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Jeff Houck

The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.

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Of Salmon, Guinness Brownies and Sticky Toffee Pudding [Margaret Johnson Retools Irish Cuisine]

Posted Mar 17, 2010 by Jeff Houck

Updated Mar 17, 2010 at 12:49 PM

Margaret Johnson

I put a beer-soaked corned beef brisket with vegetables in the slow cooker this morning.

Yes, I know. Ho-hum. Same ol’ Irish dinner every year for St. Patrick’s.

But because of Margaret Johnson, I’ll be doing things a little more differently.

Tonight I’ll give Irish Soda Bread a shot for the first time. And I’ll be doing a tomato chutney to pair with some Kerrygold Dubliner cheese. And there might be some Black and Tan brownies made with Guinness.

That’s right. I said it. Beer brownies.

My image of Irish cuisine took a new direction after I had a chance to chat with Johnson, author of seven cookbooks. She visited Jacksonville, Tampa and Sarasota last week to do demonstrations at the Publix Apron’s Cooking Schools on behalf of Kerrygold butter and cheeses.

Johnson comes to Irish food honestly. Her grandparents and great-grandparents were 100 percent Irish American.

After she started to travel to Ireland in 1984, she began to observe that not much was being written positively about Irish food.

“So I thought that I would right this wrong,” she told me.

With a background in English and journalism teaching, “I could write and I could cook, so I thought I’d put the two together and have a nice little retirement job, which I do.”

Margaret Johnson

She started writing cookbooks in 1991 wit the first published in Dublin called “Ireland: Grand Places and Glorious Food.” Because the restaurant scene was a bit stunted back then, the book instead looked at how hotels and country houses were cooking with indigenous ingredients as lamb, pork and salmon.

“It was my attempt to show that there was more to Irish cooking than just overboiled meats,” she says.

Her second book was devoted to Irish spirits. Many of the chefs from the first book cooked with Bailey’s or whiskey or Guinness, including Beef and Guinness Stew. The Guinness has a sweet aftertaste that can often be overlooked.

Margaret Johnson

In Cooking Light magazine this month. Johnson and her family are featured in a 10-page spread.

In there is a recipe for Black and Tan Brownies which calls for Guinness to be added to the chocolate portion of the brownies.

“It’s delicious,” she says.

“Guinness and chocolate is quite a great combination,” she says. “You can steam mussels in Guinness. You can make a Guinness mousse. It’s deceptive because it has a sweetness to it.”

The problem with Irish-American cuisine is that it hasn’t evolved as the food in the home country has changed.

“The perception is of meats and stews, but Ireland is an island with fabulous, clean rivers and lakes with wonderful seafood,” she says.

When she first visited Ireland in 1984, her cousin didn’t have indoor plumbing. So refrigeration was out of the question. If you didn’t live near the water, you probably didn’t eat seafood.

“Now chefs are using what’s in the river next door in the next town,” Johnson says. “The better restaurants will have fishermen knock on their back door in the morning and say, ‘This is what I have today.’ The catch of the day is becoming a very big ingredient in their menus.”

Here are some of Johnson’s recipes, including the brownies from the March issue of Cooking Light.

Margaret Johnson


1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 pounds (6 to 7 medium) plum tomatoes, quartered
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup golden raisins
Freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, combine first 7 ingredients. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add remaining ingredients, reduce heat to simmer, and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until the mixture thickens. (As the tomato skins separate from the pulp, remove with a fork and discard.) Spoon the chutney into a clean jar or bowl, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. MAKES 2 CUPS

Black and Tan Brownies


Historically, the phrase “black and tan” referred to the much-reviled auxiliary force of English soldiers sent to Ireland to suppress the Irish rebels after the 1916 Easter Rising. Eventually, a much-loved drink made with half Guinness Stout and half Harp Lager assumed the name, and now this two-toned brownie (with the addition of Guinness) shares it.
Yield: 32 servings

Tan Brownies:
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Cooking spray

Black Brownies:
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup Guinness Stout
4.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Place one rack in lower third of oven; place another rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare Tan Brownies, place 6 tablespoons butter and brown sugar in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Weigh or lightly spoon 4.5 ounces (about 1 cup) flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine 4.5 ounces flour, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring well. Add flour mixture and pecans to sugar mixture, beating just until combined. Spoon into a 13 x 9–inch baking pan coated with cooking spray, spreading evenly with a knife or rubber spatula. Bake at 350° in lower third of oven for 15 minutes.

To prepare Black Brownies, melt chocolate and 4 tablespoons butter in a large microwave-safe bowl on HIGH for 1 minute or until melted, stirring after every 20 seconds until smooth. Add granulated sugar, stirring until well combined. Add 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and Guinness, stirring with a whisk until well combined. Weigh or lightly spoon 4.5 ounces (about 1 cup) flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine 4.5 ounces flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring well. Add flour mixture to chocolate mixture, stirring to combine. Pour mixture evenly over Tan Brownies.

Bake on the center rack at 350° for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out almost clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack; cut into squares

Margaret Johnson


Salmon, both fresh and oak-smoked, is probably Ireland’s most popular fish. Here it’s paired with a sauce made with fresh vegetables lightly seasoned with garlic and herb butter. Champ is a traditional potato dish made with spring onions or chives and served with a pool of melting butter, Kerrygold, of course, on top. (Source: “The New Irish Table.”)


8 medium potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup chopped chives
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 tablespoons Kerrygold Irish Butter (salted), softened

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 10 to 12 minutes, or until tender. Drain, return the pan to the stove to dry out a little, and then mash the potatoes. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk and chives for about 3 minutes, or until the chives are softened. Beat the milk mixture into the potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Keep warm while preparing the salmon. Reserve butter for topping. 


2 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 cup fish stock or bottled clam juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 small zucchini, chopped
4 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup packed baby spinach
4 salmon filets (about 5 ounces each), skin and pin bones removed
1 stick (3.5 ounces) Kerrygold Garlic & Herb Butter, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
Freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large non-reactive skillet, cook the white wine over medium heat until reduced by half. Add the fish stock, lemon juice, bay leaf, and vegetables. Place the salmon on top, cover, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the salmon is translucent. With a slotted spoon, transfer the salmon filets to a plate and keep warm. Stir in the butter, one piece at a time, until well blended. Season with pepper, and cook for about 1 minute to heat. To serve, place a salmon filet on a serving plate and spoon the sauce over. Serve a scoop of Champ with 1 tablespoon of the softened butter melting into the top.

Serves 4.

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