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It’s the time of year again, when I find myself shouting about the star factor of luscious lamb from thatched cottage rooftops and castle ruins. The good news is that my friends at Lamb – Tasty, Easy, Fun have given me a few lovely lamb recipes to try out like they graciously did last summer as well.

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For me, not much else beats the flavour of lamb. Whether in a traditional stew or combined with exotic spices and flavours, lamb is the perfect hero ingredient for everyday meals, whether you’re flying solo or cooking for family or friends.

Lamb is super quick and simple to prepare and can be easily transformed for a variety of ethnic cuisines. Versatility baby! From Moroccan lamb tangines (umm, helllooo!) to spicy lamb quesadillas from Mexico; Ceylon lamb curry from Sri Lanka (chomptastic) to Japanese style lamb yakitori (drool), and not least forgetting delicious lamb burgers and kebabs perfect for al fresco dining over the summer – there is something to suit all tastes and every meal occasion.

Give your everyday meals an exciting twist and check out Lamb – Tasty, Easy, Fun  www.tastyeasylamb.ie for recipe inspiration.

For the first of two lamb recipes I will be posting this month, I have prepared a simple, but incredibly divine, lamb + avocado crostini. Aka, avocado toast with gorgeous spicy grilled lamb.

Crostini with Spiced Lamb & Avocado
Preparation and cooking time: 20 minutes.
Ingredients for 12 pieces:
150 g lamb stir-fry strips or leg steaks cut into strips
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 level tsp ground cumin
1 level tsp ground coriander
1⁄2 tsp chilli powder
1 ciabatta loaf
1 ripe avocado
1 lime
salt and pepper
fresh chopped coriander
Method
In a medium size bowl mix together 2 tbsp. olive oil, the cumin, ground coriander and chilli powder. Add in the lamb and stir to coat the lamb with the spice mixture. Then cover and leave to rest at room temperature.
Cut the ciabatta into 12 medium diagonal slices. Lightly coat with olive oil on both sides. Toast under the grill or on a grill pan.
Mash the flesh of the avocado with a fork and add the lime juice (quantity depending on your taste) until it reaches a creamy consistency. Season to taste.
Heat a frying pan and add the meat. Brown the meat on a high heat and season to taste.
Spread the avocado cream on the toasted ciabatta, then add the meat on top and finish witha scattering of the chopped coriander.
Serve as a canapé.
Tip: You can grill the bread in advance as it does not need to be hot. However, you should wait to garnish it until the last minute so it remains crisp.

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Slan Abhaile,
Imen

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Blimey. It’s been ages since I last wrote.

Wait a minute, can I even say Blimey?

How about Crikey? Have I been here long enough to warrant the use of such wackadoodle colloquialisms? I realise we are in Ireland, not England (or Australia for that matter), but folks here are constantly uttering the likes of blimey, and crikey and other funny expletives that I never, EVER would have imagined spewing out of my own mouth like I do now. I also say things like GARE-EDGE (Garage) and toilet instead of bathroom (Ewwww) too.

God help me.

Lo and behold, it looks like my last post was a potato post too. Sorry. But, this is Ireland, right? Spuds are a staple. Plus, since it’s time to dig up some new season potatoes, so why not slice them up and make a pizza out of them while you’re at it? I knew you’d agree.

So, Potato.ie and Lovepotatoes.co.uk are doing a fun campaign called Potatoes: More Than A Bit On the Side, and they reached out to ask if I’d want to develop a recipe for it. Clearly, they did not realise that I am essentially the Potato Queen of Kilcolman.

It went like this…

#TastyPotatoes: Hi Imen, want to do a potato recipe for us?

Me: (3 cartwheels and a herkie later) Are you kidding, I’d love to! I love spuds!

#TastyPotatoes: Great, thanks!

Me: I’ll be perfect, I even have a whole chapter in my book dedicated to the art of potatoes, I loooove potato pancakes, lefse, latkes, potato bread……

#TastyPotatoes: Fantastic, thank you!

Me: Did I tell you how much I love potatoes?! (round-off into the splits)

#TastyPotatoes: Okay, we will be back in touch.

Me: Omg wait! potato pizza!!!

#TastyPotatoes: Talk soon.

Me: …..Roasted potatoes………colcannon…..tatties….ahhhhh (back flip, Can-Can)

Here’s what I came up with: a recipe inspired by an unforgettable pizza with a layered potato “crust” we experienced at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York last year that Geoffrey has been begging me to try and recreate in our kitchen ever since. We improvised on how to create the crust and you can go crazy with any combination of toppings, we love this little mash-up, and looking forward to our next experiment too.

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I hope you will love it as much as we do!

Potato Crusted Pizza with Gruyère, Carmelised Onion, Rosemary & Thyme
Serves 4-6
The potato crust is the star of this crispy, savoury pizza that is super easy to prepare, gluten-free and delicious.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 1 (12-inch) pizza

Ingredients:
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 pounds waxy, round potatoes (about 4 medium), scrubbed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
40ml beef, chicken or vegetable broth
250g gruyere cheese, shredded
125g prepared caramelised onions (here’s a great technique)
Sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme

Method
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C.

In a small bowl, stir together the salt, pepper, and cornstarch; set aside.

Using a food processor or mandoline, slice potatoes very thinly and place them in a large mixing bowl.

Sprinkle half of the cornstarch mixture over the potato slices; toss the potatoes, then sprinkle them with the remaining cornstarch mixture, and toss again.

