RichChocolateButtermilkCake2

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, 

so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

-Joseph Campbell

I met this fine-looking farmer when he was visiting the United States one particularly frigid week in February 2004. It was his second visit to the Twin Cities of the American Midwest, where I had been hunkering down in hibernation mode for the winter. He had come to visit a childhood mate who had moved to St. Paul, Minnesota after secondary school. It was only his second time in Minneapolis, the beloved city that I had recently returned to after a production stint an at Emmy award-winning television show in New York City.

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Prior to New York, I had spent a chunk of time living the hazy, surreal, set-life of Los Angeles. I loved the buzz of film sets and sound stages and just being a part of the team behind-the-scenes. I grew up an ambitious girl in small-town Wisco, and was always eager to break away to the bright lights of a big city. In Minneapolis, I had found balance working as a creative producer for an influential, (if somewhat Mad Men-esque) advertising agency, while traveling globally to execute broadcast television campaigns for international beauty and food brands. I lived comfortably in the middle of the picturesque city, and if I was going anywhere else, you could hedge your bets that it would be back to Brooklyn.

On the evening we were introduced, I hadn’t fancied going out, but I was persuaded by a colleague who was desperate for a fun night after a long workweek. I wasn’t feeling terrific that day, so I prettied myself up as best as I could and got on with it, as you do when all you really want to do is lounge around in flannel pajamas and sip chamomile tea all evening. Before I knew it, my taxi arrived, and I mustered the energy to run out the door.

We were having a laugh with friends at a newish downtown lounge when a handsome flaxen-haired fella breezed past our group, turned his head and shot us a smile. As he was waiting for his drink at the bar, my friend starting chatting with him. Or was she chatting him up? Either way, I could see that he was very polite and by the lilt in his voice, I noted that he was clearly not from the United States, though I couldn’t quite place his accent.

After a casual introduction, I learned that this striking man with the unusual accent was named Richard McDonnell. And, judging from his fair-skinned, ginger-topped mates sipping pints of Guinness, I put two and two together and wielding some heavy-handed stereotypes guessed that they were all either from Ireland or perhaps the UK.

The evening was becoming far more interesting than I had anticipated.

Later, as the others trailed off in conversation and dance, Richard and I found ourselves at a table alone and began to get to know one another. He revealed that he lived on a farm in the Irish countryside that had been in his family since the 1800’s and that he had a university degree in philosophy. What a fascinating combination, I thought. Kant, Hobbes, Plato had been impossible for me to get my head around in my university studies, and farming….well, I had never stepped foot on a real working farm in my life.  He also shared that his star sign was Aquarius, as is mine. I warmed to him. Though I occasionally found it hard to understand his thick Irish brogue, he had no shortage of charming and funny quips, which kept me in stitches all evening long.

At the end of the night, Richard said he would only be in town for a few more days and asked if I would join him for dinner the following evening. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed. Despite enjoying our lively conversation, I was still not sure if I really wanted to see him again. I wasn’t keen on romance at the time. But, he said “think about it and choose your favorite restaurant,” and suddenly I was torn between fun visions of the best melt-in–your-mouth butterknife steak at kitsch and campy Murray’s or the only authentic spaghetti and meatballs in town washed down with goblets of Barolo at the quiet little trattoria in my neighborhood. We exchanged phone numbers and went our separate ways.

Early the next morning, he texted me to say he was looking forward to our dinner. I panicked. Happily busy with a creative career that kept me constantly working and traveling, I had convinced myself that I had no time or energy to put into developing a rewarding relationship, or was I just simply nervous and unsure of myself? If I knew one thing, it was that I had no designs on dating a farmer from Ireland! Still, Richard was awfully attractive, intelligent, and quite charismatic, so despite my hang–ups, I agreed on the stipulation that my bubbly Aussie friend and her lovely husband would join us. After all, a girl can never be too careful, right?

We met at a quaint new eatery that had been getting excellent reviews. Built into a historic neighborhood bakery, the space was intimate and filled to the brim with vintage bistro charm and personality. Looking in from the outside on a brisk winter’s evening you could see tables situated behind spacious steamed-up lead glass windows with enchanted looking people dining together in dim candlelight. The quiet sounds of Chet Baker could be heard under the commotion of lively dinner conversation, the atmosphere was romantic and convivial at once, the best sort of combination.

Richard walked in, all refreshed, pressed and dressed, and I must confess, I felt a twinge of excitement in my tummy when our eyes met. I introduced him to my friends, and the conversation, laughter, and Burgundy flowed all night long.

The food was sensational. We both ordered coq au vin, which was so rich and tender that I may have actually been able to eat it with a dessert spoon. For our final course, an unforgettable chocolate fondant with a lavender-laced molten center that took my breath away. I will never forget the perma-grin I was sporting from ear to ear all evening.

At the end of the meal, Richard excused himself and discreetly paid the entire bill. Clearly chivalry was not dead to him, but I insisted on chipping in as well. Later that evening he told me that it was his birthday. I marveled at his level of modesty, as such information would have certainly been divulged during dinner had it been my birthday.

