closeupchick

Sometimes I wonder why I rarely share the bits about our life on this Irish farm that aren’t so pretty and delicious. My instinct is to look on the bright side of things….namely, the tasty treats of Ireland. I suppose it is makes life easier to focus on the good instead of the not so terrific.

If I am to be honest, it’s not all roses. I’m sure this comes as no surprise. That’s life. Whether it be the 7th gray day in a row, witnessing an animal die during childbirth, or, worse, the loss of a friend taken by the act of suicide which seems to occur at an alarming rate in this small country

….while there are moments of absolute splendor, there too are dark days in this quiet, pastoral setting.

I may be stating the obvious or the immaterial, depending on who you are, but for me, food, has become tremendously healing during difficult times at Dunmoylan. By healing, I don’t mean bingeing on pints of pecan praline ice cream or making not one, not two, but three chocolate chip cookies in a cup, though there is that on occasion…I’m human after all.

I am talking about the mere act of tying on an apron and stirring up my son’s favourite pot of macaroni and three {Irish} cheeses, baking an airy Victoria sponge with plenty of homemade jam and freshly whipped cream to treat the hard working crew after their dinner at the farm, or simply picking fresh vegetables and herbs to go with farmer’s cheese for Sunday evening omelettes….washed down with tumblers of Tempranillo.

Somehow standing in my kitchen with a spoon in hand goes a long way to ease moments of melancholy. Previously unbeknownst to me, I have discovered that the act of nourishing yourself and others can be quite the perfect way to find balance when the scales of my life seem to be tipped. Cooking is restorative. Making butter becomes Baddha Konanasana. Baking bread breathes faith into this no-matter-how-long-I-am-here-will-it-ever-not-feel-new-life. Sharing my bounty through this blog fills me with a sense of purpose and pride. It heals the hard parts. It can soften sad days.

roastchickencollage

Nonetheless, food does not complete me. I do not live for food. Rather, I eat to live. Like everyone else. In a world filled with hunger, we are lucky enough to have the resources to purchase food, and better yet, to have the faculty to grow and raise our own on this Irish farm. Not only is food comforting, but we can take pleasure in its plentiful bounty. That, I do not take for granted.

Yes, I will absolutely gush over trying a new restaurant, recipe, or reading the new issue of Bon Appetit. But, what I really love is how food can inject such comfort and joy into an unassuming, ordinary…perhaps heartbreaking moment in time. A conversation with friends over drinks and a meal at a tea-lit restaurant buzzing with the din of laughter and life.  Photographing a slice of pie that sings….especially close up. Feeding my family every day. Working creatively with others to promote a local food event. Writing a blog post. Hosting an outlandishly decadent Sunday lunch…just because. Meeting an artisan food producer. Sharing a recipe. Going to a butchery class. Foraging for whatever fruits we can find. Making a film about Irish food.

When there is havoc at home, I turn to the rythmn of roast. When served, it will always bring a comforting smile to all faces around a table. A yankee pot, a rib of beef, a leg of lamb…..or, without question, the best: simply roasting one of our chickens and surrounding it with crusty roast potatoes and a big scoops of carrot-parsnip mash, all blanketed in velvety herby chicken gravy.

Which foods comfort you and bring you close to home?

Comforting Roast Chicken

1.5kg whole free-range or organic chicken

1 lemon, halved and zested

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons fresh oregano, marjoram, chervil, tarragon, thyme or any fresh herbs

1 teaspoon olive oil

100 ml dry white wine

Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 220°C. Lightly grease a roasting pan. Place a wire rack into roasting pan. Rinse chicken (including cavity) under cold running water. Pat-dry with paper towels. Season cavity with salt and pepper.

Gently squeeze the juice from half the lemon over chicken, rubbing juice into skin. Place both lemon halves into chicken cavity. Tie legs together with kitchen string.

Place lemon zest, fresh herbs and butter into food processor and blitz into a paste. Massage under the skin of chicken.

Brush both sides of chicken with oil. Season chicken all over with salt and pepper. Place, breast-side up, onto rack in roasting pan. Pour wine into bottom of roasting pan. Roast for 1 hour or until juices run clear when chicken thigh is pierced with a skewer. Stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Serve with roast potatoes, parsnip and carrot mash.

