Last weekend Geoffrey and I picked all of the apples and pears at our little farm orchard. All I could think about was apple dumplings. Some people have visions of sugar plums. I dream of apple dumplings.  Apple dumplings are pastry wrapped baked apples. They are perfect for using up apples that don’t shine up all prim and purty…which was basically nearly all of ours this year.

I suppose it is fairly safe to say that cooking has officially consumed me. I am sure this has come as quite a shock to those who knew me B.F. (before farm)…aka, the incessant diner-outer who was better known for raiding craft services tables on production than crafting her own cider.  I categorically cherished good food; as long as someone else was preparing it. This evolution has been most surprising to me, but as I’ve come to realize, knowing how to cook and bake is absolutely essential to farm living. There is really no other option. We simply do not have the convenience of time or location to eat outside of our kitchen on a regular basis  ever. What we have is the space and potential to grow and prepare most of our own food. And so, this is what we endeavour to do. {However, a dirty dinner at The Spotted Pig wouldn’t go astray}

Still, there can be clashes in the kitchen. For instance, pastry is persnickety. Dough in general. There is a science to it. When you do it right, it can be very rewarding. But, sometimes that reward doesn’t come as often as I’d like. Generally, there are only three ingredients. It should be easy. Though mostly it’s not. The pastry I used for these apple dumplings is the same one my mother-in-law uses for her apple tart. There is egg in it. If the temperature isn’t right, it falls apart and you stand there weeping into it. (alternatively, you can scream and bang the rolling pin onto countertop until dough flies everywhere. Satisfying, but cows will think you are crazy + there’s more mess to clean up)  It is imperative that you turn the disc of pastry round and round while you are rolling it or the edges crack and badda-bing, you’re done. One day, I shall master pastry….like the little blue choo that could….maybe it will be that chicken pot pie or perhaps a daring mille-feuille, but I will get there, promise.

Peggy’s buttery sweet pastry is perfection baked around an apple sprinkled with some autumn spices. It’s well worth the meltdown effort. And, having fresh honey and milk on hand to churn scoops of beautiful burnt honey ice cream doesn’t hurt either…

Irish Apple Dumplings

Peggy’s pastry

Juice from one lemon

6 medium cooking apples (Bramley’s work well)

55g or 1/4 cup packed brown sugar

50g or 1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cloves

Pinch kosher salt

30g or 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

Turn out the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll into a large rectangle or square, about 1/8-inch thick.

Cut a piece of parchment paper into a 6-inch square. Using the parchment paper as a guide, cut out 6 total squares from the dough, gathering scraps and re-rolling as needed. Layer the dough on pieces of parchment paper and refrigerate while preparing the apples.

Preheat the oven to 230c/450f°.

Add the lemon juice to a bowl of ice water. Peel and core each apple and place in the lemon water to prevent browning.

To make the filling, combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle the bottom of a square of dough with sugar mixture. Place an apple in the center of dough. Put one pat of butter in the core of the apple and sprinkle additional sugar mixture inside. Bring the four corners of dough up around the apple, pinching the edges to seal and folding over excess if necessary. Continue with all of the apples.

Arrange the apple dumplings in a baking dish, leaving about 1-inch of space between each apple. Bake until the crust begins to turn golden brown, about 40 minutes.

Burnt Honey Ice Cream

125ml or ½ cup honey

1 tsp cinnamon

500ml or 2 cups milk

250ml or 1 cup double (heavy) cream

Cook honey and cinnamon in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat for 5 minutes or until dark coloured and smoking. Add 2 tbsp cold water and remove from heat immediately.

Heat milk and cream in a separate saucepan and bring almost to the boil. Gradually whisk in burnt honey + cinnamon and stir over low heat until mixture is combined. Do not boil. Remove from heat, pour into a bowl and cool (overnight in refrigerator is ideal). Freeze mixture in an ice-cream machine and then place in freezer for 2-3 hours before serving. 

Happy Autumn.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell 2012

 

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Hay Ice Cream

03 Jun 2012

It’s haymaking season here in the Irish countryside, a time when the grassy harlequin fields are being clipped and baled or gathered to make silage. There is even a haymaking festival this month in Trim, County Meath that sounds like a bit of fun.

Any given Irish cow’s diet is made up almost entirely of grass. Whether while grazing in little green fields or munching on hay or silage in the shed during bad weather, grass is a bovine’s first love. Our girls adore it so much that I have often wondered if they would actually ever stop eating it if they didn’t have other milk-related things to carry out each day.

