Mmmmm. Fresh yogurt. Crunchy granola. Boo Berries.

BUT, before I go into all of that crazy goodness, I’d like to express my GINORMOUS thanks to all that voted for this blog in the Saveur Magazine Best Food Blog Awards. Voting is closed and the winners will be announced on May 3rd. If you voted, it was very generous and kind of you, if you didn’t, I get that too; signing up to vote in a contest is not everyone’s cup-o-tea. I’m just delighted that you take the time to read my funny little country-living/food-loving diary. It’s a labour of love.

I really must say that I am especially grateful to Bord Bia {the Irish food board}, Marie-Claire Digby of the Irish Times, The Irish Farmer’s Journal and Irish Country Mag, along with the amazing food and blogging community in Ireland who shared an overwhelming show of support in getting the word out about this nomination. If there is one thing I have noticed that Ireland does with great pride and enthusiasm, it is supporting the people, places or things they believe in. To receive this gesture of support as an American living in Ireland is something to relish; it is heartwarming and very special to say the least. Plus, it goes a long way in making an oft homesick expat feel right at home, and that is enough of a win for me! Thank you.

I apologise for not having a post up sooner. As luck would have it, we’ve had sketchy internet. I am not going to flannel on about it, because we are lucky that we even have a fast internet connection most of the time. This was not always the case. When I moved here just a few years ago, there was dial-up. The kind where you hear the dial tone and worse-than-nails-on-a-blackboard screeching sounds. Now, we have wi-fi, but the router is located in the cowshed at the upper farmyard because it picks up a better signal from there. Which is brilliant, until rains too much {cough} we don’t get a signal. Yes, it rains fairly often. (see Fair Weather Friend)

So. Homemade yogurt. Something I probably would have never dreamed of attempting, but when you have an Irish dairy on your doorstep and the nearest supermarket is 3/4′s of an hour away, it makes no sense whatsoever NOT to milk it. This post is not groundbreaking. There are already bags of other food blogs + websites featuring DIY yogurt. It’s like a bubbling pot of live bacteria out there. So, I am not going to claim that my version is the best, but I do know that our 6 year old prefers it over fromage frais which is nothing short of monumental. I personally think the trick is vanilla bean. Takes down that tang.

And, besides the cracking taste; other mightly fine reasons for making your own yoghurt are:

  1. It’s healthier as it contains no extra preservatives, sugars or additives {i.e. gobbledy-gook}
  2. It’s less expensive {even if you’re not farming}
  3. It’s friendlier to the environment {no trees will be harmed}

As far as the granola, it’s as simple as A. my go-to gorgeous Kilbeggan Oats roasted with B. my beekeeping father-in-law’s happy honey, and C. a few other nutty & seedy bits and bobs thrown in for good measure. Of course, you can use any brand of oats and honey from the shop or market. Easy peasy.

Sharing these recipes can only mean I’ve formally become “crunchy” right?  Okay, maybe halfsies; I did go out to a fancy city dinner wearing makeup and Michael Kors last week, so perhaps I’m just a partial granola girl.

Either way, I’m down with it.

Are you?

Farmhouse Yoghurt

2 Liters or 1/2 gallon of milk

(I use full fat from our dairy for a delightfully creamy result,

but you can buy organic milk of any fat content from the

market as well)

125 ml/ ½ cup of plain yogurt

(to be used a starter, store-bought & must have “live bacteria

cultures” on label)

1 teaspoon vanilla pod seeds

Stainless steel saucepan

Candy Thermometer

Over low heat, slowly bring the milk up to 77°C/170°F in saucepan with a candy thermometer. Do not allow the milk to boil at any time. Once your milk reaches 77°C/170°F, turn off the heat and bring the temperature back down to 43°C/110°F. Once your milk has reached 43°C/110°F, stir a little bit of the warm milk into the 125 ml/½ cup of plain yogurt.

Pour the milk and yogurt mixture into to the saucepan and gently stir them together. Stir in vanilla seeds.

Now it is time to incubate the yogurt. You will need to keep it at a temperature of about 110°F for the next 4-10 hours. The length of time will depend on how thick and tangy you want your yogurt. The longer it sits at this warm temperature, the firmer and tangier it will get. Check the yogurt at the 4 hour mark for a taste and texture test, if you are pleased you can move onto chilling.