Brush 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over a 12-inch round pizza pan or pizza stone covered with parchment paper.

Layer the potatoes, overlapping the slices in concentric circles. Sprinkle the potatoes with the broth, brush them with the remaining oil, then press the potatoes down firmly with your clean hands to compact them into a crust.

Move the oven rack to its lowest position, and bake the potato crust for 20 to 30 minutes or until edges are browned and potatoes are tender.

Remove the potato crust from the oven and spread the carmelised onions, gruyere and herbs over the potatoes.  Return the pizza to the oven for another 10 minutes, or until cheese is softened and the pizza is heated through.  Remove from the oven and cut into wedges and devour.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

 

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Boxty

28 Feb 2017

Boxty

Boxty on the griddle
Boxty in the pan
If you can’t make Boxty
You’ll never get a man

That is a traditional Irish rhyme that would NOT go over well in 2017, but it’s Pancake Tuesday and I’m in the mood for a savoury griddle cake so I guess I’ll let it slide.

Boxty, occasionally spelled “boxdy,” is basically a potato cake, eaten mostly in the north of Ireland, especially in counties Cavan, Fermanagh, Derry, and Tyrone. Boxty vies with champ and colcannon as Ireland’s best-known potato dish. It may have originated in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when potato harvests began to fail, as a way of using poor-quality potatoes that were deemed useless for boiling. The potato pulp was shaped into cakes and baked on heated flagstones or a griddle.

This potato cake would have been considered an indulgent dish, and here boxty is a bit of a delicacy on the farm simply because it takes some time to prepare. Serve it on a cold winter evening; it’s wonderful with a bit of homemade crème fraîche and preserved apple sauce from the orchard.

Boxty
Serves 4
6 medium potatoes
1⁄4 cup white AP flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon butter (or sunflower oil)
Fresh herbs, chopped, for garnish

Peel the potatoes. Line a colander with cheesecloth and place over a large mixing bowl. Using a box grater, grate the potatoes into the colander. Gather the corners of the cheesecloth together and squeeze the liquid from the potatoes into the bowl. Put the dry grated potato in another bowl and discard the liquid.

Add the flour and salt to the grated potato and mix gently.

Melt the butter in a heavy iron pan, and pour in the potato mixture to make an even layer, about 3⁄4 to 1 inch thick. Cook over medium heat until nicely brown on one side, about 15 minutes; flip and cook on the other side for another 15 minutes, or until brown. It’s much better to cook the boxty slowly than too fast. It should be crisp and golden on the outside and cooked through on the inside.

Remove from the heat, cut into quarters, and serve.

Scullery Notes: Boxty may be eaten hot or cold and may even be reheated. Top with crème fraîche and applesauce, if you like.

Slan Abhaile,
Imen

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“Food blogging can be a really powerful vehicle for storytelling. And, storytelling is how we make meaning. We can cultivate empathy through story. And, we really need that right now.”

Those are the sage words of Kimberley Hasselbrink from A Year In Food. Kimberley is an incredible cook, author, and photographer whom I have always admired greatly. Now she has created a brilliant advocacy group made up of food bloggers + writers called Food Community Creative Activism in response to the politics currently happening in America, and has now risen to the ranks of sainthood in my book.

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When Kimberley asked round to see if food bloggers globally would be interested in sharing an immigrant story or a recipe from one of the seven countries listed on the immigration ban recently ordered by President Trump, heaps of us signed up without hesitation.

I realize this is not the sort of topic that I typically share, but I feel it is important as prejudice is something that is very familiar to me, and while I know the safety and security of the USA is crucial, I also think that the decision to put such an order through was done so without thinking about how complex the system is, and how many people and institutions could be affected by such a ban. It now looks like the ban has been lifted by many trial judges in the USA, but it will go to the Supreme Court today for a final decision. Here’s hoping the ruling will be fair and just.

Before I landed in the multicultural cities of Minneapolis, Los Angeles or New York, my life was very different. I was raised in a quiet Midwestern town on the sandy shorelines of Lake Michigan and educated in public schools from elementary through high school in an environment where there was not a whole lot of diversity at the time; the area was largely originally settled by people of eastern/western Europe and Scandinavian descent.

Adopted as an infant, my ancestry is half North African, my birth father being a 1st generation immigrant. My complexion favors this side, which made me one of those people who looked “different” in our locale. I was generally accepted, but also experienced a constant undercurrent of prejudice. These experiences strongly colored my wellbeing growing up, and ever since that period in my life I just can’t bear narrow-mindedness and inequality. And, if there is one thing I know for sure, it is that my heart will always be always filled with empathy for people who are victims of bigotry and bias based on their skin tone or religious beliefs.

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For my #immigrantfoodstories post, I am choosing to share Sharba Libiya. Sharba Libiya or Libyan Soup is Libya’s national dish; equally popular in all regions and in a spoonful sums up all of the absolutely stunning flavours that dominate Libyan cuisine.  This soup is made almost everyday during the fasting month of Ramadan. There are versions that employ chicken or fish, but this is the recipe for classic Sharba Libiya with lamb and dried mint. You can omit the whole spices and still produce a delicious soup, but this is a recipe where more truly is more. I slow-roasted a leg of lamb with a rub of the basic ingredients to use in the stew instead of cooking it in the soup as we have a vegetarian leaning eater in the house, and the soup is sensational without the meat as well.