I wondered, could he be for real?

After we said goodnight, I turned the events of the evening in my head over and over. I came to the conclusion that being selfless and humble is absolutely alluring. Not all, but plenty of men that had previously come into my life were far more preoccupied with their own interests and never seemed to cease speaking in a certain style of egoistic banter; a personality trait that Richard McDonnell did not seem to possess.

Richard was planning to return to Ireland on Valentine’s Day and inquired,

“So, tell me, who will be your Valentine this year?”

…to which I demurely replied,

“why, my father, of course”.

When I arrived at my office on the morning of his departure, I was greeted with an enormous basket of beautiful flowers and a card that read,

“Well, you’re my Valentine”.

I was hooked.

That romantic gesture launched over a year of transatlantic dating romance, the requisite meeting of the families, (my father gave his blessing the minute he realized I couldn’t stop “smiling like a Cheshire Cat” whenever we were together), and hopping around to holiday spots together as I traveled on production business overseas. Soon, we knew that we wanted to spend more time together on a permanent basis, which was a glorious notion, except this meant one of us would have to uproot and relocate.

We were two people who had fallen hopelessly in love who had to make a choice, which wasn’t going to be easy. I knew that Richard wasn’t in a position to “relocate” his family farm, and my work was seemingly more flexible, but I couldn’t be sure.

Finally, I decided brazenness could pay off; I took the risk and leaped!

 

hen

Rich Chocolate Buttermilk Cake
Over the years, I have come to the realisation that a farmer’s affinity for chocolate could quite simply be attributed to energy-craving exhaustion. Nevertheless, it is a family favorite so I decided early on that I would have to perfect a chocolate cake that the whole farm would love. I wanted to create a creamy, mellow, super moist chocolate-y-but-not-overpoweringly-so chocolate layer cake. The test was on. I started with a sour cream chocolate cake, then tried crème fraîche, and even tried cream cheese. While a couple of those tasted very nice, not until I incorporated buttermilk did I discover the ideal formula. This is a rich, dense, somewhat tangy cake with a super-buttery chocolate buttercream icing and creamy deep chocolate ganache. It is well suited for chocolate loving family and friends, yet still a treat for those who claim they aren’t crazy for chocolate. Make this decadent cake for Valentine’s Day, I swear it is totally tastes like love
Makes one 9” layer cake
For the Cake
1¾ cups (218g) all-purpose flour
2 cups (400g) granulated white sugar
¾ cup (90g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ tsp baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup (237ml) buttermilk
½ cup (113g) butter, melted
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup (237ml) hot coffee (or 2 tsp instant coffee in 1 cup boiling water)
For the chocolate filling:
7 oz (200g) dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa solids or more), chopped
2 sticks + 1 tablespoon (17 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
4 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups (156g) confectioner’s sugar, sifted
For the chocolate ganache:
5 oz (140g) dark chocolate (about 52 percent cocoa solids), chopped
1 1/4 cups (300ml) heavy cream
To decorate:
Chocolate curls
Unsweetened cocoa powder and confectioner’s sugar, to dust.
Bake the cake:
Preheat oven to 350f/175c degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch baking pans and line with parchment paper circles. Set aside.
In the large bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add eggs, buttermilk, melted butter and vanilla extract and beat until smooth (about 3 minutes). Remove bowl from mixer and stir in hot coffee. The batter will be runny.
Divide batter evenly between the two pans and bake on middle rack of oven for about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Allow to cool 15 minutes in pans, then run a butter knife around the edges of each cake. Pop out and allow to cool on wire cooling rack.
To make the filling:
Melt the chocolate in a bain marie or a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of hot water. Set aside to cool slightly. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter in standing mixer for at least 10 minutes at high speed, until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and confectioner’s sugar and beat vigorously for another 5 minutes. Once the butter mixture is thoroughly mixed, remove 2 tablespoons and stir it into the cooled, melted chocolate. Then slowly pour the melted chocolate down the side of the mixing bowl (to prevent egg mixture from scrambling) into the butter mixture and fold it in quickly and gently until fully combined and smooth.
To make the ganache
Once the cakes are cooled, you can start making the chocolate ganache. Put the chocolate in a large bowl. Heat the cream to boiling point, then pour it over the chocolate, and stir until it melts. Set aside to cool. With a hand mixer, beat the cooled chocolate cream until it barely forms soft peaks, making sure not to overbeat it, or it will become too stiff to spread.
To assemble the cake
Split the cakes in half horizontally with a sharp serrated knife. Spread the chocolate filling onto each layer and sandwich the layers together. Frost the cake with the chocolate ganache and decorate with chocolate curls, if you wish.

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Slan Abhaile & Happy Valentine’s Day!

Imen x

Cake & farm photos by Imen McDonnell, styling by Sonia Mulford-Chaverri. 

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Thin Places.

