St. Patrick's Day is quickly approaching, a fine time to read a New York Times bestselling novel set in Ireland. Two recently out in paperback make quick reads. The first is from that maven of homespun Irish tales, Maeve Binchy, who passed away in 2012 just after finishing “A Week in Winter.” Binchy's final novel captures all the innocence and charm of her homeland. When Chicky Starr decides to take on the renovation of an old inn on Ireland's west coast, everyone thinks she is crazy. Helped by Rigger, a bad boy turned good, and her niece, Orla, who has the business brains, Stone House is finally open to welcome its first guests, a zany crew of characters whose problems find resolution in the sea air. Binchy's real life ability to sooth people's souls is affirmed in the many loving tributes posted by fans on her web page.
Also just out is “Dark Witch,” by that prolific New York Times bestselling author, Nora Roberts. This is the first in the Cousins O'Dwyer Trilogy set in County Mayo, Ireland. The novel starts in the winter of 1263 when the first Dark Witch, Sorcha, bestows her powers on her three children as she dies in mortal combat against Cabhan, an evil sorcerer. Hundreds of years later, Iona Sheehan comes to Ireland to meet her cousins, Branna and Connor, and learn about her ancestry. But her presence sets in motion an ancient evil that must be defeated. Roberts, whose family is of Irish heritage, has penned 209 novels, many set in Ireland. She also writes thrillers under the pseudonym J.D. Robb.
Corned beef makes the best leftovers. Use it in a variety of ways, including corned beef hash, grilled Reuben sandwiches, and the corned beef casserole featured here.
Corned Beef Casserole
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 slices rye bread or leftover Italian bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds cooked corned beef, shredded
2 1/2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon favorite all-purpose seasoning
Butter the bottom and sides of a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Place the bread cubes in the dish. Spread the corned beef and cheese over the bread cubes. In a bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, Dijon mustard, pepper and seasoning. Pour over the top. Press down slightly to make sure the bread cubes absorb the liquid. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.
Remove casserole from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Keep covered with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover; bake 10 minutes longer or until cooked through. Remove from oven and let stand for 5-10 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve with a salad and Irish soda bread. Source: adapted from Susan Selasky.