Sharba Libiya شربة ليبية
Serves 4-6
Ingredients
2 tbsp olive oil
150 grams boneless trimmed lamb
1 onion finely chopped
1 tomato
½ bunch parsley
¼ bunch coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp allspice
Salt and black pepper
A few whole cardamoms, 2 bay leaves and a stick of cinnamon
½ cup orzo
3 tbsps tomato paste
2 tbsps dried mint
6 cups water
lemon slices
Method
Peel and chop tomato finely, chop parsley and coriander finely.
Sauté onion, meat, spices and whole spices (cardamom, bay leaves, cinnamon) in oil for a 3-5 minutes. (the fragrance is beguiling!)
Add tomato and half the amount of fresh herbs and season with salt and pepper, cook covered till tomato is pulpy.
Add tomato paste and a cup of water and cook till meat is tender.
Add remaining water, fresh herbs and orzo and cook till orzo is done. Adjust seasoning.
Add dried mint and serve with slices of lemon.

Scullery Notes: I added an extra 450g tin of chopped tomatoes. It added a bit more zest and made it more stew-like, but it is not necessary and not traditional! Some recipes call for chickpeas, which I have tried and love as well. I topped the soup with fresh mint and lemon zest this time and it was fantastic, but again not traditional! Also, I will often add chopped kale to the soup after the first day of serving (gotta get those greens in!) Start with the basic recipe and have fun from there. 

Here are links to some other blogger friends who posted #immigrantfoodstories

Eat this Poem- Warm Potato Salad with Yogurt Vinaigrette and Lots of Herbs

Honestly Yum- Lu Dan (soy eggs)

Kale & Caramel- Fatteh with Cumin Chickpeas and Tahini Yoghurt

The Year in Food- Winter Squash Fritters

Full-filled- Lahanodolmades- Greel Cabbage Rolls with Avgolemono Sauce

Floating Kitchen- Eetch/Mock Kheyma (Armenian Bulgur, Parsley and Tomato Salad)

Brooklyn Supper- Spelt Crust Apple Pandowdy

Crepes of Wrath- Szarlotka (Polish apple pie)

Slan Abhaile,

Imen McDonnell

 

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Fine Fettle Farm

06 Jan 2017

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January 12, 2017

These last few weeks, I have found myself looking back on my time in Ireland, life on the farm, my relationships with family, friends and food over the years. I’ve always said that I came to this country too early; that I wasn’t ready for full-time Irish farm living, but who would be? By now I’ve probably warn out my welcome, but, hey, I’m not going anywhere.

It was a circuitous road that led me to life in the Irish countryside, but as the years go on, it seems clear that I was perhaps always meant to live with my feet a little closer to the ground, more connected to the land, to grow and nurture and harvest and forage the fruits of the earth like I would a baby, to simply be more present and mindful because that is what truly makes me feel alive.

Don’t get me wrong. City life replete with the convenience of an endless array of drinking holes and restaurants, the seminal scullery of Whole Foods Markets, theatre, music, museums, and body contorting yoga classes on every corner will always be a craving, but I’ve never appreciated all those things more than I do now when it is an occasional occurrence, a half a world away.  #That’s how to feel gratitude. 

Rural living can be very isolating, and as well meaning and loving as my husband is, the growth of the family farm has forced him to not be as present here as he wished he could be over the years. Especially when we first moved into our country home. This blog and all that it has manifested was born out of that solitude. Out of all the changes and adjustments to my life in Ireland, I gotta say that the bits that have been most challenging have been becoming a mother in a foreign country and creating a new vision of my “life’s work” without a social element; without family and friends from America nearby to show me the ropes, provide pep talks and high-fives. (Waaaahhhhh, but thank goodness for social media!) While Richard wholeheartedly supports all of my ideas, it’s been up to me to navigate, put myself out there, carve out a niche for myself, and just get things done. Thank goodness necessity is the mother of invention.  #That’s how to feel pride.

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So, here I am working on an exciting new beginning again. Starting another evolution in farm life from scratch. #That’s how to feel scared and invigorated (and crazy) at once.

Now that Geoffrey is older, he and I can both spend more time on the home farm working. But, we will also start working the land for other projects, and we have an extra special new endeavour to embark upon which needs us. And, it also needs more people than us. And, since we are both people persons, this project means we get to invite people over to play. Whooopppppeeeee! #That’s how to feel JOY.

If you’ve been following along with this blog, you may remember a post awhile back where I described a charming little farmstead which is a part of our farm. It was purchased primarily for the land a few years ago and is a listed period property that includes a thatched cottage and a few small stone outbuildings. To others, she is NOT pretty at the moment. But, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I think she is just divine. Her thatched roof has caved in and the buildings are crumbling, but there is so much soul in this farm.  The townland is called Graigoor, which translates to “the hamlet” in English. Which perfectly suits because it feels like a sweet little settlement when you walk through the gate to see the cottage with a Shamrock over the door, tiny stone sheds, and small parcels of land strung together in the back. #This is reverence