24 Sep 2019

In the summer time, I walk the narrow farm boreen with its bikini wax strip of grass growing down the middle and cow parsley and Queen Anne’s lace crowded hedge, once, maybe twice a day. Massive tree boughs join to meet each other high up in the sky and form a sort of canopy shelter along the way; the wind whistles through barley, maize or whole wheat depending on the season, and shiny marble cow’s eyes gaze into yours with curiosity as you say hello and count them up.  

On both the left and right hand side you’ll find fairy forts from ancient times surrounded by the glowing security of golden prickly gorse; while in the autumn, thorny brambles and bushes heaving with berries, rosehips and haws are on display. Sometimes it is so quiet, all you can hear is mother nature whispering sweet nothings into your ear. 

As resplendent as that sounds, many would say that there is actually nothing too remarkable about this boreen. It is essentially a 3-in-1 tool for walking our dogs, checking crops and cattle. There are a million lanes like this in Ireland, all of which look absolutely identical to this one.  

Still, for me, it is special. 

It might even be a Thin Place.

I mean, how many boreens have a creaking ash tree that sounds like a newborn baby banshee when the wind rattles it? Or, a robust family of pheasants and hares who team up, side-by-side to peak out of the ditch and rile up my girls whenever we walk by? Who knows, could be pishoguery at play, which makes it even more spectacular.  

Surely not every boreen shows daily evidence of rogue shrews or the odd hedgehog whom seem to have unfortunately met their maker while crossing from one side of the road to the other? Oh, what about the time an angry ghost dog in the corn field with a bellowing bone-shivering phantom bark made me run like the dickens only to realize he was merely a lost foxhound who strayed from his pack and was more scared than I?

Which reminds me, we can’t forget the time when the red coat hunters came cantering along causing a major traffic jam which I detailed in my national column and almost got fired from my post. Yeah, me and this boreen got history.  

One winter, Ireland was blessed with a powdery winter snowfall so substantial that the entire boreen was a whiteout that made our two black dogs stand out like a die-cut print greeting card. Etched in my mind. Sometimes the early morning dawn chorus of local birdsong cuts through the headiness of lashing rain and gives Hozier a run for its money. You just can’t beat the theatre of it all. 

Okay, entertaining. But, Thin Place, really?

When you walk this boreen, contemplation comes easy.  In fact, it invites all sorts of feelings to flood in. There is a rawness of reality here where you feel cracked open like a walnut with all those cradles and cavities that you pick at to get to the fruit within. Feelings. Sorrow. Regret. Jubilee, Joy. But most of all, a deep clarity of knowing ones place in this universe. And, despite the magnitude and gravity of that sort of clarity, you still feel swathed in safety. 

According to this article in the New York Times, “Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter….Travel to thin places does not necessarily lead to anything as grandiose as a “spiritual breakthrough,” whatever that means, but it does disorient. It confuses. We lose our bearings, and find new ones. Or not. Either way, we are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world, and therein lies the transformative magic…” 

Hmmmmmmmm. Thin Places. Sounds familiar.

When I was 11, I went horseback riding for the first time. Oddly, there was a riding school and stables just on the edge of my hometown, still within city limits and literally across the street from my elementary school. You could pay a few dollars and ride a pony with a guide around a meadow which overlooked the East Twin river.

After taking “Petey the Pony” out for several goes around this field, I felt I was ready for a larger model. I was, after all, 11 years old and well able for a grown up horse. The gumption. I persuaded the owner to throw caution to the wind and allow me take Stormy, a regal yet subdued white and grey Appaloosa, out onto the proper riding trail.

Initially, the route was quite narrow and rough; glacier-age rocks and rubble partially covered in verdant green moss and ivy form low walls on the thoroughfare, and fat old oak trees on either side moulded the most beautiful fairytale leafy roof overhead. Not an entirely ideal landscape for the sport of horseback riding, but so picturesque it made me feel cavalier and free.

As we trotted further along through a pastiche of grassy knolls, I remember feeling dumbfounded that this striking and pristine pastoral setting was right near my home and yet I had never been aware of it. It was like I had stumbled upon some sort of parallel universe, stepping into the scene of a Thomas Cole painting or a Tarsem storyboard.

I will never forget the otherwordly feeling of being there that day; nuanced and surreal.

Thin. Place. 

Suddenly Stormy stopped. At 15 minutes into our ride, she just would not budge. I pulled the reins and gripped her hind legs with my legs, pushing my hips into the saddle and clicking my tongue against my cheek to communicate for her to go. I tried every possible maneuver to get her to carry on, but she just stood there defiantly. In my mind, I had no other choice but to dismount and go behind her and give her a little nudge. I reasoned that maybe she felt stuck on the bumpy surface and needed to be freed. But, the minute my fingers lightly touched her back side, she forcefully bucked both legs out, kicking me in the thighs and winging me straight up into the air.

I landed about 4 ft away, where I laid crying in pain until I nodded off and awoke on our sofa at home to my brother Jeffrey’s unhappy face hovering over my head. He told me I was in BIG trouble. Apparently, I survived. Stormy had galloped back to the stables and I was transported home in a Meals on Wheels station wagon (don’t ask). The bruising was extensive and so was my grounding.

