a bowl, then ladle some of the fruit and juice over the top.
The basic concept of this recipe should work with most types of berries and some other fruits as well. You might want to experiment with different spices.
Berries that have been frozen and then thawed will soften and release their juices more readily than fresh berries. If using fresh berries, you might need to mash them a bit, add a little more lemon juice and sugar, or add extra water.
This dessert goes well with homemade vanilla ice cream.
This recipe was originally published in The Wordsmith's Forge on 2/7/10, then revised for reprint 6/23/11.
2 pints plain yogurt ½ teaspoon salt
Mix the salt into the yogurt. Spoon the yogurt into a bag made of culinary muslin or cheesecloth. Hang the bag inside a pitcher and store it in the refrigerator while the whey drains out of the yogurt.
Labna is a yogurt cheese. It’s ready to eat when it thickens to the consistency of soft-spread cream cheese; this usually takes about 2 days.
Use only full-fat yogurt to make labna. The mesh captures and condenses the milkfat, so if there is little or no milkfat, it won’t work properly.
Adjust salt to taste. I added the minimum amount and it tasted almost too salty to me at first, but after thickening the flavor mellowed a lot. If you love salt, you may want to add more.
Traditionally, labna may be stored by rolling it into small balls and sealing it in a jar of olive oil.
This batch thickened substantially after about 6-8 hours. You could eat it early, although the flavor develops more character over time. It still tastes similar to yogurt, but also kind of like cream cheese. It’s a splendid bread spread.
This is a super-easy recipe to make! You might also try flavoring it with fruit or herbs.
This recipe was originally published in The Wordsmith's Forge on 8/3/08, then revised for reprint 6/23/11.
Pour the chicken stock into a crock pot and turn on Low.
Rinse the chicken and pat dry. (If there are giblets, remove them and save for some other purpose; they aren’t needed for this recipe.) Place the chicken into the crock pot, breast side up. Pour 1 tablespoon lemon juice over the chicken. Grind black pepper over the chicken. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon lemon thyme over the chicken.
Peel three carrots and cut each into 4-5 large chunks. Peel 1 onion and cut it into chunks. Add the vegetables to the crock pot. Tuck one cube of frozen ginger inside the chicken and arrange the others outside it. Cook on Low for about 3 hours.
Cook on Low for another 3-4 hours, until chicken is thoroughly done and carrots are tender when poked with a fork.
Serves 3-4 people.
If you don’t have chicken stock, a can of chicken broth – or even water and chicken boullion – would also work.
Freshly ground black pepper has more flavor than pre-ground does. Since this recipe doesn’t use a lot of spices, the extra flavor helps.
I used a moderate amount of vegetables because I wasn’t expecting a large crowd for supper. One onion is plenty but you could add more carrots.
Ginger root doesn’t last long in the refrigerator, so extra can be grated and frozen in an ice cube tray. It loses most of its heat but retains a nice gingery flavor.
Any lemon-flavored herb(s) should work in this recipe: lemon thyme, lemon balm, sorrel, lemongrass, etc. You may want to vary the amount based on the strength of the flavor. Fresh herbs also work, rather than dried. Another possibility would be to use lemon pepper.
This recipe resulted in chicken that fell apart when lifted from the crock pot, with a very mild flavor. The carrots picked up a spritely flavor from the ginger.
This recipe was originally published in The Wordsmith's Forge on 6/7/09, then revised for reprint 6/24/11.
Mashed Sweet Potatoes
about 2 cups of coarsely chopped, cooked sweet potatoes 1/4 cup light brown sugar 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 2 tablespoons butter, sliced into several pats 1/4 cup half-and-half
Put the sweet potato chunks into a microwave-safe bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup light brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Arrange butter pats over the surface.
Microwave for about 3 minutes. Stir, then microwave for another 3 minutes.
Add 1/4 cup half-and-half. Mash the sweet potatoes, stirring and scraping until they are evenly mixed.
I happened to have a bag of precooked sweet potato cubes, unseasoned. If you do not have precooked ones, you can boil 2-3 sweet potatoes until they are soft, then chunk them up and add the flavorings before mashing them. You could even boil a big batch of sweet potatoes, cube them, and freeze some of the cubes for quick-fix purposes later.
The spices are flexible. Most sweet spices go well with sweet potatoes: ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, etc. Pumpkin pie spice and apple pie spice are good blends. Use whatever you have and like.