Photo and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013. If you suffer with depression or know someone who does, please get help. In Ireland you can contact Pieta House or Samaritans. Also, if you are concerned about someone who may be suicidal, here are some warning signs from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

 

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Irish Cream Pavlova

20 Feb 2013

I made this for Richard’s birthday about a fortnight ago. He is mad for meringue so I surprised him with a  special pavlova that he could have all to himself. Instead of topping the crunchy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside bowl of sweet and light eggwhite delight with traditional fruit and berries, I decided to go with an Irish Cream whipped topping, and finished later with white chocolate curls scattered over the top before the big celebration. Meringue + Irish Cream + Chocolate. Let’s just say, it works.

I am in the USA at the moment finishing our taster piece for Small Green Fields with a team of very talented friends, most of which have strong Irish ancestory I have recently found…Shanahan? Quigley? McGuire? Is féidir linn! Stay tuned for more.

In the meantime, be extra kind to someone and make them a dreamy Irish Cream Pavlova for dessert or tea sometime soon…here’s the recipe

Perfect Irish Cream Pavlova

150ml egg whites (approximately 4 eggs)

220g/1 cup caster (superfine) sugar

 2 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch), sifted

 2 teaspoons white vinegar

 250ml/ 1 cup single (pouring) cream

 2 tablespoons Irish Cream (Bailey’s or Coole Swan or use Shaina’s recipe for gorgeous homemade)

½ (or more to taste) bar of white chocolate, grated (shredded or curled) 

Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F). Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk until stiff peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, whisking well, until the mixture is stiff and glossy. (really take your time with the sugar, one tablespoon at a time is best)

Add the cornflour and vinegar and whisk until just combined. Shape the mixture into an 18cm round on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper. Reduce oven to 120°C (250°F) and bake for 1 hour 20 minutes. Turn the oven off and allow the pavlova to cool completely in the oven. Whisk the cream with the Irish cream until soft peaks form. Spread over the pavlova,  sprinkle white chocolate over the top. Serve immediately. Serves 8–10.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

 

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Titles can be deceiving.

Especially in this case.

As you can see, there is a bit more going on in that bowl than just your standard, run-of-the-mill smokey Irish oat crumble. Indeed. But, smoked oaty crumble is a damn fine bed in which to share with the denseness of deep dark chocolate and farm fresh creamy dreamy mascarpone. What’s more? When that oat-y cradle happens to be combination of the quintessential Irish oats brand, Flavahans, blitzed up with a new spin on a tradition that is Ditty’s Smoked Oatcakes, you get a bed as heavenly as a Hästens that you will want to nestle into as much as humanly possible.

Or, at least I do. And, hungry, chocolate-loving Irish farmers appear to be quite grateful as well.

First of all, make the mascarpone using this recipe for farmer cheese substituting cream for whole milk. After that, make your chocolate filling. Lick the spoon. Lick it again. Then, blitz up the oat crumb in the food processor to your taste. Layer into individual ramekins or medium ceramic baking dish; a sprinkle of crumble on the bottom, ladle chocolate mixture over, dot spoons of mascarpone on top and then cover with more of that sultry crumb. Eat warm, and if you are feeling indulgent, serve with a scoop of ice cream or a little bit of pouring cream.

Remember, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner….

Chocolate Mascarpone Smoked Oat Crumble

250ml heavy cream

200g dark baking chocolate (I used Áine Irish chocolate), chopped finely

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs, beaten

Pinch of plain flour

150g freshly made or store bought Mascarpone cheese*

Crumble

4 Ditty’s Irish Smoked Oatcakes**

100g Butter

50g Brown Sugar

50g Flavahan’s Organic Oats***

30g flour

In a small saucepan set over low-medium heat, bring the cream to just simmering. Remove it from the heat, and stir in the chocolate and vanilla until the mixture is smooth and the chocolate is completely incorporated. Whisk a small amount of the hot chocolate cream into the eggs. Transfer the tempered egg mixture back into the hot chocolate and whisk the mixture until it is smooth. Leave to cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 200C or 400F

Place all crumble ingredients in food processor and pulse until crumbly. Add more brown sugar or smoked oatcakes to your taste/texture preference.

Sprinkle a bit of crumble into base of baking dish or individual ramekins. Pour over chocolate mixture.  Dab dollops of the mascarpone cheese on top. Cover with crumble. Sprinkle with a bit of brown sugar.

Place in hot oven for 35-45 minutes until crumble is golden brown and chocolate is bubbling.

Serve warm on its own or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a drizzle of pouring cream.

