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March 16, 1995|MARION CUNNINGHAM

In case you are timid about cooking for friends, I have a great menu that even a 10-year-old could fix for a St. Patrick's Day celebration. It is the almost forgotten New England boiled dinner. Boiled corned beef is, of course, very fatty, but it has always been served in very thin slices surrounded by an abundance of boiled beets, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions, and whatever vegetables you may like, such as parsnips, turnips or rutabagas. This wonderful old American dinner makes a glorious presentation.

Serve a platter heaped with red beets, green cabbage, brown potatoes and any other earthy root vegetables. Also on the table should be cruets of vinegar to sprinkle over the cabbage, mustard pickles in cut-glass dishes, and a creamy mound of eye-watering horseradish. Also homemade bread and butter, a steamy pot of hot black coffee, and a pitcher of heavy cream to cover the warm Scotch apple pudding, the dessert that ends the meal.

And then there will be leftovers, sandwiches of corned beef, mustard and pickles. Red flannel hash is another splendid meal made of the boiled dinner leftovers (red beets chopped up with the corned beef, potatoes and onions, give the hash a reddish tint, hence the name "red flannel"). This glorious, wholesome farm dish is as nutritional as can be, as long as each helping of corned beef is served thin and judiciously.

Corned beef is available in all supermarkets. It comes with or without pickling spices, so you may do your own flavors if you want. The price is about $2.50 a pound, and each piece is around three to four pounds. I buy the spiced type and rinse half the spice off. The only step in preparation is to put the corned beef in a large kettle of water and let simmer about one hour to each pound.

St. Patrick's Day is tomorrow and corned beef and cabbage is the traditional feast. All you have to do is boil away and occasionally check vegetables for doneness.

*

The Scotch apple pudding is fitting as the dessert to serve with the New England boiled dinner, since it comes from the same general era. I have taken this recipe of the Scotch apple pudding from "The Toll House Cookbook," by Ruth Wakefield, published in 1930. She credits her grandmother with this recipe. Wakefield was the originator of the famous chocolate chip cookie, which she called chocolate crunch cookie. The only change I made with this delicious recipe was using brown sugar instead of white, and adding some walnuts.

NEW ENGLAND BOILED DINNER

4 pounds corned beef

8 large beets, tops and roots end trimmed and peeled

8 large boiling potatoes, peeled, or 8 of any vegetables such as turnips, parsnips, rutabagas.

8 medium or large carrots, peeled

8 whole yellow onions

1 large cabbage, cored and cut into eighths

Begin cooking about 4 hours before dinner. Rinse corned beef and place in large pot. Cover with water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until fork-tender, about 3 1/2 hours. When finished cooking, corned beef can sit in hot cooking water until serving.

In separate pans of boiling water, cook beets, potatoes and carrots until tender, ranging from 15 to 30 minutes. (Of course, New Englanders cooked boiled dinner in a big kettle hanging over a fire, so everything can be cooked together, but at least cook beets separately, so other vegetables are not dyed red.) Vegetables may also be cooked ahead and reheated just before serving. About 45 minutes before serving, add onions and cabbage to corned beef broth and cook until tender.

When ready to serve, remove meat from broth and slice thin on diagonal to grain. Place on platter with drained vegetables. Moisten slightly with meat broth.

Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains:

733 calories; 428 mg sodium; 122 mg cholesterol; 35 grams fat; 65 grams carbohydrates; 42 grams protein; 4.36 grams fiber.

SCOTCH PUDDING

4 large Pippin apples, peeled, cored and cut into 16 pieces

1 cup oats

3/4 cup light-brown sugar, packed

3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup butter

1 1/2 cups milk

Vanilla ice cream, or half and half

Arrange half of apple slices in buttered 10-inch round deep-dish pie pan.

In bowl, combine oats, brown sugar, walnuts, salt and cinnamon. Sprinkle half of oat mixture over apple slices. Dot top of apples with 2 tablespoons of butter. Arrange another layer of apple slices on top. Sprinkle with remaining oat mixture and butter. Pour milk over top as evenly as possible.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees until edges of pudding are brown and bubbly, about 45 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or half and half poured over top.

Makes 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

298 calories; 163 mg sodium; 19 mg cholesterol; 14 grams fat; 40 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.97 gram fiber.

* Simon Pearce round celadon platter from Fred Segal Zero Minus Plus, Santa Monica.

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