I forgot to add salt to this recipe. Nobody noticed or cared. Next time I will probably add a pinch or two of salt, but if you want a totally sodium-free recipe then this one is apparently great for that.
This recipe was originally published in The Wordsmith's Forge on 2/28/10, then revised for reprint 6/23/11.
leftover lamb (about 1 to 1 1/2 lb. or 2-3 cups chopped) 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt freshly ground black pepper 1 small onion 1 to 1 1/2 cups frozen peas 1 package sliced Baby Bella mushrooms (about 2 cups) 2 cups beef stock 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 3 tablespoons corn starch 8 servings mashed potatoes
Preheat the oven to 275ºF. Spray a 9x12” casserole dish with cooking spray.
Chop the lamb into bite-sized pieces. Distribute the pieces evenly over the bottom of the casserole dish. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt. Take a pepper grinder and grind a generous amount of black pepper over the lamb.
Peel and dice 1 small onion. Distribute the onion bits evenly over the lamb layer. Then sprinkle on the frozen peas.
Distribute the sliced Baby Bella mushrooms over the vegetable layers.
In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups beef stock, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, and 3 tablespoons corn starch. Whisk until smooth. Carefully pour over the vegetables in the casserole dish. There should be enough liquid to cover most of the vegetables.
Put the casserole dish into the oven, on a middle rack, with a drip pan underneath it. Cook at 275ºF for 2 hours.
Shortly before the casserole comes out of the oven, prepare a batch of mashed potatoes. Then use a fork to drop small blobs of mashed potato into the casserole dish, until the whole surface is covered by a layer of fluffy mashed potatoes with little peaks.
Turn the oven up to 400 F. Raise the rack so the potatoes will be close enough to the top heating element to brown nicely. Put the casserole dish back into the oven, with a drip pan underneath it, and cook for another 30 minutes. When done, the gravy should be thick and the peaks of the mashed potatoes should be golden brown.
This is our version of a very old, very traditional “leftover” dish; my partner and I collaborated on this. That means the proportions are approximate; use what you have. You can swap out the vegetables if you want different ones, too.
Use leftover lamb for this recipe. Do not use raw lamb! If you don't have leftover lamb, you can use stew meat and brown it first, but you will also need to add more spices. I started with Egyptian spiced leg of lamb leftovers, so the seasoning in here is just a little extra salt and pepper to cover the vegetables. In fact, if you don't have lamb at all, you can substitute beef to create the related dish “Cottage Pie.”
It's okay to use leftover vegetables, including the mashed potatoes, for this dish if you have those. Adjust the amounts of the vegetables according to how much lamb you have. Other vegetables, such as mixed vegetables or carrots, may be added or substituted for the ones listed here. We tried to find things that both of us liked.
If you don't have fine sea salt, you can grind coarse sea salt, or just use plain table salt.
I didn't have a small onion, so I used half a medium onion. It doesn't take much for this recipe, maybe 1/4 to 1/2 cup. You just need enough to sprinkle over the lamb layer.
Baby Bella mushrooms, also called Crimini mushrooms, are immature portabellas. They have a darker, richer flavor than plain button mushrooms; this beautifully complements the lamb. If you can't find Baby Bellas, get big portabellas and chop or slice them. Plain button mushrooms would also work. It's okay to buy whole mushrooms and slice them, but don't leave them whole or in halves; they need to be sliced to combine with the other ingredients.
I used beef stock for this recipe because I didn't have lamb stock. If you have lamb stock, use that.
You can use instant mashed potatoes, as I did because my partner prefers their texture; or you can boil and mash some potatoes (1 1/2 to 2 lbs). The amount of mashed potatoes is somewhat flexible. Ideally, you should have enough to make a layer between 1/2” and 1” deep. The “serving size” varies depending on what recipe you use, but you should make at least one serving for each person. For the first version I made 4 servings of instant mashed potatoes, which was barely enough for a thin layer; this time I made 8, which was much better.
This recipe was well received by my human guinea pigs.
Shepherd's Pie is a straightforward dish to assemble, but it does involve a substantial amount of time. You may want to consider it feast food, or maybe post-feast comfort food.
This recipe was originally published in The Wordsmith's Forge on 1/11/10, then revised for reprint 6/23/11.