*if you make your own mascarpone, be sure to use a mixer to create a smooth, creamy texture once you have strained the cheese

**or any other brand of smoked oatcakes if they exist!

***available in the USA

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yvette van Boven

23 Jan 2013

I gotta tell ya. It’s a good thing that I am still addicted to reading the Sunday New York Times. No, it’s not folded up and happily nesting on my breakfast table at former buzzy haunts such as Pastis or the French Meadow Cafe, {which has been torture taken some getting used to}, but good things happen when I spend quiet Sunday time, sipping strong coffee and nibbling on Saturday night’s dessert while perusing the Times via my laptop.

Things like being introduced to Yvette van Boven. The Times Magazine did a couple little pieces on Yvette and her HOMEMADE books last year and I was utterly awestruck. I adore her fun, scribbly, typographic, illustrative, die cut….ermmm, the best word I can use here is craftwork, which so fittingly festoon her ridiculously tasty + creative recipes that are absolutely to be relished.

BUT, that’s not the best bit. Yvette was born in Ireland! Her parents are Dutch, but her family lived in Dublin until she was 10 years old. This is why I so strongly felt the need to interview Yvette here….I wanted to know if spending formative years in Ireland would mold your creative sensibilities, tastes, and even more importantly, what she considers to be her favourite Irish foods and places to visit when she is on the craggy green isle.

Here’s what she said.

Both of your parents were Dutch, but you were born and raised in Dublin until you were 10 years old. How did your family end up in Ireland? Were they creatives as well?

Yes, my Dad was a landscape architect. He was somewhat of an adventurer and wanted to leave Holland. When he married my mum they left for Dublin right away. My mother is very artistic by the way. She has always been painting and drawing or making her own cloths for example.

Tell us about your childhood in Ireland. How was it different when you moved (did you move to Amsterdam?)

I loved growing up in Ireland. I’m happy my parents let me have that childhood. All the space, nature and freedom is something I still miss in Holland every day. I remember that Holland was so different for us when we moved back. Everything was so well organized; there was no real nature, only tidy parks and dunes with signs and paths showing us where to walk. Roads didn’t have bumps or cracks and supermarkets were packed with food we never heard of. It was also nice, but very different. Life in Holland is so well controlled; I really think that you get more creative in a surrounding where your spirit is freer, like in Ireland. In that way I do understand my Dad’s first idea of moving out.

How did you get involved in food?

I don’t know. I think I always loved to cook. I remember helping my mother out in the kitchen from a very young age. Well… helping out, I might have been completely standing in the way but I loved to watch her cook and scribbled down recipes even before I could write! It’s always been something I enjoy doing. Cooking relaxes me. Later on in life, when I studied at art school I worked in restaurant kitchens to earn a little money. After working as an interior architect for a couple of years after school I missed cooking professionally so much I decide to change jobs and here I am now. Best decision I’ve ever made.

Do you have any specific taste memories from Ireland?

Oh yes, lots!
Bangers pop into my head first. DE.LI.CIOUS. When we go to Ireland and I get a chance to eat them I will. Black pudding, Lamb stew, plum pudding, all kinds of baked goods with raisins and currants in them, butterfly cakes, curly kale, real butter and Irish buttermilk, to name a few. And soda bread of course….my mum used to bake that almost every day. I still do quite often.

Do you think there are aspects of Irish culture that have left an imprint on your life?

Oh yes, I’m a hopeless sentimentalist and I love folk music and long walks.

Does any of your design + styling inspiration come from an Irish point of view/do you think you draw any inspiration from things in your Irish childhood?

I’m not sure, I definitely think that everyone’s childhood determines your further development in life. I always carry this Irish upbringing with me and I’m proud of that.

How do you think the world views Irish food? Do you think it is changing for the better?

I’m not sure the world thinks too well about Irish food unfortunately. But Ireland is quite famous for its produce: Fish, lobster, oysters, Dublin bay prawns, Irish beef, cheese and butter are quite legendary. But in terms of changing for the better I certainly do think it is. There still is a lot to win though, but all in time I guess. The Irish are less adventurous and more laid back as people from the continent I think. But we certainly had some great meals when we were in Ireland the last time. Places like Fallon & Byrne or The Winding Stair in Dublin are quite cool.

When you come back to Ireland, what do you do, see or visit?

I call old friends to catch up with over cocktails first of course, then I have to go for a walk in the Wicklow Mountains. Or just drive through the countryside with no destination at all: I love that.

Any favourite restaurants?

Fallon & Byrne (http://www.fallonandbyrne.com) in Dublin, not only the restaurant, I love the wine cellar in the basement and the food hall too. The Winding Stair (http://winding-stair.com) in Dublin, The English Market in Cork (http://www.englishmarket.ie/) is a place where I could wander every day. I love to have lunch or home made cake and some tea in the Cake Café (http://www.thecakecafe.ie/ ) hidden away in a lovely little courtyard in Dublin.