I recommend putting the lid onto the saucepan of yogurt, wrapping it up in towels and placing into an oven which was preheated to 50°C/120°F and then turned off. (You can try to maintain the heat in the oven by leaving the light on, which can generate enough heat to keep the yogurt active, but I find keeping the pan cosy in towels should do the trick). All ovens are not the same so play it by ear. I have also read about using a crock-pot, heating pad or, of course, a yogurt maker as well.

When the desired time is up, place the yogurt in the fridge to chill. After the yogurt is completely chilled, stir. There may be a film over the top, which you can eat or simply remove. Pour yogurt into airtight containers and store. (remember to save some to use as your next starter.) Then poon into a dish, cover in granola & fresh berries and DEVOUR.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen x

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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Over the summer I had a taste revelation: After 6 years of Irish living, I discovered that my palate for beef had been altered. I had seen it coming the previous summer stateside, but this year, it was settled.

It happened as I was having dinner with friends at one of those very serious steakhouses, of which I would go as far as to label an American beef eater’s institution in a stodgy old men’s club sort of way. Not my style whatsoever, but places like this had always satiated my periodic craving for a good ole juicy, rare-ish New York Strip or Porterhouse chunk of beef.  These hankerings only seemed to escalate after I left the USA, eventually putting a standing appointment with at least one good steakhouse on our calendar each time we make our way across the pond.

As I eagerly carved into my magnificent looking steak topped with a generous dollop of melted butter and then carefully placed a dripping, beautifully fragrant, bite-sized piece into my mouth….BOOM, it hit me. I looked to my friend with a puzzled face and asked, “How does yours taste?” She was too busy squealing in delight over her beefy feast to answer me and I took the hint. It was at that moment that I realized that I preferred the flavor of Irish beef to the standard, USDA, dry-aged, center-cut of Angus beef that lie before me. I was stunned.

To be frank, when I first came to Ireland, I just did not care for the flavor, texture and smell of Irish beef. Of course, initially I put it down to ‘everything in from my home country is better’ a common conviction that many expats sadly fall prey to when upping sticks and moving abroad. You learn swiftly, that things are just different, not necessarily better or worse.

While we are primarily a dairy and poultry farm, we do raise some cattle for our own use here at home. In my first few years in Ireland, each time I tried the beef from the farm or any other place, I remember thinking that the taste was very unusual. Irish beef had a fuller, meatier flavor than what I was accustomed to and this was not appealing to me for a long time. What I didn’t realize until recently is that I was simply used to grain-fed beef, as so many Americans have been, which is very different to the flavour of natural grass-fed beef in Ireland. My tastebuds were accustomed to something else completely.

Recently I had the opportunity to go along with Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, to a Chef’s Irish Beef Club competition at Chef Sache in Cologne, Germany. I jumped at the chance to get up close and personal with Irish beef and see how chefs in other countries are passionately putting it to use.

It wasn’t surprising to learn about the Chefs’ Irish Beef Club, which is made up of top European chefs who prefer to use beef reared in Ireland because of its quality and value. Still, I wasn’t aware of this group beforehand, and because of my summertime taste revelation, I was especially excited to go along and be a part of this celebration of Irish beef.

Chef Sache is a symposium that showcases top European chefs, many of which are Michelin starred (of the food, not tyre variety).  It is also trade show featuring top-quality food producers and products from around the world, including Bord Bia approved Irish beef.

Bord Bia sponsored a Chefs’ Irish Beef Club competition at the event whereby contestants were required to create a prime Irish beef recipe that would be prepared, served, tasted and judged by a panel of renowned European chefs. The grand prize: A guided tour of Ireland, visiting leading farms and a fabulous dinner at Chapter One in Dublin with Ross Lewis.

I looked on in anticipation as each young chef cooked up something more and more magnificent. My two favorite preparations involved Guinness and turf. The first, and also the judge’s choice, was a Guinness-injected (yes, with a syringe) tenderloin of Irish beef. The second was a massive rib-eye, wrapped in turf and cooked in the sous vide manner, then sautéed in brown butter before serving. Both tasted and looked absolutely amazing.