Fast forward to the Irish countryside, and the first day that I stepped foot on the boreen. I instantly felt that I had been there before. Sort of like but sort of not like déjà vu. Remember, I was not one who ever pined for Ireland, it was not on my radar. Intense memories of my pre-teen horse riding day enveloped me. Is it the landscape? The green? The tree canopy? Just the terrain? I couldn’t put my finger on what was provoking such an emotional recollection. It felt transcendental, a bit like I was disassociated from my body and back on that riding path back home. I wondered, am I dead or alive? Awake or dreaming? I might add that I am not particularly pious, though spiritually inclined.

All I know is that this happened. Still happens. It is profound and puzzling, and Thin Places or not–I find solace in it.

Have you ever been to a Thin Place?

Slan Abhaile,

Imen x

PS. Two autumn recipes and stories that I love : An Irish Apple Tart + Curried Parsnip and Apple Soup

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I fully intended on roasting a shoulder of lamb for this post, but when the weather went from rainy days to a full week of unadulterated sunshine, I couldn’t resist firing up the BBQ and throwing this beautiful cut from Garrett’s Butchers on the grill instead. 

For me, one of the most revelatory flavour combinations has to be harissa with honey. Spicy, smoky and sweet, the piquant nature of harissa, a North African spice paste made from roasted chili peppers, coriander, cumin, caraway, garlic and onion blends so perfectly with Grandad’s creamy honey from his bees on the farm. 

This shoulder of lamb is easy to prep and fantastic served straight off the barby on a plate of roasted potatoes and steamed veg, but it’s equally as dazzling if you keep some for a dinner salad later in the week as well which is exactly what I chose to do over the weekend.

European lamb is one of Ireland’s treasures. Never gamey, always rich in flavor and infinitely appealing for a lingering Sunday roast or chargrilled at a family BBQ. The shoulder cut is versatile and tender. Order ahead from your Bord Bia certified local butcher for the best quality. 

Chargrilled Shoulder of Harissa & Honey Lamb, Bulgar Wheat & Nectarine Salad with Orange Tahini Poppyseed Dressing 

Harissa & Honey Marinade

  • 30ml harissa paste (from store)
  • 20 ml raw organic honey 
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Salad

  • 175g mixed garden greens/rocket
  • 250-400g grilled lamb, thinly sliced
  • 2 ripe nectarines, pitted & sliced and grilled
  • 100g bulgar wheat, cooked 
  • 60g red onion, finely chopped
  • 80g cucumber, deseeded and finely diced 
  • Handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Fennel pollen fronds (optional)

For the dressing:

  • 80ml olive oil
  • 1 tbsp orange juice
  • 1 tsp orange zest 
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 1 tbsp natural yoghurt 
  • 2-3 tsp poppy seeds
  • Sea Salt and black pepper

Mix together the marinade ingredients. Pierce lamb shoulder skin with knife and rub marinade into butterflied shoulder. Place in refrigerator for 2 hours up to overnight. Take lamb out of fridge an hour before barbequeing. Heat the BBQ to lowest temperature, place lamb on grill, cover and cook for 30 minutes each side, checking to make sure the flame isn’t burning the skin and turning as needed.  Remove from BBQ, cover with kitchen foil and let rest for 10-15 minutes. 

Add all of the dressing ingredients to a screw-top jar. Seal the lid and shake well until combined. 

Layer the bulgur wheat, greens, lamb, nectarines, onion, cucumber, parsley and fennel pollen on a large platter. Drizzle over enough of the dressing to coat, then serve. 

Slan Abhaile.

Imen xx

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Alarm goes off. 

Snooze gets hit. 

Alarm goes off. 

Snooze button. 

Alarm goes off. 

Snoozzzzzzzzeeeee.

Ever wake up feeling more tired than the night before and just not ready to hit the ground running?

I always seem to feel this way when I don’t drink enough water the previous day. But, sometimes drinking 8 glasses of water a day is super hard unless I am sweating like crazy on the farm–which let’s face it, is NOT happening when I am mostly working the farm office these days.

I have come to learn that fruit-infused water is a delicious way to get your daily recommended intake of water to keep your body’s natural detoxification organs like the kidneys and liver functioning properly. 

And, I personally think strawberry water tastes the best. Amiright??

Make up a big glass jug of this and keep it in the fridge for refills throughout your day, and I promise, you’ll wake up with a spring in the step the next morning.

Strawberry Detox Water

A crisp and refreshing detox water with flavours of strawberry, cucumber, mint, lemon & lime. Perfect for rehydrating on a hot summer day. Getting your daily recommended 8 glasses of H2O has never been so delicious. 

2 cups Strawberries, hulled & sliced 

1 large Cucumber, thinly sliced

2 small Limes or Lemons, thinly sliced

0.5 oz Fresh Mint Leaves (about 3 sprigs)

8-9 cups Water (about 2 liters)

Rinse and wash the strawberries, cucumber, limes/lemons, and mint leaves

Thinly slice Strawberries, cucumber and lemon, lime

Combine all ingredients in a large glass pitcher and enjoy

This post was created in collaboration with the Irish Food Board, Bord Bia in celebration of #celebratestrawberryseason #naturestreat.