Anything inspiring coming out of Ireland at the moment that you can think of?

Love this: http://thepoetryproject.ie

What is on your desk at this moment?

My markers, paint and huge piles of paper, all waiting to accompany me to the south of France where I’m going to start on my new project. I need to be alone for a little while to find inspiration. I’m really looking forward to that next month.

Take us through your creative process… I love your mixed media styles: illustrations first or recipes or photography?

I have no particular preference for all the different things I do, it all goes the way it goes and depends on my mood and time. One thing is for sure: it’s never dull!

Tell us about your personal style, what do you like to wear when you are working?

HA! You do not want to meet up with me when I’m working. I look terrible, no make up, hair in an untidy bun, and in comfy clothes: Tees, sweatpants, huge pairs of socks and soft scarves. Oh yes and I’m always wearing an apron. I’ve got so many of those.

If you had to print your motto on a t-shirt, what would it say?

Never regret the choices you’ve made before, keep going. (I think you could have said that too)

Thank you so much Yvette, you’ve been very generous, and I wish you continued success!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Yvette’s book HOMEMADE SUMMER will be released in Ireland and the USA in the spring. {If you liked this interview, I have done a series of interviews with Irish-born creatives here} All images and illustrations were supplied by Yvette. 

 

 

 

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People. You are not going to make this. I just know it. From top to tail, it takes nearly a day.  There is yeast in the pastry. It needs to rise. It’s buttery and fussy.

But, it is so damned good. Divine, actually. Divine in the purest divinity sense of the word. I phoned people to tell them about how good this tart turned out. I prattled on about it to school parents who don’t even know me. I confessed to the priest. Teddy, our Airedale, is sick of hearing about it. Now, it’s time for you.

I prepared the homemade cheese with the morning milk from our dairy. The baked filling tastes like a wonderful childhood memory that includes cheese Kolaches and Danish from Jerry’s Bakery with glasses of cold milk and cartoons on a Saturday morning. I think there was a crumbly cheese coffee cake that my grandmother used to serve as well. It’s that soft crumbly cheese consistency that I crave.

This is a recipe from Martha Stewart Living so, of course, it worked. Still, I was nervous throughout the proving process. The dough is really sticky. The kind that you simply cannot punch down without getting your knuckles stuck in.  I’d never used yeast for pastry before. But, now that I have succeeded, it’s one more notch on my ye old ‘pastry perfection’ stick. {If you are new here, I struggle with pastry and have vowed to win!}

If you come to the farm and visit we can make it together…fresh cheese and all. I need some company, and if takes temptation by tarte au fromage so be it.

Have a look at the recipe and see what you think.

Sweet Farmers Cheese Tart {or, if you’re French or fancy: Tarte au Fromage}

Dough

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon active dry yeast (from two 1/4-ounce envelopes)

1/2 cup warm water

1 large egg yolk

1/4 teaspoon salt

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for bowl and pan

Filling

1 cup sugar, divided

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) farmer cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup (4 ounces) creme fraiche, room temperature

1 large egg yolk, plus 3 large egg whites, room temperature, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup applesauce

Dough: Mix together flour, sugar, yeast, water, egg yolk, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook until a dough is formed, about 3 minutes. Add butter, and mix until incorporated, about 3 minutes (dough will be sticky). Transfer dough to a buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until almost doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down dough, cover, and let rise 30 minutes. Refrigerate dough, still in bowl and covered, until firm, about 2 hours.

Punch down dough. Roll out into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface. Fit dough into a buttered 9 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, pressing dough up to rim of pan. Prick dough all over with a fork, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise 30 minutes.

Filling: Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in lowest position. Whisk together 3/4 cup sugar and the flour. Whisk together farmer cheese, creme fraiche, egg yolk, salt, and vanilla; stir in sugar mixture, then butter, with a wooden spoon.

Beat egg whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Raise speed to medium-high, and gradually sprinkle in remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Beat until medium glossy peaks form, about 4 minutes. Fold half the egg whites into cheese mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining egg whites.

Spread applesauce in crust, and pour filling on top of applesauce. Bake 30 minutes, then check crust; if it is starting to brown significantly, tent edge with foil. Bake until crust is deep golden brown and filling is puffed, golden, and just set (it should barely wobble when very lightly shaken), about 25 minutes. Let cool, undisturbed, on a wire rack 1 hour. Unmold tart, and let cool at least 30 minutes. Tart is best served slightly warm but can also be served at room temperature.

