Small Green Fields

30 Mar 2013


After many months of working to finish Small Green Fields, at last we have wrapped the production.  I am absolutely thrilled with how it turned out and feel so lucky to have had the fortune to work with such incredibly talented and passionate individuals both in front of and behind the camera.

I have been sharing periodic updates on the project, but if you are new to this blog, I will explain. After one-too-many conversations concerning the misconceptions and quality of Irish food, I decided to combine my production experience with my food and farming enthusiasm to create a little film on the matter. Last summer, Richard and I invited a small crew from the USA to come over and travel with me cross-country to meet and interview a handful of inspiring Irish food personalities.

On the production path we ventured to the Inishfood Festival in Donegal and mingled with a group of Irish food enthusiasts, bloggers, editors and chefs while foraging on the beach, fishing on Lough Swilly, and breaking bread over an evening feast arranged by Inishfood host, Donal Doherty of Harry’s Restaurant. We visited fifth generation craft butcher, Pat Whelan, and his herd of Irish Waygu cattle to discuss his artisanal approach to beef in Tipperary. We got up-close-and-personal with Mag and Ger Kirwan’s gorgeous Goatsbridge trout in Kilkenny. We sipped Black Rock Stout and chatted with the brewer behind Waterford’s Dungarvan Brewing Company. We enjoyed a magical picnic of lamb stew and sheep’s milk ice cream at Suzanna Crampton’s Zwartbles sheep farm in Bennetsbridge. Donal Skehan shared a tart and a tour of his favourite Howth fishmonger with us. On the last day of filming, we celebrated with Kevin and Seamus Sheridan and loads of other remarkable artisans at the Sheridan’s Food Festival in County Meath. The sun was shining and it was absolutely glorious. Again, thanks a million to all who contributed their time and thoughts on defining Irish food for Small Green Fields.


{From left to right: Kevin + Seamus Sheridan, Sheridan’s Cheesemongers; Food Writer and TV personality, Donal Skehan; John + Sally McKenna, McKenna’s Guides; Suzanna Crampton, Zwartbles Sheep Farmer; Mag + Ger Kirwan, Goatsbridge Trout Farm; Food Writer + Editor, Aoife Carrigy; 5th Generation Butcher, Pat Whelan; Blogger + Editor, Kristin Jensen; Kevin + Donal Doherty and Ray Moran of Harry’s Restaurant and Inishfood Festival, Cormac O’Dwyer + Claire Dalton of Dungarvan Brewing Company, Karl Purdy, Coffee Angel; Food Writer & Blogger, Caroline Hennessy}

We ended up with about fourteen hours of footage and began the editing process. It was nearly impossible, but I narrowed Mike’s stunning footage down to single-digit hours of selected scenes, then handed off to our amazing {magician} editor, Carrie Shanahan at Ditch in Minneapolis. The finished taster/mood piece is about twelve minutes long. The extraordinarily talented {& ahem, single + beautiful!}, Cassie Scroggins, designed the animation, title design and artwork {see poster above} in Chicago. My great friends, David Howell + Todd Syring composed and produced the music score which I love so much I could listen for days. Matt Collings finished the film with such a seamlessly vibrant and magnificent look and Ditch producer, Rick Zessar generously gave Small Green Fields its post-production home. I am indebted to the entire crew, I thank you so much again for all of your liberal and creative contributions!


{From left to right: Michael Hartzel, Cinematographer; Carrie Shanahan, Editor; David Howell, Music Producer; Matt Collings, Colourist + Online Editor, Ditch Edit; Cassie Scroggins, Animation + Design; Meighan McGuire, Producer; Todd Syring, Music Composer + Producer; Rick Zessar, Executive Producer, Ditch Edit}

I like to think of Small Green Fields as a little celebration of tantalizing, innovative, and nostalgic stories of food in Ireland, drawing from then and now.  The twelve-minute piece is only the beginning; I have high hopes to produce a feature length film or even a television series, and at the very least will continue to produce more work in this category via our newly formed Farmhouse Films production company.  In the meantime, we will be spreading the Small Green Fields message of magnificent Irish food far and wide via film festival short category submissions.

You can follow Small Green Fields @farmhousefilms on Twitter or check back here for updates. After we finish the pitching process, I will finally be able to share Small Green Fields with you all!

Back with a lovely new recipe next week. Why is it lovely? Because it involves CAKE……

Slan Abhaile,






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Spotted Dog

19 Mar 2013


…or Spotted Dick as my mother-in-law calls it. I can’t seem to refer to this wonderful tea bread as Spotted Dick without turning red and giggling like a teen girl, so I’ll stick with Spotted Dog. When Peggy creates this cake-like bread formed in a rectangular shape, it becomes Railway Cake, which is lovely as well…but doesn’t look as pretty as the round loaf to me. All three variations are essentially a sweet version of white Irish soda bread. In England, Spotted Dick is considered a steamed pudding with currants. In Peggy’s day, it was an absolute treat to be able to add currants or raisins to bread, something really special to savour. At the farm, here and now, we simply devour it before it gets cold. How times have changed. I love it smeared with fresh butter and marmalade (this one…. not mine).



Geoffrey and I went on a hunt for Gorse over the long weekend {St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland so it was a 4-day weekend} We have been using this lovely flower from a dangerously prickly bush to create natural dye for our eggs at Easter for the past two years. It casts a very subtle pale yellow on the eggs, but is still pleasingly pretty to the eye. An added bonus to using this plant to dye eggs is that when you harvest the flowers, your home will become filled with the fragrance of a sandy summer beach as they give off a scent reminiscent of vintage Coppertone sun cream, aka: JOY.


Gathering Gorse followed by Spotted Dog + milky tea = a recipe for smiles.

Peggy’s Spotted Dog

Makes 1 Loaf


450g (1lb) plain flour

1 level tsp caster sugar

1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp salt

100g (3½oz) sultanas, raisins or currants

350-425ml (12-15fl oz) fresh buttermilk 


Preheat the oven to 230°C (425°F)

Sift the dry ingredients (incl. currants etc) into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.

Pour in most of the buttermilk (leaving about 60ml/2fl oz in the measuring jug).

Using one hand, bring the flour and liquid together, adding more buttermilk if necessary.

Do not knead the mixture or it will become heavy.

The dough should be soft, but not too wet and sticky.

Turn onto a floured work surface.

Pat the dough into a round about 4cm (1½in) deep and cut a deep cross in it. 

Place on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200°C (400°F) and cook for 30 minutes more.

When cooked, the loaf will sound slightly hollow when tapped on the base and be golden in colour.

Allow to cool on a wire rack, but not too long…it’s just perfect eaten warm with butter + marmalade or jam and a cup of milky tea.


Slan Abhaile,

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2013




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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.


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,


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*


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,


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 ( in Dublin, not only the restaurant, I love the wine cellar in the basement and the food hall too. The Winding Stair ( in Dublin, The English Market in Cork ( 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 ( ) 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:

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,


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}


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


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.


Slan Abhaile,


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.


Imen’s Tipsy Cake


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,


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’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,


Photo by Imen McDonnell 2012

Rum Raisin Ice Cream


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,


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


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