Slan Abhaile.

Imen x

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Back again with another sweet summer Strawberry recipe for Bord Bia (The Irish Food Board) This one inspired by a recent farm visitor and family friend who showed me the beauty and convenience of the “flat salad” combined with my back home BFF, Sonia, who reminded me of a crazy delicious salad we used to enjoy when I lived in America. (Don’t you just LOVE foods that you forgot to remember?)

I’m partial to adding local strawberries to summer salads, they are a sweet treat, but actually have many nutritional benefits too. Strawberries are high in vitamin C, water, folic acid, vitamin K, manganese, potassium, fibre, are low in sugar and low calorie. 

This citrus dressing is the best enhancement to all the raw ingredients and compliments the strawberries so well. 

Grilled Chicken, Strawberry, Spinach & Feta Salad with Citrus Poppyseed Vinaigrette

  • 75g spinach (or baby kale)
  • 75 mixed garden greens/rocket
  • 150g strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, grilled.
  • 60g Feta, crumbled
  • 60g pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
  • Handful flat leaf parsley, chopped

For the dressing:

  • 60ml olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp orange juice
  • 1 tsp lemon zest 
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup 
  • 2-3 tsp poppy seeds
  • Salt and black pepper

Add all of the dressing ingredients to a screw-top jar. Seal the lid and shake well until combined. 

Layer the greens, strawberries, feta, chicken, pecans and on a large platter. Drizzle over enough of the dressing to coat, then serve. 

Slan Abhaile,

Imen xx

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It’s strawberry season! And, oh how I relish the nostalgia I have for many summery recipes in which strawberries were the main attraction in my American childhood. I fondly remember my father taking me to countryside strawberry fields where you would pick the berries (and sugar snap peas too) yourself and pay per the punnet upon leaving. Strawberry glazed pie, strawberry shortcake, fresh churned strawberry ice cream, or just simply freshly picked strawberries topped off with fluffy whipped cream after a long day at the beach still makes me swoon.

This season I am working on some nourishing and healthful strawberry recipes for Bord Bia that have a wee bit less sugar, still – lots of flavour. As it turns out, this is a pretty delicious and easy job with which to be tasked. 

Since elderflowers are also in season throughout the EU, I thought it would be lovely to create a super light, refined sugar-free, fluffy strawberry-elderflower cheesecake. So light that it LEVITATES. Okay, not really, but you get the gist. Easy to prepare, and absolutely packed with flavour, this chilled, weightless cheesecake is the perfect pudding for a summer dinner party al fresco.

Choose local strawberries and whip up this no-bake wholesome cheesecake in no time at all. Your guests will thank you, I promise!

Levitating Strawberry- Elderflower Cheesecake

  • 250g reduced-fat tea biscuits (or graham crackers)
  • 75g grass-fed unsalted butter
  • 500g extra-light soft cheese
  • 200g tub 0% fat Greek yogurt
  • 150ml light whipped cream
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • zest of ½ lemon 
  • 20ml elderflower honey cordial (store bought or see recipe)
  • few drops vanilla extract
  • Blitz biscuits and butter in food processor until ground into crumbs
  • Press into parchment lined 20cm springform tin
  • Clean, hull and slice strawberries lengthwise down the middle. Set aside
  • Fold whip cream into cream cheese mix and combine well. 
  • Spoon mixture into pie crust evenly.
  • Place strawberry slices around the outside of the pie filling – cut side facing out. 
  • Cover with cling film and chill in refrigerator for a 3-5 hours, until firm.
  • Before serving, place in freezer for 30-45 mins for a firmer slice.
  • Decorate with fresh cut elderflowers and serve. 
  • Scullery Notes: Do not place in freezer until after chilled for 3-5 hours as it will result in ice crystals in the cheesecake.  You can buy Elderflower cordial in health food or artisan food shops, many will be prepared with sugar so check label if you want a refined-sugar free version, or use the recipe to DIY. 

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

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I don’t know about you, but I just can’t get enough chicken soup during the winter time. When I was in New York a week ago, I made sure to get down to Katz’s Deli for a bowl of their famous Matzo ball chicken soup despite staying in a midtown hotel. That’s dedication! There is nothing better than steaming hot chicken broth with noodles, matzo balls or rice when it’s bitter cold outside.

So, for my second #MakeItYourWay chicken post for Bord Bia, I have chosen to do a riff on my classic Chicken Noodle Soup using chicken thighs and fine egg noodles instead of breasts and the thick egg noodles my grandmother used to make from scratch. This recipe is quick and easy, and the fine noodles make it a bit lighter as well, but it’s still hits the spot and warms the soul when a piping hot bowl is placed in front of you.

I am partnering with Bord Bia to celebrate how you can ‘Make it Your Way’ with Quality Mark chicken with a variety of new recipe inspiration.