I may not be a chef, but I am now definitely a full-fledged member of the Irish beef club.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell . Guinness injected beef tenderloin by Christoph Pentzlin

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Mmmmmmm mini-donuts, one of life’s greatest indulgences….and one of my greatest weaknesses!

I must say that I imbibed my fair share of donuts this summer in the States. Many of which came from a little food truck called Chef Shack at the Kingfield Market on a Saturday morning..or two…or three… These special donuts were tossed in the most perfect mystery sugar mixture which they defined as Indian. “Indian Spiced Donuts” to be exact. Myself and the little farmer got on famously with these little delights.

So, it should come as no surprise that as I was preparing to attend the Irish Food Board’s {Bord Bia} food bloggers workshop last week, I decided on trying my hand at making donuts to share with everyone. I wanted to go for a raised + baked variety to be a little less sinful, but still had fun with the spices..adding in a little Swedish/Morroccan love to the mix. In the end, I wasn’t able to make the blogger’s event, but the donuts sure were a big hit here at the farm!

I had fresh home-made butter on hand {practising for my GIY Gathering demo on the weekend} which I think went a long way for the flavour and they turned out just divine without being deep-fried.

Here’s the recipe, give em a try!

Ingredients:

1 1/3 or 300 ml cups warm milk

1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)


2 tablespoons butter


2/3 cup or 85 g sugar


2 eggs


5 cups or 750 g all-purpose (cream) flour

A pinch or two of nutmeg


1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

To Toss:

1/2 cup or 120 g unsalted butter, melted


1 ½ cups or 375 g caster sugar


1 ½ tbsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground cardamom

1 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground star anise

½ tsp  ground cloves

pinch of black pepper

Place 1/3 cup (80ml) of the warm milk in the bowl of an electric mixer. Stir in the yeast and set aside for five minutes or so. Be sure your milk isn’t too hot or it will kill the yeast. Stir the butter and sugar into the remaining cup of warm milk and add it to the yeast mixture. With a fork, stir in the eggs, flour, nutmeg, and salt – just until the flour is incorporated. With the dough hook attachment of your mixer beat the dough for a few minutes at medium speed. If your dough is overly sticky, add flour a few tablespoons at a time. If dry, add more milk a bit at a time. You want the dough to pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl and eventually become supple and smooth. Turn it out onto a floured counter-top, knead a few times (the dough should be barely sticky), and shape into a ball.

Transfer the dough to a buttered (or oiled) bowl, cover, put in a warm place and let rise for an hour or until the dough has roughly doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and roll it out 1/2-inch thick on your floured countertop. Stamp out donut circles with donut cutter. (you can also use round cookie cutters or press dough into mini donut baking tray) Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet and stamp out the smaller inner circles using smaller cutter. If you cut the inner holes out any earlier, they become distorted when you attempt to move them. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise for another 45 minutes.

Bake in a 375F/190C degree oven until the bottoms are just golden, 8 to 10 minutes – start checking around 8. While the doughnuts are baking, place the butter in a medium bowl. Place the spice mix in a separate bowl.

Remove the doughnuts from the oven and let cool for just a minute or two. Dip each one in the melted butter and a quick toss in the sugar bowl. Eat sooner than later.

 Makes 4 dozen mini doughnuts or 2 dozen regular sized 

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo and styling by Imen McDonnell. 

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Home

18 Aug 2011

Yes, we went to the Irish Fair, and yes, we had a lovely….noteworthy time {incl. a very odd introduction to “Irish Nachos”}

But, then we packed up, headed east and, as is always the case when I reach my hometown, time seems to stand still and so do we. Will be travelling back to Ireland on the 28th where I will hit the ground running with a number of events in which to attend and/or participate, if you are in Ireland or planning a trip in early September please come along!

August 30th Food Summer School feat. Alice Waters & Darina Allen, Brooklodge Hotel

September 4th Electric Picnic, Theatre of Food, {Farmhouse Butter Making + Cooking Demo}

September 5th, Outstanding in the Field, Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry, Co Cork

September 10th, GIY Gathering, Waterford Royal Theatre {Farmhouse Butter Making Demo}

Normal foodie posts will resume once we are back on the farm….until then, we will be dallying on the dunes.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell

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Farm Fresh….Foodie?