Coming?

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

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Tipsy Cake

08 Jan 2013

Tipsy + Cake. Two of my favourite things…which I suppose not so ironically also happen to marry well. I tend to file them in the “things that make you feel good” folder. Especially in the case of coupling a super dense + buttery Madeira with rum and apricot conserve. Don’t worry, if you want to share with the children use the booze on one half and leave the other alco-free like. Just don’t forget which part is which like I did. I first saw this cake on a sample of pretty vintage wallpaper in a magazine. Then, the tempting textile introduced itself to me again on a visit to Avoca, this time printed on craft paper. I think it is a signal that I should cover the farm kitchen in it….what do you think? Swoonworthy or twee? There are many other beautiful sweet treats featured in the pattern , but the snowy Tipsy Cake first caught my eye and will now forever strike my fancy.

Tipsy cake is classically found in Ireland, the UK, and I have now learned, also eaten in the American South. You will find many iterations of it in books and online, the only common denominator is the use of some form of liquor in which to soak the cake. I personally prefer to think of Tipsy Cake as an ornamental “ball supper cake” as described here. There is also a Mrs. Beeton recipe which calls for sponge cake adorned with thinly sliced almonds and then covered in custard which sounded lovely, but, alas, when I tried to make it I failed miserably. I tested a couple of different versions and decided to splash out and just create my own recipe. Like the wallpaper, my cake is meant to be decoratively covered in icing or cream, this is because you slice it all up, mortar with jam, and bash it back together. I told Geoffrey it was messy {fun} cake anatomy 101 class. He loved it. After that, you allow the spirits to slowly soak into the reconstructed cake. We poured royal icing over ours which is quite good at smoothing edges. Pop some sparklers on top and away you go….


This cake can last for over a week, and if kept under a cloche, improves in flavour with each passing day.

Enjoy.

Imen’s Tipsy Cake

Ingredients

175g/6oz butter, at room temperature

175g/6oz caster sugar

3 free-range eggs

250g/9oz self-raising flour

2-3 tbsp milk

1 lemon, zest only

60ml/4 tbsp apricot or red currant conserve

75ml rum, brandy, whiskey or sherry {optional and to your own taste}

Royal Icing

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease an 18cm/7in round or decorative cake tin, line the base with greaseproof paper and grease the paper. (if decorative tin, spray with nonstick)

Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture well between each one and adding a tablespoon of the flour with the last egg to prevent the mixture curdling.


Sift the flour and gently fold in, with enough milk to give a mixture that falls slowly from the spoon. Fold in the lemon zest. 


Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and lightly level the top. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 40-50 minutes, or until golden-brown on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and set aside to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn it out on to a wire rack and leave to cool completely. Cover and leave overnight. 

Slice cake neatly into four equal pieces. Spread a generous amount of apricot or red currant (or jam of your liking) conserve on each slice and bash back together gently. Pour over white or dark rum , brandy, whiskey or sherry and allow to soak in completely. Prepare desired amount of royal icing as directed on package, and pour over the top of the cake. Allow to dry and harden. Decorate with sprinklers or candles, say “hurrah for Tipsy Cake!” and serve. Good morning, noon, or night.

 Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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Plum Pudding

21 Dec 2012

I had never plunged into a Christmas pudding until I moved across the Atlantic. Since then, I have quickly come to learn that Christmas is simply not Christmas without a pudding at Christmas dinner. While the mere idea of steaming or boiling a cake seemed a very unusual notion, it is now a challenge that I have decided to bravely take on in my own kitchen.

In November we got a head start by preparing our first plum pudding on “stir-up Sunday” which apparently always falls on the Sunday before the first day of Advent (this year it was the 25th November). I put all of the ingredients together and allowed Geoffrey to flip a coin into the mix, give it a good stir and make a wish. We left the pudding to mature in a cool place overnight, and the next day, steamed the pudding. I was informed that puddings improve with age and alcohol, so we have it stowed away in a dark place, and each week we have been feeding it a drop cup or two of brandy. All going well on the big day, we will flambé the pudding and sit gazing in awe before fanning the flames and digging in.

I will churn some homemade butter for a spiced brandy or rum butter. But, I also know that there are fans of rum raisin ice cream in the family, so I have been testing ice cream recipes {I know, tough job}. I’ve chosen a custard-style, which reminds me of the classic Haagen-Dazs version and seems like a divine pairing for our Christmas pudding. See recipe below..it’s perfect!