Chicken Noodle Soup
This chicken noodle soup is super easy to make and tastes incredible!
Serves: 6
Time: 45 minutes
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into thin strips 2 tablesp. rapeseed or olive oil 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 celery sticks, finely diced
2 large carrots, peeled and finely diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
11⁄2 ltrs. chicken stock, homemade if possible 60g fine egg noodles 1 teasp. thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1 teasp. Worcestershire sauce
4 scallions, finely sliced
To serve: Brown soda bread
METHOD
Heat the oil in a large sauce pan over a medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, celery, carrots, a little salt and lots of black pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring gently. You just want the vegetables to soften, not brown. Stir through the chicken and cook for another five minutes.

Stir in the stock and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Then add the noodles and thyme leaves and cook for another 10 minutes. Stir through the Worcestershire sauce, taste and season.

Divide into four bowls, sprinkle over the scallions and serve.

Remember: Always look for the Bord Bia Quality Mark when purchasing chicken so that you know that it has been produced to the highest Bord Bia Quality standards which have been verified at every stage.

Check out www.bordbia.ie/qualitychicken for recipe inspiration and #MakeItYourWay and get cooking with chicken!

Slan Abhaile,
Imen

This post is in collaboration with Bord Bia.

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Since our farm rears Bord Bia Quality Mark certified free-range poultry, chicken is our definite go-to protein at home. I am always creating new recipes and/or looking for inspiration to prepare chicken in the farm kitchen each week because our fridge and freezer are always stocked with juicy table birds for the taking. Even if you don’t have chicken from your own farm to hand, it is always plentiful at supermarkets or your local farmer’s market. Let’s face it, chicken is the perfect canvas to create a delicious and nutritious – high in protein, low in fat (also, Keto, Whole 30-friendly and works into many fitness plans) every day meals. There are no limits to what you can do with chicken, you just have to challenge yourself to get creative and make it your way. I think chicken really is one of the unsung heroes of your shopping trolley!

From 28th January, Bord Bia is on a mission to give chicken dishes a new lease on life by providing consumers with inspiration and new meal ideas and reminding them about the benefits of purchasing Quality Mark chicken.

At a time of year where people are looking to start out afresh and are inspired to try new things, I am partnering with Bord Bia to celebrate how you can ‘Make it Your Way’ with Quality Mark chicken with a variety of new recipe inspiration from Bord Bia.

I am excited to share this new recipe, a wonderfully comforting Chicken Pot Roast with Smokey Bacon and Borlotti Beans, perfect for the polar weather and a fun spin on the traditional pork or beef pot roast. This pot roast is incredibly delicious, nutritious, and packed with flavour and protein. Serve with a side of Colcannon or Champ mash and some roasted veggies. (I like roasted brussels sprouts with this recipe.)

Chicken Pot Roast with Smokey Bacon and Borlotti Beans
Serves 4
Time: 1 1⁄2 hours
1 x 11⁄2kg chicken
2 tablesp. rapeseed or olive oil
120g smoked bacon lardons
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 stick of celery, finely diced
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
250ml chicken stock, homemade if possible
250ml dry cider or water
400g tin of your favourite beans e.g. cannellini, barlotti, kidney, rinsed and drained Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve: Creamy mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables
METHOD
Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4, 180°C, (350°F).
Heat a tablespoon of oil in an ovenproof casserole dish big enough to take the chicken. Add in the bacon and brown for 3-4 minutes. Then add the carrot, celery, onion, salt and pepper and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Place the chicken in the casserole and season with salt and pepper. Pour in the stock and cider/water. Bring to a simmer then cover the casserole tightly and place in the oven.

Cook for an hour then remove from the oven. Add the beans to the casserole and stir them through. Add some water if the sauce is drying out. Return the casserole, uncovered, to the oven and cook for another 20 minutes.

Scullery Notes: Serve the sliced chicken with the sauce, mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables.

Remember: Always look for the Bord Bia Quality Mark when purchasing chicken so that you know that it has been produced to the highest Bord Bia Quality standards which have been verified at every stage.
Check out www.bordbia.ie/qualitychicken for recipe inspiration and #MakeItYourWay and get cooking with chicken!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

This post is sponsored by Bord Bia. (but please don’t let that stop you from preparing this beautiful roast chicken!)

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Want to try something different for your holiday meal this year? We often pop a goose into the oven for Little Christmas at the farm (6th January), but since it is SUCH a treat, we may just roast up a couple of these succulent birds for the main event this year since we gobbled down two different types of turkey at Thanksgiving in November and might be turkey’ed out. (jury is still out on that)

A golden roast goose is a gorgeous alternative to classic turkey and ham. The meat is richly flavourful and moist. Pro tip–you might need more than one bird for a large family as there’s usually quite a bit more fat than meat (like a duck) so don’t let the weight fool you.

Apparently years ago, most farms in Ireland reared geese. My sister-in-law’s mother once told me that geese were also great guards for the farmyard and garden, and no farm in our area would have been without a pair of geese when she was growing up. They would alert families to visitors, welcome or not, with their unmistakable honk.

Goose is traditionally stuffed with potato and apple stuffing and roasted slowly, every now and then pouring off the fat to be reserved for roast potatoes. (Goose fat is perfect for many other noncooking purposes, such as shining shoes!)