24 May 2010

Nettle Soup

Last Thursday I was privileged to attend an amazing Irish Foodie event in Dublin, organised by Donal Skehan and Bord Bia (the Irish food board).  I met loads of fabulous foodies such as: 9BeanRow, Dinner DuJour, The Friendly Cottage, The Daily Spud, Icanhascook?, Bibliocook and An American In Ireland and was thoroughly inspired by all the warm personalities and informative food demos put forth on the day. {Oh yes, and for those of you who have a bit of a crush on Donal, he is every bit as charming and lovely in person as he is on television or via his website and twitter}

Truth be told, I had always intended to bring food to the forefront of this blog. It just made sense…it’s what we do best out here in the countryside. Cook, eat. Eat, cook. In particular, my idea was to feature traditional Irish farm dishes combined with a modern American girl’s cookery style. {ahem, yes that would be me}

Somewhere along the way, I was sidetracked by the many distractions of life on the farm, but also, I had a few apprehensions about going in that direction. These foodie fears are as follows:

  1. Does the world really need another food blogger?
  2. If I start food blogging will my body become large (or large-er)? *

Two obviously very important concerns. The good news is that I was not worried about the actual cooking/devising recipes part of the equation. I feel fairly confident in my culinary skills to pull it off and have frequently been told that my little “gift” may be be worth pursuing more seriously. {having said that, I suppose they were all drunkenly delirious at the time of  these said statements}. I also have wide-ranging experience with filming food from my years in advertising production which should work to my advantage as I imagine my OCD tendencies would too.

So does the world really need another food blogger? Well, up until I went to the event last week…it was definitely questionable in my mind. In the USA, this niche is completely saturated and dare I say, nearly “old news”.  Still, I see things differently. I see that for so many people {myself included} food is truly a complete passion and to be able to create and share this vibrant passion with the world brings a tremendous amount of joy to their lives. And, we all know that joy certainly makes the world a better place.  If that weren’t enough, I’m convinced that food blogging is very much a highly creative endeavour. At least it will definitely be for me. Creating a scandalously delicious dish, taking a pretty photograph of it, followed by carefully composing 200-500 words about each preparation takes loads of creative thought, time and energy-if you want to put your best foot forward. Whether it’s mixing up a prosecco cocktail made with a cardamom-pear infusion or a simple traditional Irish stew, your senses are put to work on so many levels. So, because this kind of passion is sensationally creative and simply fuels my raison d’etre then I say: long live cooking/baking/blogging/writing/photography/television…anything foodie, really!

My plan is to proceed by collaborating with my mother-in-law and other Irish foodies to discover the best traditional Irish recipes around. I will draw from the farm as well as Ireland at large and then will lovingly prepare and imaginatively shoot them for you all to nip in and have a look as you see fit.  I will also continue to write about all the other bits and bobs that I experience here as well as featuring Irish talent whom inspire me. If food isn’t your thing, please don’t go away.  I promise I will still share all the silly snags and shenanigans of my Irish country life.

Well, having spilled the beans on my new adventure I am looking forward to the glorious month of June which will be spent in the USA where I will be shopping for a shiny new camera like this.  And this time, I will have even more fun going to my favourite foodie haunts such as Williams-Sonoma, Cooks of Crocus Hill and the one and only Target to find some fabulous new utensils for our kitchen. I’ll finish off with an afternoon or more spent at Crate&Barrel, Pottery Barn, PatinaAnthropologieAmpersand and Victory for colourful and smart accents to add to our collection..and to make for really lovely props.

I am so thrilled to get started on this and I hope you will join me on my Foodie journey! I’m looking for your favorite Irish traditional dishes and would love to hear your suggestions. Just leave a comment below.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

*As far as my concern about getting “large”. Well, I guess that’s my own problem! (But, Donal, we all want to know your secret to staying thin and making all that yummy food all the time?!)

Photo courtesy of “The Country Cooking of Ireland” by Colman Andrews and Christopher Hirsheimer, photographer.

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