Irish potatoes and bacon
They say March 17 is a great day for the Irish, but what good is that to the Irish cook who's stuck in the kitchen while the guests are having all the fun?

This year, consider skipping the big meals usually associated with the holiday — corned beef and cabbage, shepherd's pie, Irish stew and the like — and try one of these easy-to-assemble, make-ahead dishes that focus on two of the most Irish of all ingredients, bacon and the humble spud.

A delicious, crustless potato torte includes bacon, cabbage and Irish cheddar. And a riff on a French tartiflette, a gratin generally made with reblochon cheese, substitutes Irish Swiss. Serve with a simple green salad, your favorite wine, or a frosty Smithwick's, and you'll be back to the party in no time flat.

For these recipes I recommend authentic Irish back bacon. Tommy Moloney's brand (; 800-431-6365) is best, but you can substitute lean Canadian bacon.

Likewise, for an authentic taste of Ireland, use Kerrygold Irish cheese and butter (, which is widely available in supermarkets. Imported Cashel Blue can be found in select gourmet shops or online from and

No need to go to the Emerald Isle for the spuds; our own Idaho potatoes fit the bill nicely.

Margaret M. Johnson is the author of six cookbooks, including the newly released "Tea & Crumpets" (Chronicle Books).

Cheddar-colcannon torte

Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 55 minutes
Makes: 8 servings

Mashed potatoes and buttery cabbage are the heart of colcannon, one of Ireland's most traditional dishes. This torte adds cheddar cheese and Irish bacon.

1/2 head Savoy cabbage, shredded

6 tablespoons butter

8 ounces center cut Irish bacon, diced

2 large Idaho potatoes, peeled, sliced 1/4-inch-thick

Freshly ground pepper to taste

7 ounces cheddar cheese, grated

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat a pot of water to a boil over high heat; add cabbage. Cook 2 minutes. Drain; place in a pan of cold water. Drain; transfer to paper towels. Pat dry; place in a large bowl. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon; cook until lightly browned, 4-5 minutes. Transfer the bacon with a slotted spoon to the cabbage; toss.