*Bits of Bacchanalia*

Our family recipe for Plum Pudding was featured in this month’s Foodie Crush Holiday Magazine, along with loads of AMAZING holiday tips and stories by other bloggers, writers and photographers. Many thanks to Melissa Coleman, who so kindly asked me to be a part of it, and who also has such a fabulous food blog, talent!

On a recent shopping trip to Dublin, I listened to my new favourite foodish podcast: KCRW Good Food with Evan Kleinman, the latest episode is superb,  featuring their picks for 2012′s best cookbooks; including excellent interviews with Yotam Ottelenghi + Sami Tamimi for their book, Jerusalem, and Magnus Nilsson, of Fäviken, and his Fäviken cookbook among others.

Venture down to Ardkeen Quality Food Store in Waterford and support local Irish artisan producers. Ardkeen supplies great food direct from a fantastic community of some of my favorite Irish producers, growers and farmers.

These ladies have captured the Christmas magic so beautifully here and here 

You must have a look at Cliodhna Prendergast’s Breaking Eggs, beautifully produced food films, shot at her home in the West of Ireland with her children. Cliodhna says that “Home and family cooking is a life skill. We believe in practical, simple food for kids with lots of variety and the odd indulgence!” I must agree! Best of luck on your next shoot Cliodhna!

John and Sally McKenna have released their acclaimed McKenna’s Guides Megabites Awards, a running list of ‘Who’s Who in Irish Food’ compiled in the best taste, of course. 

Happiest Holiday Wishes To All!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell 2012

Rum Raisin Ice Cream

MAKES ABOUT 2.5 Pints

180g raisins

250ml dark rum

160g sugar

6 egg yolks

480ml milk

480ml cream

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

 Place raisins and rum in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit until raisins soften and absorb rum, 8 hours or overnight. Drain, reserving 2 tbsp. rum, and set aside.

 Place sugar and yolks in a saucepan, and whisk until pale yellow and lightened slightly, about 2 minutes. Add milk, and stir until smooth. Place over medium heat, and cook, stirring often, until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Pour through a fine strainer into a large bowl. Whisk in drained raisins along with reserved rum, cream, and vanilla; cover custard with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until completely chilled.

Pour custard into an ice cream maker, and process according to manufacturer’s instructions until thick. Transfer to an airtight container, and seal. Freeze until set before serving, at least 4 hours.

 

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An Irish Reuben?

18 Dec 2012

This was too impossible not to share straight away.

I will keep it brief. I’ve been trying to make sense of Irish *spiced beef* ever since I bought a silverside of it on a whim one December afternoon in 2008. It’s meant to be boiled. I’ve done that. Both in water and in stout. It’s meant for Christmas. Why, I am not sure. It’s savoury and clove-y, but not really spicy nor evocative of the holiday season through my expat lens. I have always felt that it was distinctively like pastrami or corned beef in texture and flavour, but when I broached this with friends and family  no one knew what I was talking about. Do people eat it with potatoes? Meh. Or salad? Meh-Meh. Do you eat it warm? Cold? Never could sort it.

Until this week.

On impulse I bought yet another cut of it on Sunday after seeing a tantalizing piece on last week’s Ear to the Ground featuring my butcher friend, Pat Whelan. I had used up the last of our garden cabbage for sauerkraut about 6 weeks ago, and it was prime for the taking. So, I put it all together and made a Katz deli-style reuben.

And, lo and behold, it worked!

I have mentioned before that I am a tried and true sandwich girl. This beautiful creation sent me straight back to deli days in NY. We’ve been eating our “Irish Reubens” all week and when it is gone, we will wait until next Christmas when the spiced beef makes an appearance again because that will make it that much more special. {Unless, I get creative and start to cure my own….mwahahahahaha}

Boil then simmer the spiced beef half an hour to the pound. Leave it to cool completely in the pan…if your house stays cool enough, leave it in the pan overnight for super moist and tender results. It will be beyond gorgeous sliced thinly + paired with a couple wedges of David Tiernan’s Glebe Brethan Gruyere style cheese  + homemade kraut.  Dublin’s Bretzel Bakery’s caraway rye does the trick and of course, good ole’ 1000 island dressing is key. Layer it all up between two slices and grill.

All I can say is: Just Do It.