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I’m calling her #Fine Fettle Farm, because being there makes me feel good. (To understand the meaning of the term “fine fettle” read this story) Sure, this is not a totally new concept for me, but, now is the EXACT right time that I should be doing it. It will be a HUGE undertaking. But, I just can’t let it go. It’s calling me. This work is all about feeling alive and connected. Growing food has become one of the most unexpectedly rewarding experiences of my life. I feel completely exhilarated and in my element while sowing, weeding, harvesting, cooking, sharing the bounty, and just plain getting dirty. It is truly a gift.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Graigoor and have been looking into restoration ever since the very first time I first stepped foot in those lovely lush fields crowded by trees dripping in strands of ivy.  After my dear mother-in-law passed away, I got notice that I had been approved for a small amount of funding to begin the restoration process. But, it just wasn’t the right time to dive into such an undertaking when there were so many other changes afoot on the home farm. Now the time is nigh, and I am working with the local Rural Development Programme to hopefully secure more substantial assistance to get my idea off into the ground. Either way (with or without financial assistance) I am taking it forward. #This is how to feel determined 

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The restoration of the cottage and buildings is just a portion of the main objective, which is to develop a thriving CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programme that will serve those who cannot grow their own and want to partner with a farmer for fresh weekly produce. In addition to growing vegetables, fruits, and herbs, we will offer subscriptions for honey, raw milk, cheese, yoghurt, and foraged edibles such as wild garlic, mushrooms, sloes, blackberries, elderberries, rosehips and whatever else the season and our hedgerows bring. Fine Fettle Farm will operate with the generous help of volunteers and part of the proceeds from each CSA box will go to a revolving charity.

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A secondary goal of Fine Fettle Farm is that it will be a place to maintain physical and mental health while focusing on eating clean, seasonal foods grown and harvested on the farm. All who come to volunteer will be fed nourishing meals and accommodations will be provided if necessary. My hope is that city dwellers from here and abroad will come to lend a hand and experience a bit of bucolic rejuvenation as well. Eventually I’d love to offer workshops and events around food and wellness, but that will be after the buildings have been restored to their former glory and we’re up and running strong.

Wish us luck.

And, please message me if you’d like to get on the volunteer roster. We can’t do this alone!

In Gratitude,

Imen & Geoffrey McDonnell

 

 

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Holiday 2016

22 Nov 2016

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Given the state of things, I’ve decided to make a fist of it and dive straight right into holiday mode. Can you hear those jingle bells a-jangling? Me either, but we are going to get there people! For the first time ever, I am going to offer one of those clever little gift guides that I say I am going to do every year and never get around to actually putting together….nothing too elaborate, just a few of my favourite things from Ireland and abroad that might make terrific holiday pressies and put smiles on the faces of those you love. Because we could all do with some smiley faces, right? So, fix yourself a cup of tea (or, something a little stronger) and have a lovely little browse. I will have an exciting update on our #ShePlantedASeed project on my next post.

Of course, at the top of the list is a personalised & signed copy of my book, The Farmette Cookbook, Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm, I mean I have to take this opportunity for a bit of shameless self-promotion, right? But, I have SO many other goodies to share, none of which are sponsored (but, there is nothing wrong with sponsoring a brand that you love!) and all of which are honest suggestions that I have tried myself and highly recommend. For those that know me, I can get a wee bit carried away about new products and bits that I cherish, but it always comes from the heart, promise!

So without further ado,

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The Farmette Cookbook Recipes and Adventures from my Life on an Irish Farm. Signed by yours truly. Add on a fabulous Modern Farmette Butter-Making Kit or DIY Cheesemaking Kit if you fancy, for a total 50 euros + shipping. Email me: imenmcdonnell@gmail.com for ordering details.

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What a few amazing ladies had to say about my book (Well, I’ll be!)…..

“A joyful celebration of life on an Irish farm.  A super, chic book written with the appreciative eye of an outsider who reminds us of the sheer pleasure of living on a dairy farm. Rearing a few table fowl, planting a vegetable garden and an orchard, rediscovering the satisfaction of using home-grown Irish produce to make truly delicious and creative food for family and friends.”—Darina Allen

“Imen takes traditional Irish cooking to the next level with her American curiosity and ingenuity. She weaves big city cravings, like potstickers, tacos, banh mi, harissa, pizza, and more, with traditional comfort food made from scratch. Imen’s brave leap of faith and love is a boon for the rest of us: we now have this charming book full of stories and recipes I can’t wait to make.”—Susan Spungen, founding food editor of Martha Stewart Living

“There is magic in Imen McDonnell’s new book, and in her story. Her dedication to uncovering Ireland’s rich food culture and cultivating her own shines through. You’ll want to dive right in, start cooking, and build your own fairy tale.”—Sarah Copeland, author of Feast and former Food Director, Real Simple Magazine

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Reclaimed Iron Cooking Tripod.

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Reclaimed Iron Cooking Tripod crafted here at the farm. 4 ft – 6ft (adjustable) sizes. Ireland delivery only. 100 euros. Email imenmcdonnell@gmail.com for ordering details. (photo credit: Doreen Kilfeather)

  • Sturdy three leg design for stability
  • “S” hook with chain for adjustable height. 
  • Heavy duty reclaimed iron construction
  • Holds Dutch ovens, coffee pots, tea pots, etc
  • Works well to hang lanterns, water Jugs etc too
  • Perfect for hanging Dutch ovens, tea pots, coffee pots ect. over a cooking fire

 

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Honestly ladies, these are like the UGGS of Wellie boots. The AIGLE Juliette. Super hard wearing and immensely comfortable. I could seriously wear these all day, in the house and on the farm, they literally feel like slippers! For ages my friend Ella McSweeney of Ear To The Ground urged me to buy AIGLE boots, and I just finally took the plunge before our last Lens & Larder event at Ballyfin. They also have tall boots and loads of other styles to choose from, so I am kitting out the boys with AIGLES for Christmas too!