This recipe uses my mother-in-law Peggy’s potato stuffing instead of the traditional potato and apple. Peggy’s version soaks up the gorgeous goose fat while providing a lush, herby flavor to the bird as well.

Roast Goose with Peggy’s Potato Stuffing
Serves 8
9- to 11-lb (4-to 5-kg) oven-ready goose, with giblets
3 cups Peggy’s Potato Stuffing (see below)
6 sweet apples, cored and cut into 8 pieces, plus more for garnish
1 1⁄4 cup dry white wine
Method
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200 °C) Gas 6. Prick the skin of the goose all over with a sharp skewer or fork; pull the inside fat out of the bird and reserve.
2. Spoon the potato stuffing into the neck end of the goose, then truss with strong cotton or fine string. Weigh the bird. Wrap in foil and place it on a wire rack placed in a roasting pan. Roast for 15 minutes per pound (450 g), plus 15 minutes at the end, basting frequently.
3. Thirty minutes before the end of the cooking time, drain off the fat and discard. Add the apples and wine to the pan. Place the bird on top, standing on the roasting rack. Remove the foil and fat and cook, uncovered, for the last 30 minutes, then serve.
Scullery Notes: Garnish this roast with fresh-cut bay laurel leaves and apple slices if you please.

One of my favorite recipes that my late mother-in-law, Peggy, prepared was her savoury potato stuffing. She only made it on special occasions. As straightforward as it may be, potato stuffing always seemed exotic yet heartwarming to me, a dish that I had never encountered back home. I wasn’t the only one who looked forward to Peggy’s stuffing; each serving always brought comfort and joy to all the faces around the table.
This was Peggy’s tried-and-true recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Peggy’s Potato Stuffing
Serves 6
5 large floury potatoes (russet, kerr pinks) boiled or steamed, and coarsely mashed (do not overcook)
41⁄2 tablespoons (65 g) butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons mixed herbs (dried thyme, rosemary, sage)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Method
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the potatoes, butter, and onion. Add the mixed herbs,
and season with salt and pepper. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly. Use to stuff a goose, duck, or turkey before roasting.

Scullery Notes: This stuffing is particularly good in a large roast goose or duck, but in our house, Peggy would also always traditionally stuff the carcass of a turkey with potato stuffing and the turkey breast with bread stuffing.

What are your holiday meal traditions? Please share, it’s fun to try new ideas.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen xx

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Food Unearthed

17 Sep 2018

For many of us, preventing food waste is simply not allowing the bag of spinach in the bottom of the fridge get sweaty and go off, or becoming more sensible with your shopping and planning. But what if we were to use up food that many people think is only fit for the bin or is inedible? With an estimated 7.3 million tonnes of food thrown away every year, we must ask ourselves how to bring food waste reduction into our everyday cooking and be more aware in our homes. This month, my Lens & Larder partner, Cliodhna Prendergast and I have combined forces with Brown Thomas and the Le Creuset Food Unearthed Campaign to create recipes that embrace our leftover ingredients and make the most of our food without having any food waste.

If you think about it, we have actually been preparing waste reduction dishes for centuries using recipes that that have been designed expressly for that purpose. Bread and butter pudding was a way to use up stale bread, Coq au Vin was a recipe developed to use up an old cockerel that would otherwise be too chewy to say the least, however, slowly cooked in the acid and alcohol of old white wine this dish has become a favourite in our kitchens. Another dish that emerged in an effort to use up unwanted fish was Bouillabaisse. Developed by the provincial French fishermen of Marseille as they found it difficult to sell the bony rock fish they fished locally. A broth was made from the rock fish, usually including some leftover shellfish for added flavour and mixed with tomatoes, fennel, saffron and sometimes potatoes. If you fast forward to today’s modern clean eating movement, we can embrace things like juice pulp and parts of vegetables that we wouldn’t ordinarily find edible because they are fantastic ingredients that you can get creative with and that tast delicious when prepared nicely.

We are proud to support #lovefoodhatewaste and Le Creuset’s Food Unearthed campaign and have created two delicious recipes that use up ordinarily discarded foods and turn them into dishes that the whole family will love.  Serve these gorgeous dishes on Le Creuset’s stunning new line of tableware for an unforgettable dining experience all around.

Bouillabaisse
Serves 4-6
Because this dish is based on wasted food the ingredients, you do not have to be exact, any kind of crustacean shells like prawns, crab, lobster, crayfish, I happened to have lobster. I used haddock bones but any white fish will work. The same goes for the vegetables, these are rough ingredient measures how ever use what you have available, ends of onions, fennel, celery trimmings etc are all good.

You can serve it as a hearty soup with the fish that clings to the bones only or you can make it a more filling stew by adding cooked mussels, clams and or a piece of steamed or baked chunky white fish. It’s up to you.

Everything can be made in advance (it is best when it has a chance for the flavours to develop), and the extra seafood added before serving if you please.  To serve you need some toasted crusty bread, baguette is traditional however you should try to get some stale bread from your bakery so whatever is left over is good, ciabatta and sourdough are delicious as the rouille can settle into the air pockets.

