Irish Dulse Butter

28 Feb 2012

At around this time last year, food courtesans from all over Ireland were flocking together in Donegal to celebrate Inishfood, Ireland’s “Glastonbury of Food” as Suzanne Campbell aptly implied. Inishfood was a renegade event organised by the remarkable (and indefatigable!) Donal Doherty of Harry’s Restaurant with Kristin Jensen and Caroline Hennessy of the IFBA and supported/promoted/assisted/accompanied by a myriad of proud Irish artisan food enthusiasts/producers/journalists/bloggers and broadcasters. Even Parisienne Trish Deseine, a Norn-Irelander, who is one of France’s most celebrated food writers, joined us virtually with encouraging + inspiring words that were read over coffee during the welcoming gathering on Saturday morning.

The farmer and I drove from the southwest of Ireland to the stunning northernmost Inishowen Peninsula on a rainy and cold Friday afternoon. In total, the drive took about 5 hours, and even though we did not know exactly what to expect once we were there, there was a feeling that we would be participating in something really special and unforgettable. For the record, ‘special and unforgettable’ was a mass understatement.

We arrived at our beautiful riverside B&B at dusk and were greeted by Margaret and William Grant, the charming couple who own Westbrook House. We sat in their cozy kitchen breezily chatting away about farming, inn-keeping, and relations between the north and the south. In that time, I also spied a vintage butter churn on the countertop and explained that I would be doing a butter making demonstration at the festival the following day. Margaret insisted that I take along their churn. It was kismet because I had been looking for that exact style of churn to use in my presentation as a reference and wasn’t having luck sourcing it. Talk about Irish hospitality!

They showed us to our comfortable bedroom; all the rooms were named after a child in their family and we had one of the daughter’s rooms whose name was written on the door, but I cannot recall it at the moment. What I do remember is that this was my first time staying in an Irish B&B and it couldn’t have been a better experience.

After we freshened up a bit, we were collected and taken to Linsfort Castle for some “to be revealed” evening festivities. We were dropped at the entrance of the large country house with a group of others and then were escorted down a torch lit sandy lane to Darren Bradley’s cottage on the sea. As it was still winter, there was a damp chill in the air, but once we joined the group huddled around Darren’s handcrafted outdoor brick oven with pizzas popping out every 5 minutes, we were fine and toasty. When we were handed a bottle of Irish craft beer and a slice of hot pizza creatively topped with black pudding, potato and rosemary, we were officially all warmed up…have a look: (and listen to that lovely Northern Ireland dialect!)

After plenty of chat and cheer at the pizza and beer party, we gathered inside Linsfort Castle where traditional Irish folk stories and music were shared in front of a blazing hearth fire. We all gobbled down bowls of hot venison stew and sipped on more craft brews. I kept pinching myself to see if it was all for real because I felt so transported to a magical place that when I looked around the room it was hard not to imagine that we were all characters playing out scenes in a beautiful Irish arthouse film.

The next day, everyone gathered at Harry’s in Bridgend where a series of food demos and chat took place with the group happily sharing the same love and enthusiasm for Irish food and the idea of Ireland: The Food Island. Sally McKenna, of The Bridgestone Guides, Mag Kirwin of Goatsbridge Trout Farm, David Tiernan of Glebebretha Cheese, Ella McSweeney from Ear to the Ground, Craft butchers, Ed Hick, Pat Whelan, Jack McCarthy, TJ Crowe of Crowes farm, Seanean and Collin from L Mulligan Grocer in Dublin to name just a few. A plethora of blogger friends, new and not so new, mingled around a smorgasbord of food for everyone to sample, it was an Irish food paradise.

That evening, we enjoyed an unbelievable “no menu” meal at Harrys. Shared serving platters which were continuously delivered to our communal style tables were adorned with food all sourced within minutes from the restaurant. During the night, I had a conversation with Zack Gallagher of The Irish Food Guide. He encouraged me to use dulse (he recommended pepper dulse) to flavor my farm butter. I went home thinking about doing just that and like so many other brilliant suggestions, it took me a bit to get there. Last week, I finally got my hands on some dulse and decided to make butter with it. The flavour knocked our socks off. Spicy, salty…this seaweed adds a dimension of flavour to the butter that you can’t quite put your finger on, but brings enormous satisfaction and makes you want more (umami?).

I brought my dulse butter to the table of a photo shoot that I took part in last week at the stunning Village at Lyons in County Kildare. The shoot was for a feature on food and rural living that will be published in the exciting new Irish glossy Irish Country Magazine coming out on 29th March. Here’s a fun snap from the day (from bottom right to left, Ella McSweeney, Pat Whelan, Yvonne Kerr (deputy editor), me, Lorna Sixsmith)

You can learn how to make your own butter with my DIY editorial here; afterwards, just finely chop up a handful of softened dulse and massage into your butter. You won’t be disappointed.

Inishfood will return again this year over the May 18-20th weekend, and we already have the Westbrook House booked!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Dulse butter photo by Imen McDonnell 2012. Irish Country Magazine photo taken on location by food stylist,  Sharon Hearne-Smith.

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My name is Imen McDonnell and I am powerless over pizza.

Okay, maybe I’m not quite a pizza-holic, but pizza has always played a big role in my life.  My fondness for this Italian delicacy probably stemmed from my father’s adoration of the same…we’d often find ourselves sharing a pepperoni and cheese from our local, Port Sandy Bay {whom, I might add, also served the Infamous “Snowcoaster” pizza which was prepared on a shiny round snow sled} and it was such a treat. If I was ever home from school with a cold, my dad insisted that I eat pizza and it was remarkably healing.