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Orwell & Browne Donegal Tweed Dickie Bows and Notebooks. I got hooked on this brand a couple of years ago, and now I have everyone who comes within a two mile radius of the farm adorned with tweed bow ties. Exceptional quality and super lovely folks behind the brand. Also, apparently they ship free everywhere in the world!

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America Village Apothecary. Don’t let the name fool you, this brand is 100% Irish. My friend and frequent collaborator, Claire Davey, lives in a place called America Village, County Galway, Ireland. She makes unique syrups, tinctures and bitters for creating craft beverages or for use with food using unique locally foraged flavours, carefully sourced ingredients, paying attention to every last detail. I recently tried Claire’s tonic syrup, must admit that adding another step to my gin and tonic seemed rather inconvenient in theory, but after stirring up this elixir, I will never go back to store-bought tonics! Wow, what a flavour sensation and just pure, true beauty in a bottle. (and, you can pair it with some of my other gift guide suggestions below)

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holiday-9Bertha’s Revenge Gin. A gin distilled with milk whey named after Ireland’s oldest Kerry cow. Say no more. (other than the fact that the lads who started this brand are absolutely the salt of the earth, gorgeous souls inside and out) The gin is extremely botanical, and not in the usual juniper/pine sense, totally refreshing and completely festive.

 

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Pippa Holt Kaftans. I met the gorgeous Pippa Holt (Roche) last month, a fellow blow-in–from Australia–with a personality as sunny as the South Pacific and an absolute heart of gold. She’s created a line of crazy beautiful kaftans with more to be launched in NYC in spring 2017. Keep your eye on this inspiring woman and her stunning summery pieces!

 

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Some of my favourite food books this year…..

 

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Row 1: The Short Stack Cookbook by Nick Fauchald, Kaitlyn Goolen, and the Short Stack Editions Contributors. French Country Cooking by Mimi Thorisson. Fruit on the Table by Theresa Storey. Row 2: Molly on the Range by Molly Yeh. Recipes From My Mother by Rachel Allen. Small Victories by Julia Turshen. Row 3: EAT. LIVE. GO. by Donal Skehan. Treyf by Elissa Altman. Fishwives by Goatsbridge. Row 4: The Vanilla Bean Baking Book by Sarah Keiffer. The New Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg . My French Family Table by Beatrice Peltre.

 

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Arran Street East. Simple, functional and beautiful design for your home. Made by hand in the heart of Dublin. In that sea of ceramics on the scene, these pieces are speaking to me the most.  Check out their story and their stunning wares here.

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Seedlip.

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This might be THEE most exciting thing to happen to spirits in my lifetime! I can’t tell you enough how much I adore this incredibly innovative brand which is single-handedly solving the forever dilemma: “what do drink when you’re not drinking.” Seedlip is the world’s first alcohol free distilled spirit. Whoopee! Seriously, the flavour profile is so unique and enticing. My favourite is the Wood-Spice-Citrus which is all earthy and aromatic with notes of allspice, cardamon, grapefruit, oak and lemon. Seedlip is sugar free, sweetener free, has no calories or artificial flavours. Do you need anymore convincing? Wowsers.

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Easy & Oskey DIY Naked Bitters. Bitters in their birthday suit. Let inspiration be your guide as you create your very own flavor masterpiece. Fig, apricot, hops, toasted sesame, allspice, bacon, or any combination your palate longs for…there is simply no limit. I got to collaborate with Erik Eastman one half of Easy & Oskey for one of my book launch events over the summer, totally lovely fella who crafted some downright incredible cocktails using these bitters.

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Created + Found

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My friend Jette Virdi’s exciting new adventure. Jette, a Ballymaloe trained chef and food stylist, has launched a new  online boutique stocked with gorgeous kitchen goods and sundries all hand-crafted in Ireland. Have a look!  Wheeeeee!

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Hedley & Bennett

I don’t think I have ever come across someone with as much enthusiasm and verve for her brand as Ellen Bennett. Ellen, who has been known to fly through the air to announce the arrival of a new apron design, is such a peach in this business of food. Not only does her personality want to make you buy aprons for days, but all of the chef gear is beautiful, well-made and durable, just ask some of America’s top chefs. Whoop whoop Hedley & Bennett!!!

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Heritage Cured Irish Ham

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James Whelan Butchers signature heritage cure Irish ham is truly delicious. Cured on the bone, it has a distinctive flavour with a hint of smoky hickory undertones. This ham is ideal for carving and brings ham to a whole new level. Particularly low in salt, with the bone bringing a certain sweetness to the meat. My longtime friend Pat Whelan is the man behind this award-winning butcher shop which offers online ordering and delivery throughout Ireland and if we are not rearing our own meat for the holidays, he is our go-to supplier.

And, last, but not least…..

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EXPERIENCES.
I want to share some of my favourite things to do in Ireland at the moment, whether it be a place to stay,  shop, eat, an event, workshop, an outdoor pursuit or even a place of worship….as I have always said, there is so much more to Ireland than a pint of Guinness!

Litfest.

Food On The Edge.

Lens & Larder.

The Glucksman for I Went Into the Woods or Gut Instinct.

Cliff of Moher Retreat.

Ballyhoura Trail Riding.

Dzogchen Beara Zen Buddhist Centre.