Christmas Puds and Tipsy Cake are on deck….stay tuned.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell 2012. Book in background Rose Bakery Paris by Phaidon

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Smoky Irish Eggnog

14 Dec 2012

For the second year in a row we journeyed down to the wood and selected a tree to cut down for Christmas. Last year, it took some persuading as I had a certain urban Amerian-ised vision of what choosing your tree should look like, and it was admittedly a bit less rustic than the cut-your-own version. I have such fond memories of Christmas markets with old-fashioned C7 lights strewn along city blocks lined with beautiful Blue Spruces, long-needled Scots Pines, and families of fantastic Firs; all propped up and waiting patiently to be chosen and taken home to be delicately dressed in decoration.

I have learned my lesson. It is beyond special to cut down your own tree, from your family forest, that was planted (with caring foresight) by your father-in-law years ago. I believe the trees in the wood are Firs. But, it wouldn’t matter if it they were Birch or Yew, it’s all about the wonderful little snapshot of time spent together as a family during the holidays. Our last two trees have to be the best trees I’ve ever had at Christmas.  We will be planting a few more rows in the Springtime to keep the tradition alive.

I decided to make eggnog instead of mulled wine to sip on while trimming the tree this year. Eggnog is a classic holiday tipple that is enjoyed by many in the USA during the holidays. It is essentially a sweetened dairy-based beverage traditionally made with milk or cream, sugar, and whipped eggs (which gives it a frothy texture). It can be made with or without liquor so it is perfect for both little ones and adults alike. I recall seeing it in a supermarket here in Ireland when I first arrived, but it hasn’t been back on the shelves since.

Luckily {like everything} eggnog is better homemade. And, using fresh milk + cream from the farm to prepare it can’t be beat. For the grown up version, I went with an Irish variation and added a jigger of the super smoky and spectacular Connemara peated single malt whiskey instead of using American bourbon and rum. I also used a drop of Bittercube Bolivar Bitters, (optional) which are very herbal with beautiful cassia and dried fruit notes. The result is the smokiest, most velvety smooth, fruitcake-y festive eggnog.

I decided it would be prudent to include a special recipe for the splendid Snowball cocktail here as well. I was introduced to the Snowball when my lovely friend from Britain brought Advocaat to a dinner party a few years ago and insisted it was eggnog. While it is not the eggnog we are accustomed to in America, it does contain eggs and is very popular holiday spirit in the UK.   The Snowball is a bit like a dreamsicle in flavour; delicious and fun to serve at a holiday cocktail party. Both Advocaat & Connemara Irish Whiskey are available at fine liquor stores in the USA.

Cheers!

Smoky Irish Eggnog

Serves 4-6.

INGREDIENTS

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar (you can use less if preferred, it will still taste lovely)

2 cups milk

2 whole cloves

Pinch of cinnamon

1 cup cream

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 drops of Bittercube Bolivar Bitters {or similar woodsy, fruity, herbal bitters} (optional)

2-3 Tbsp of Connemara Irish Whiskey {or similar Peat smoked Whiskey or Scotch} (omit for kid-friendly eggnog)

METHOD

In a large bowl, use a whisk or an electric mixer to beat egg yolks until they become lighter in color. Slowly add the sugar, beating after each addition, whisking until fluffy.

Combine the milk, cloves, and cinnamon in a thick-bottomed saucepan. Slowly heat on medium heat until the milk mixture is steamy hot, but not boiling.

Temper the eggs by slowly adding half of the hot milk mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly while you add the hot mixture. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. {Or, if you are nervous about scrambling, wait 5-10 minutes for milk to cool down a bit and then whisk in the eggs}

Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to thicken slightly, and coats the back of the spoon. Do not allow the mixture to boil, or it will curdle. Remove from heat and stir in the cream, vanilla and bitters, if using.  Strain the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove the cloves. Let cool for one hour.

Mix in nutmeg and whiskey. Chill. 

Sip by the fire. 

The Snowball

1 jigger of Advocaat

1 jigger of fizzy lemonade (sweet-n-sour or sprite would work too)

1 jigger of fresh lime juice

Mix + Sip

 

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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A Farmer’s Ramen

05 Dec 2012

I am constantly searching for role models or examples or just mere kindred spirits that I can learn from, be inspired by, be comforted with a feeling of being less of a stranger in this world of rural living, or to just plain witter on with about the fact that chicken plucking is grissly work. 