As years went on, I would always find myself on a mission to experience pizza wherever I traveled or lived. In Los Angeles, Joe’s Pizza was a favorite; in New York I favoured Ray’s…I’ve had a brilliant pizza at BIKO in Mexico City and of course, in Italy…her birthplace, where pizzerias can be found around nearly every corner, but for me, most memorable at the  10 Corso Como cafe in Milan any choice of little pizza cafés dotting the streets of Rome or along a tiny windy road in Positano.  {I’ve yet to experience a Napoli pizza, my father’s favorite, which has been on my list since as long as I can remember}

When I lived in Minneapolis, brick-oven pizza was king and I had places like Punch and Biga on heavy rotation as I was a single professional who often worked late, couldn’t find time to cook at home in the evenings and longed for something healthy that went well with a glass of red after a long day. In fact, if I fancied, I could even have my pizza delivered to me by a superhero which was always divine.

Since moving to Ireland, I have had great luck with La Cucina, a sweet Italian eatery located in Limerick City near the offices of a production studio I worked at for a time. We would often pick up delicious pizzas or pasta for the crew from Lorraine, a friendly Irish girl who married an Italian and created a lovely restaurant together.

When we went to Inishfood in Donegal last month, we experienced Darren Bradley’s amazing brick-oven pizza at his home near the beach on the gorgeous Inishowen peninsula one evening….which reminded me a bit of going to the bucolic Pizza Farm, only with Irish microbrews accompanying our slices at twilight.

It goes without saying that after we moved into our country home, I would have to learn how to make my own pizza if we wanted to eat it on a regular basis. I started searching for pizza dough recipes and after going through at least 5-6 that seemed to have great potential; I stumbled upon this one from, of all places, Modern Country Cooking and I have never looked back.

If you love a super thin crispy crust, this is for you. I make up the batch and freeze or refrigerate half of it. We love getting creative and mixing it up, making everything from Moroccan to Thai pizzas and when there are odds and ends in the crisper after a week of meals, Sunday morning breakfast pizza is the ultimate.

Inspired by Darren’s potato version from Inishfood, I decided to add some of my favorite local ingredients, Crowe’s Farm streaky rashers and Ardsullagh Goat’s Cheese along with truffle oil, minced garlic and fresh rosemary which grows right in front of our house. This particular pizza does not call for a tomato base, but  the crust is just as delicious with passata and the toppings of your choice.

 

Hope you like it as much as we do!

 

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Sonia Mulford Chaverri

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My Funny Valentine

18 Feb 2011

I know this is a little late for Valentine’s Day, but I have a perfectly good excuse. I planned on making these sweet heart-shaped deep chocolate Guinness cakes for my special ♥ post, but as luck would have it, I came down with a terrible, knockdown cold this week and was quarantined to the bedroom until today. This illness came shortly after I finally recovered from the worst jet lag I had ever experienced coming back from America on the 6th.  Note to self: don’t forget sleep tabs for flight next time!

The good news is even though I was under the weather, I still managed to have a pretty good week. We’ve welcomed at least 15 new calves since the weekend, which always makes my heart smile and when I checked emails on Valentine’s morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this blog has been nominated in four categories for the Irish Blog Award this year! The categories are Food, Photo, Personal and Specialist. Am deeply flattered by this although I have to admit that I am not quite clear on what exactly I “specialize” in just yet! Check out all of the great Irish blog nominees here.

Despite the fact that I was bed-bound, I was able to have a little fun as evidenced by the #foodiefridgeflash that I jumpstarted in the Twitterverse on Wednesday. I like to call it an international flash mob of fridge innards. It was loads of fun watching the twitpics stream in all day on my laptop from the comfort of my bed. Have a peek at some of the photos here.

I also received my long awaited new P. Allen Smith, “Seasonal Recipes From The Garden” cookbook. If you have not heard of this gardener extraordinaire who has been deemed the “Martha Stewart of the South” by the New York Times, I highly recommend adding this book or any of his previous gardening books to your library. I turned on the kettle, lit my  favorite candle, slathered on some happy hand cream (I truly believe that aromatherapy heals) and proceeded to turn page after gorgeous page of inspiring seasonal recipes. I put the beautiful book down with fresh anticipation for the spirit of spring and getting into our garden again. I mean, poached egg & spring spinach salad? Delicious!

To top the week off, I was invited by Donal Doherty and the Irish Food Bloggers Association to share some of my butter-making love for their “foodies on tour” event next month at Harry’s Restaurant in Donegal. I will be presenting in the esteemed company of Ed Hick and TJ Crowe who will also be sharing their skills on the day. Donal says he has even more surprises planned….Burren Salmon? Artisan Chutney? You never know, as he’s always got something exciting up his sleeve! I am really excited to meet Donal, whom has really made a name for himself here in Ireland for his unwavering support and use of local (sometimes unsual) ingredients at Harry’s. If you are foodie, we welcome you to attend. You can find all the details on the IFBA website here.

So, the moral of this story is that sometimes being sick and in bed isn’t the worst. Except for physically feeling quite awful, I had a fantastic week. And, it’s all really because of this blog and those who follow along, so big thanks to you!

Happy {belated} Valentine’s Day.

Here’s that little Irish chocolate cake recipe I wanted to share with you…

Enjoy!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell. Photographs in P.Allen Smith’s book by Ben Fink.

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