Stock
Preheat oven to 200°C
500g lobster shells
500g fish bones/heads cleaned of any blood and glands.
250mls white wine
2lts. water
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced
2 fennel bulbs, reserve the feathery green parts for serving, use the outer parts here and reserve the inner pieces for the main dish.
2 sticks of celery
4 tsp. tomato puree
5 peppercorns

Place the lobster shells on a tray in the oven to roast for 20 minutes. This intensifies the flavour but also makes them easier to break up for the stock.

When the shells are roasted transfer them to a large pot and break up with a hammer or the end of a rolling pin.

Add the fish bones and heads and the wine and simmer for 5 minutes.

Then add the water, onions, fennel, celery, peppercorns and tomato puree.

Bring to a simmer only and turn down the heat so it is simmering very gently for 1 hour. Do not stir. Skim the surface to remove any scum that rises to the top.

Strain through a sieve lined with a piece of muslin/cheese cloth for a nice clear broth.

The Broth
Preheat oven to 200°C
1 onions finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 fennel bulbs, finely sliced (inner parts from the fennel used in stock)
6 medium potatoes cut into medium sized cubes
2 tbsp. fennel seeds, warmed on a pan and ground a little
400mls white wine
salt and pepper
1 tsp. saffron strands (powdered saffron can be use here but threads are best)
6 over ripe fresh tomatoes crushed
1kg fish bones

First, add the saffron threads to a little warm water or warmed shellfish stock, it will take a little time for the flavour to activate.

Sweat the onions and garlic, with a little salt and pepper in the olive oil until translucent, add the fennel, mix through and remove to a bowl.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pot, heat and add the potatoes, toss in the oil and allow to cook just a little. Add the onions, garlic and fennel back into the pot with the ground fennel seeds, mix through and then add the white wine. Allow the wine to reduce by half.

Add the saffron in its water/stock to the pot along with the tomatoes and cook in for a moment. Then add the stock. Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes.

Best to allow it to rest for a while so the flavours can develop before serving.

The fish bones can be cooked now and the flesh added to the pot.

Place the fish bones on an oven tray, removing any fins with a scissors and brush on some olive oil, salt and pepper. Place the tray in the oven for 10- 15 minutes. Remove and when cooled slightly, remove all flesh from the bones, carefully sorting through and removing any little bones. Add the flesh to the cooling bouillabaisse.

Rouille:

1 egg yolk
¼ – ½ lemon juiced
200mls olive oil
1 pinch saffron threads
½ roasted/pickled red pepper,
a handful of stale bread with no crust
2 tbsp. seafood broth from the pot
Plus bread for serving.
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic grated

Soak the saffron in 2 tablespoon of warm seafood broth. Then add the bread and soak.  Add this to a food processor with the red pepper, garlic and cayenne. Blitz, then add the egg yolk, blitz again. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream. Add the lemon juice in drops along the way, if the rouille looks like it may be starting to split, a dash of lemon juice will bring it back. The result should be a red-ish mayonnaise type sauce to spread on the toast or add to the broth. Check for seasoning. Chill until serving.

To serve:

Slice the bread in long strips and toast.

If adding other seafood prepare and cook now.

Heat the bouillabaisse gently and serve (with or without extra seafood) in bowls with fresh green fennel tips on top. Put a dollop of rouille on the toast and serve with the soup with extra rouille on the side.

Italian Juice Pulp “Meatballs”
Serves 4-6
These delicious meatballs take away the guilt of discarding all of the juice pulp you have after juicing just a couple glasses for your morning detox elixir. If you fancy, you can add this mixture to beef or pork if you must have the protein boost.

Makes 10 Balls
500g pulp of beetroot and carrot, excess juice squeezed out
1 egg white
200g day old bread crumbs
30g grated parmesan
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp lemon zest
Sea salt and pepper to season
1 tsbp extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 180c
Combine pulp, egg white and bread crumbs in a mixing bowl. Add garlic, oregano, fennel seeds, lemon zest and salt and pepper, mix to combine thoroughly. Shape into 10 meatballs (or more/less -size to your liking).

Heat olive oil in a nonstick skillet over med heat. Add meatballs and cook for 10-12 minutes. Remove from skillet and transfer to baking dish. Place on hot preheated oven for 25 minutes until cooked through.

Serve with pasta and sauce of your liking.

Kale Spines with Lemon and Thyme
Keep your kale spines, they are absolutely delicious and just as nutritious and filled with antioxidants as the leaves. Just blanch and grill and you have a surprisingly tasty no-waste side dish.

Serves 4-6

1 dozen kale stems
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp crushed garlic (opt)
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Bring large pot of water to the boil. Place kale stems into boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove and cool. Place kale stems into ziplock bag with olive oil, salt and papper and garlic if using. Place in fridge to marinate for 30 mins up to overnight. Prepare hot coals for grill. Place kale stems on grill until charred. Serve.

Slan Abhaile,
Imen xx

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