Our kind neighbours have been here for generations. They are lovely, but country living is not new to them. My experience is very different. As much as I embrace it this lifestyle, I admit that there are days that I double-damn the notion that I can’t just walk out my door and down the street with my family for a steaming hot bowl of Pho, a 10-minute freshly wood-fired pizza, the perfect donut that someone else made, potato latkes from the Jewish deli, or to be perfectly honest, a grande soy “holiday spiced” latte that hails from a certain mammoth coffee chain. The longer I am here I recognize that the upside to not having those conveniences is that I appreciate it all so much more when I do spend time in the city. {That girl jumping up and down for joy waiting for takeaway at Cecil’s?  Me!}

Then, I stumble upon a memoir…discover a blog….meet a person…whom shares a similar lifestyle, and if I am lucky, a remarkable recipe that widdles down my bouts of whinging.

This time the recipe is: ramen.

And, the person is: Nancy Hachisu. A kindred soul living on the other side of the world. A woman moved to a new country for the food and ended up falling in love with a farmer.

I love her story, a flipflop of ours, but more importantly, I am thankful that she has shared a beautiful, time-honoured recipe for ramen with me the world.

Using freshly plucked chicken(s) from the farm and as many home-grown + local ingredients as possible, we followed Nancy’s recipe.

Is there anything better than a steaming bowl of homemade ramen?

I think not.

We ladled up. I closed my eyes, took one slurpy mouthful and was instantly transported to my favourite noodle bar in NYC. It was better than a scene out of Tampopo. It made me cry.

From a farm in Japan to a farm in Ireland, I give you-

Ramen At Home

{Make sure you have tissues}

Recipe from Japanese Farm Food, by Nancy Hachisu

Serves 4.

For the broth:

2 carrots, cut into 1 inch lengths

2 small Japanese leeks, or 4 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1 inch lengths

1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

4 bone-in free-range chicken thighs (or 8 wings)

1 tsp sea salt

2 TBS rapeseed or sesame oil

For the noodles:

TBS sesame oil

2 c. flour

2 eggs, at room temperature

2 egg yolks, at room temperature

For the toppings:

4 eggs

1 small bunch chopped bitter greens, such as bok choy or kale

3 TBS finely chopped Japanese leeks or scallions

1 sheet nori, cut into eights

Soy sauce, miso, or sea salt (to taste)

Make the broth.  Preheat the oven to 450°F.  Place carrots, leeks/scallions, ginger, and chicken thighs in a roasting pan, and toss with salt and oil.  Roast for 40 minutes.  Pour chicken, veggies, and all the juices into a large stockpot, and cover with 16 cups of cold water.

Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.  After 1 hour, remove the lid.  Take out 2 of the chicken thighs and place in a small bowl.  Cover the thighs with hot broth and let cool to room temperature, then shred.  Continue simmering the remaining broth for another 30-60 minutes, until it is reduced to about 8 cups.  Strain broth into a clean pot and keep warm over low heat.  Discard vegetables and remaining chicken thighs.

Make the noodles: mix 2 TBS of the sesame oil into the flour with your fingers until it is crumbly.  Add eggs and egg yolks and stir with your hand until incorporated, then knead on a flat, clean surface for 5 minutes until the dough is pliable but stiff.  The dough takes some force to really work it into a pliable piece.  Let dough rest 10 minutes. 

Roll out the noodle dough to a thickness of about 1/8 inch using a pasta machine or a heavy rolling pin.  Cut into linguine-sized noodles by hand with a pizza cutter, sharp knife or by using a pasta machine.

Prepare the toppings: bring a large pot of water to a boil over high-heat. Add the eggs and boil for exactly 7 minutes, then remove with a strainer and place directly into a bowl of ice-cold water.  Let cool, then peel.  In the boiling water, blanch the bitter greens until just tender, then add to the cold water with the eggs.  Keep the water boiling – you will use it to cook your noodles just before serving.

Once the broth, noodles, and toppings are ready, prepare the bowls: add a small amount of miso, soy sauce, or salt to each bowl (according to diner’s preference) and pour a ladleful of hot broth over the seasoning.  Stir the broth into the seasoning.  Divide the shredded chicken amongst the bowls.  Drop the noodles into the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes – they will float up to the top when they are done.  Remove the noodles with a strainer and divide among the bowls.  Top off each bowl with a few more ladlefuls of hot broth, 1 egg cut into halves, a handful of the cooked greens, some of the nori pieces, and a sprinkling of scallions.

Serve very hot, with extra seasoning as desired.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2012. Ramen noodle cutting by Richard McDonnell + the slurping schoolboy is Geoffrey McDonnell. This post is not sponsored in any way by Nancy Hachisu or her publisher, but I love it, and would urge you to find the book if Asian or farm food interests you…it is really special. PS. Thank you Laila for introducing it to me!

 

 

 

 

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