Glenstal Abbey Conventional Mass. (complete with massive incense & Gregorian chants sung by a choir of monks)

The new and improved 7* Adare Manor (I got a sneak peak and WHOAAAAA! re-opening spring 2017)

Ballyfin Demesne (just named the best hotel in the world by Condé Nast, and just an incredibly warm, private, beautiful place to stay, I recently produced an event there which I will share about soon)

For another taste of Ireland, my friends at Perennial Plate are releasing a series of stunning short films on Irish food and the people and places behind it.

Só Collective.

Forest & Marcy

Heron & Grey

La Cucina Centro (Henry Street, Limerick)

The Mews (closed until spring 2017)

Two Boys Brew

1826 Adare

For Irish New Yorkers, stay tuned for the next Fare Plate spring 2017

There are so many more bits and bobs that I would like to mention, and I may continue in a future post (also, if you feel I have missed something, please do share in the comments below), but for now I hope you enjoyed this little slice of gift giving ideas!

Hope & peace to all.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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She Planted A Seed

15 Nov 2016

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She planted a seed.

And, it will grow.

If you are like me, you may have spent the last week trying to make sense of how America elected someone like Donald Trump to its highest office. He was not elected to mayor, not appointed to be an aide or a local ombudsman (no offense to any those positions). He was elected to the presidency of the United States of America, arguably the most powerful country in the free world.

This was a candidate with a reality show resumé and a mouth as raunchy as a 1980’s high school locker room after football practice on a Tuesday night. This is a grown man who mocked a disabled person at a campaign event. And, this is now a president who has the KKK staging rallies of celebration for his triumph. We are living in scary times people. Batten down the hatches.

Even if you didn’t care for Hillary, the truth is, she has spent her entire adult life fighting for human rights, and was the most qualified person for the job on that ballot. She should have won. Yes, she was victorious with the popular vote, and I’m not gonna downplay how much solace I take in this. (to the tractor drivers on the our country roads: No, that bumper sticker is not coming off anytime soon!), but unless something changes, I don’t have the Madame President I was hoping for, and whom we were led to believe by the media would be shattering that glass ceiling in New York’s Javits Center last Tuesday night.

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But, back to trying to make sense of things. Trying to assess feelings. I’ve been on a rollercoaster of emotions, frankly. Worse than any hormone jag I’ve ever experienced. Firstly, this really does bite. Like when someone you love dies and there is nothing you can do about it except accept it as fact, grieve your loss, and gradually go on with your life. I am grieving. I can’t cook or bake and have no appetite, which, as I try to squeeze into my denims from last winter, would customarily be welcomed. My son and my Irish family and friends want answers that I do not have. They are absolutely stunned too. For Ireland, as with many countries in the world, America symbolises greatness and garners a great deal of respect–in large part due to its cultural diversity. It is a country that is stronger together. Even though I do not currently live in the USA, I am a proud dual citizen of America and Ireland. I have voted in every US election since moving to Ireland, and we still spend a fair bit of time in the states. Our son also has dual citizenship. I love my home country. And, I am heartbroken over the outcome of the election.

I’ve been trying to distract myself with everything from taking more time to work the fields of the farm, to going completely mad and trying out extreme sports  (hilarious, but highly recommended!)

Despite my anguish, I still feel uplifted by Hillary’s hard-fought, very significant campaign. It was not for nothing! I also feel strengthened and inspired to #liveuptomygodgivenpotential, and spurred on by the powerful words of her concession speech,

“Because, you know, I believe we are stronger together and we will go forward together. And you should never, ever regret fighting for that. You know, scripture tells us, let us not grow weary of doing good, for in good season we shall reap. My friends, let us have faith in each other, let us not grow weary and lose heart, for there are more seasons to come and there is more work to do.”

There IS more work to do. We must pick ourselves up. Which is why I have decided today, that I will plant a massive victory garden* in Hillary’s honour. Growing food gives me tremendous pleasure, beats any anti-anxiety remedy by a longshot, and takes me out of my head. I’m not a master like my friend Dermot, but I do have a bit of a green finger. The best bit is that when you sow a seed, watch it grow, and then harvest your abundance, it is an act of compassion that never fails to provide hope, joy, and wellness in your life.

So, together with my family we are breaking ground on a ½ acre allotment on the farm and planting seeds this week. I’m calling it my Hillary Garden. Never mind that it’s not the season for planting, there are plenty of overwintering vegetables with our name on them (along with a few flower bulbs too). We’ve got work to do and we will build on what we already have, and grow more and more.

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Will you join me and #growitforward by planting your own seeds (even sprout or herb seeds on your window sill!)? Or, by leaving your name below and we will plant a seed for you in Ireland? (you are welcome to come visit anytime and do some weeding  too!) As the weeks, months and seasons go on, I will be documenting and sharing our progress on this blog and on social media, and hope you will too. If we all use the hashtag #sheplantedaseed #growitforward #hillarygardenwe can see and support eachother’s growth.

She planted a seed.

And, we will harvest it.

Because when they go low,

We GROW.

*Victory gardens were vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens planted at private residences and public parks in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Germany during World War I and World War II. Besides indirectly aiding the war effort, these gardens were also considered a civilmorale booster” in that gardeners could feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

 

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Orchard Jam Doughnuts

03 Sep 2016

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During the summer of 2012, Geoffrey and I decided to open our own farm stand. We made jam doughnuts in the morning and sold them with ice cold, cream-topped raw milk at the farm gate on the days that we knew the sun was going to make an appearance. We used Peggy’s gooseberry jam recipe to fill the doughnuts and they were a great success, though our best customer was a generous chap named “Daddy.”

doughnutFor many years, if we wanted a doughnut in Ireland, the best I could do was grab something jam-filled from a gas station, a fact that led to many artisan doughnut binges on summer visits stateside that involved old-fashioned cake style or yeasted and raised ring doughnuts, glazed with everything from cherry bark to bacon grease. Not recommended as a happy medium, I must admit! In the past year a few proper doughnut shops have opened up in Ireland which are worthy of a visit: Offbeat Donuts, Krust Bakery, Rolling Donut, Dublin Doughnut Co, Aungier Danger & Funky Donut Co.  (Feel free to share more in the comments section!)

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Geoffrey’s Orchard Jam Doughnuts 
Over time, I’ve come to revere the joys of the classic jam doughnut. Especially those which are prepared in your very own kitchen. Since it’s autumn and our orchard is bursting with juicy, sweet plums we’ve filled the doughnuts with plum preserves, but you can choose any conserves you may have in your pantry, including marmalade! 

2 (7 g each) packets of fast-acting dried yeast
1/4 cup or 60ml warm water
1 cup or 250ml warm milk
1/4 cup or 60g caster/superfine sugar
60g or 3 tbsp butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 3/4  cups or 165g  plain flour
1/2 cup or 75g plum jam (or any flavor)
4 cups of vegetable oil for deep frying
icing/confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Combine yeast, water milk and sugar in small bowl.
Cover, stand in warm place about 10 minutes or until mixture is frothy.
Stir butter and eggs into yeast mixture.
In a separate bowl, sift flour and stir in yeast mixture, mix to a soft dough.
Cover, stand in warm place about 45 minutes or until dough has doubled in size.
Turn dough onto lightly floured surface, knead dough about 5 minutes or until smooth. Roll dough until about 2cm (about 1 inch) thick, cut into 5cm (about 2.5 inch) rounds.
Loosely cover rounds with oiled plastic wrap, stand in warm place about 10 minutes, or until almost doubled in size.
Deep-fry doughnuts in batches in hot oil until well browned, turning once.
Drain on kitchen paper, toss doughnuts immediately in icing sugar
Let cool slightly and fill a pastry bag, fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip with jam.
Insert the tip into the end of each doughnut and pipe approximately 1 to 2 teaspoons of jam into them and serve.

Orchard Plum Jam
Plum jam is such a treat, we love picking our plums in late summer and preparing jams and preserves. You can also freeze whole plums for later use if you have an abundance. Plums are naturally high in pectin so no added pectin is needed for this recipe.

Makes 10 8.5 ounce jars
2lbs/1kg plums, washed, but not peeled or stoned.
juice of ½ lemon
2lbs/1kg granulated sugar
Follow basic sterilization process.

Put the whole plums, lemon juice in a large wide pan. Bring to the boil then simmer for 15 minutes until the fruit is very soft and pulpy. Remove stones at this stage. Put 2 or 3 small plates in the freezer (these will be used to test the setting later on).
Add the sugar and stir over a gentle heat for another 10 minutes until the sugar is completely dissolved. You don’t want it to boil at this point as the sugar could crystallize. Once you can’t feel or see any grains of sugar bring to the boil and boil hard for 10 minutes, skimming the surface as you go and stirring now and again.
Spoon a little jam onto the chilled saucer, leave to cool then run your finger through it. If it’s ready it will wrinkle up. If this doesn’t happen boil for another 5 minutes then keep testing and boiling until it does.
Do a final skim on the finished jam then pour into the sterilised jars and seal, following the instructions on page xx. Store in a cool dark place – the jam will be good for up to 6 months. Keep in the fridge once opened.

Scullery Notes: To freeze whole plums, remove stem and wash well. Do not stone the plums, you will lose precious flavour. Place in freezer bags and lay flat in freezer. 

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos & Styling by Imen McDonnell 2016

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Smoke | Fire | Feast

03 Aug 2016

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I am pleased as punch to announce our September Lens & Larder retreat. Join Gentl & Hyers in creating a convivial visual narrative through indigenous Irish ingredients and local makers while staying at the very charming 400 year-old Cloughjordan House in bucolic County Tipperary, Ireland.

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This retreat will have a strong focus on elements of fire, smoke, and the preservation of traditional skills, including a lesson in wood-fired sourdough baking, and a visit to an award-winning local farmhouse cheesemaker. We will learn to cook with fire and smoke using produce from the walled garden on the estate and meat provisions from the abattoir of a renowned Tipperary master craft butcher.

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Each student will have one-on-one opportunities to explore the topics they’re interested in, whether that is learning to use a camera, post-processing, styling, visual storytelling, social media, career building, or simply finding your own creative voice. Lens & Larder retreats are meant to foster a sensitive creative learning environment in which we can respond to each of our guests individual needs.

Included:  3 nights accommodation, 1 welcome drinks reception with dinner, 3 full Irish breakfasts; 2 lunches; 2 evening meals including wine and cocktails; all food with a focus on locally sourced, artisan ingredients (vegetarian options will be catered for).

Excluded: Travel to Ireland and transportation to Cloughjordan House; Travel insurance; Extras

Cost: EUR €2200 per person.  An 80% non-refundable deposit will be required to secure your spot. Final 20% Payment will be due upon arrival at Cloughjordan House.

Due to timing logistics, there will be absolutely no refunds for this workshop. Please make sure you can attend before securing a space for the retreat. We strongly recommend that you to take travel insurance. Owning an SLR camera is preferable.

FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TO REGISTER, PLEASE EMAIL: LENSANDLARDER@GMAIL.COM

Andrea Gentl and Martin Hyers are renowned freelance photographers living and working in New York City and Delaware County, New York. They have collaborated for over twenty years as the photo team of Gentl and Hyers, shooting still life, travel, food, lifestyle and interiors. They are regular contributors to Bon Appétit, Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple, InStyle Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler and more. They also work with cookbook authors, recently photographing  Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food by Jody Williams and the Julia Turshen’s forthcoming, The Small Victories Cookbook, Chronicle 2016.  They are on a constant quest to reexamine their personal style and to embrace change through personal experience. They are most inspired by travel. They build on the experiences they gain through that form of photography. A few years ago, Andrea started the blog, Hungry Ghost Food and Travel, to expand on those experiences and to focus on personal projects and collaborations. Through her blog she has gained a following in the photography and food community. She and Martin have traveled extensively around the world and they are delighted to once again bring their combined experience to our workshop to Ireland.

What some of our participants have to say about Lens & Larder retreats….

“Lens and Larder is a cut above all the rest and sets the bar for how to properly look after a group of eager creatives. Starting with their breathtaking surroundings, they know how to let nature do most of the inspiring. Then there is their deep knowledge and appreciation of the culinary world which is half the foundation of food styling and photography. The other half is professional experience and they bring in the best people in the business to share their secrets and inspire you first hand. I would take this workshop again and again and again (as many people do!).” – Claire Ptak, Violet Bakery, London, and author + stylist of the award-winning cookery book, The Violet Bakery Cookbook. @violetcakes

“Always held at truly unique and inspiring locations, Imen and Cliodhna, host with such warmth and attention to detail, creative learning retreats with incredible teachers from all over the world. Having both been a teacher at one retreat, and attended one as a participant, I wouldn’t hesitate to do both all over again. On both occasions, I left not only with new knowledge gained, but felt completely rejuvenated, inspired to the brim. What they have been able to create in Lens and Larder is truly unique, and in a sea of current creative retreats, theirs stand out as one of a kind powerhouse of learning and creativity, with a generous amount of heart and soul.” -Marte Marie Forsberg @marte_marie_forsberg

“I attended a Lens & Larder’s workshop last November, taught by Gentl & Hyers, and had an incredible experience. Cliodhna & Imen were fabulous, generous hosts who went above and beyond to ensure we all had a great time. I learned a lot and came home with not only pictures I love but a group of awesome friends. I hope to attend another one of their workshops soon!” -Joann Pai @sliceofpai

Slan Abhaile,
Imen
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Lamb & Lentil Salad

18 Jul 2016

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Nothing says summer more than lunch al fresco under the canopy of one of our massive ash trees on the farm with plenty of salads, warm soda bread out of the oven, and my fresh butter on the table.

Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) recently asked me to be a part of their “Lamb. Tasty, Easy, Funcampaign and I couldn’t refuse as lamb is a firm favourite on the farm. Lamb is possibly more special to me as it was not as readily available in the USA when I was growing up, and definitely falls under the special meals category. Here, we eat lamb quite frequently as there are so many cuts to choose from, and all of them are delicious. I particularly enjoy my visiting my friend Suzanna Crampton’s Zwartbles farm and if we are lucky she sends us off with a parcel of meat from her herd.

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Greek Salad with Lentils & Lamb
This super simple Greek-style lamb salad, is packed with flavor and nutrients and is perfect for an easy + light summer supper; you can double or triple the recipe if you are entertaining friends. The recipe calls for fillet of lamb (ask the butcher) or lamb steaks. I hadn’t used either of those cuts before and I must say, the fillet was incredibly tasty and tender. Let me know if you give it a go! You can find more fantastic Irish lamb recipes here.

Prep time: 20 minutes (+30 minutes resting time)
Cooking times 4-10 minutes
600g lamb fillet or lamb steaks
224g tin of cooked green lentils (or you can prepare your own)
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper
5 tbsp olive oil
250g cherry tomatoes
200g feta style cheese
½ cucumber, deseeded
½ red onion
6 springs flat leaf parsley
6 sprigs mint
12 pitted black olives
Place the lentils in the fine sieve and rinse with plenty of cold water, then leave to drain.
Mix the lemon juice with a little salt and peper in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 tbsp olive oil, then whisk.
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half. Chop the cheese and cucumber into small pieces. Finely slice the red onion and chop the herbs. Place everything into the mixing bowl with the lentils and olives. Mix, cover and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Take the lamb out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature. This will take approximately 30 minutes. Pre-heat the barbeque or frying pan on high heat. Brush the lamb fillets/steaks with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place on the bbq or in the pan. Cook for 2 minutes on each side, then reduce the heat and continue to cook depending on your preference and the thickness of the cut. Remove from bbq or pan and leave to rest for 2 minutes.
Cut into strips and serve with lentil salad and bread.
Scullery notes: Be sure to not oversalt the vinaigrette as the feta and olives are already quite salty.

Keep an eye on my media/events page, I will be travelling to Chicago, Wisconsin & Mpls this summer and have a few fun book events planned!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen xx

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2016.

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