Not surprisingly, the land that we built our home on the farm upon was originally a grazing pasture. In fact, in the first two years of living here, Richard often had a herd of 50+ cattle lingering around in our yard a couple times a month. He would explain with a laugh, “they’re just cutting the lawn for us.”  I would respond by nodding with glazed over eyes, thinking to myself “this too shall pass,” which is ironic because three years on I often find myself thinking it would be nice to have the cows gathered around the house again, if only it wouldn’t create such a mess.

I recall getting to know the girls more intimately during those years. There was always 2-3 heifers who were very curious and would get very close to the house and just gaze into the windows at me. We would literally engage in staring contests with one another as I stood at the kitchen sink eyeing them up and they carefully examined me as if to say, “Hmmm, don’t you look quite odd.” (Ever seen the Twilight Zone episode called “Human Zoo”? Ahem.)

Other times, I’d find myself getting lost in the rhythmic chanting of the pull/chomp/chew…under-the-breath-moo, which was completely audible despite being indoors. Before I knew it, I was hypnotically lulled into observing them for longer periods than I care to admit, and would begin to contemplate things like: how is it possible that little blades of grass could nutritionally sustain such large animals?* And, why don’t humans eat it too?** Do cows think and feel like us?*** One day, I clipped some grass and nibbled on a blade or two. The flavour reminded me of my former stateside fling with a morning shot of wheat grass, which was swiftly followed by a reminder that wheatgrass shots are one thing I really don’t miss about my American life.

Our grass is still not a proper planted “lawn”, but we mow it like it is and my father-in-law often reminds me that we are “wasting good hay for the cows by not letting it grow wild.” My inflexibility on this is just as perplexing to him as having a yard full of 3-foot grass is to me. Let’s just say, we agree to disagree.

When I heard about a restaurant in Washington state (USA) that was making hay ice cream, I was instantly intrigued. I knew the season was just around the bend here, so this week I did some research and tested a couple recipes. Since all of our cut grass is used for silage, I got a handful from a neighbor who has organic hay. I made a custard, and then let the hay steep in the mixture for 30 minutes to infuse the flavour.

The little farmer and I churned the ice cream, and on a whim, decided to put together a picnic and head to the meadow at the thatched farm in the afternoon. I had one of our roast chickens in the fridge so I quickly made up a batch of honey chicken salad. We packed three darling cheese and potato nests leftover from tea the evening before, a loaf of fresh baked brown bread from breakfast, and mixed up a pitcher of elderflower + lavender cordial. Hay ice cream was put on ice in the cooler, ready for indulgence after our little lunch.

Just when it was time to eat the ice cream, the clouds parted and the sun came out. Not sure if it was the warm rays shining down on us or the actual hay ice cream flavour, but each spoonful tasted like sun to me.  Well, sun with a tarty tinge of grass or straw. Have you ever tried Oatscream? To me, it has a similar taste profile. We both liked it, probably not as much as my brown butter ice cream, but when Richard sampled it in the evening, he loved it and ate nearly a pint. You’ll have to try it for yourself, and let me know how you get on.

*it’s jam packed with water, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals

**we’d need three more stomachs and special flora to digest it

*** Yes, just ask Temple Grandin!

Thanks to all who came to my cookery demo at Sheridan’s Irish Food Festival last weekend. If you would like the recipes for honey-chicken salad or Irish potato and cheese nests (tartiflette), I will be posting them to my Facebook page very soon!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell 2012

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Farmhouse Milk Loaf

06 Mar 2012

Pan, soda, cobb, bloomer, brown, batch, granary, rolled, basket, milk……all names of beautiful breads that you will find in any Irish market or bakery on any given day, and all names of breads that totally eluded me upon moving to Ireland.

Milk bread in particular sounded appealing to me. I stumbled upon a loaf a couple years back and gave it a try, loved it, asked some friends if they knew what it was (no), then somehow forgot all about it. This dairy-based bread came up in conversation at the farm the other day when I was discussing an email that I received from an American blog reader who had spent considerable time in Ireland.  She wondered if I had a recipe for “plain old sliced white pan” which I will post very soon (promise!), but in the meantime, I had discovered the farm recipe for old-fashioned milk bread and couldn’t wait to give it a try.

After getting a jug of fresh morning milk from the dairy, I made a cup of coffee and measured all of my ingredients. I made the recipe two ways: First using plain (all-purpose) flour and secondly, using strong (bread) flour. The plain flour will make a softer/cakey almost tea bread and strong flour creates an airier, sandwich-style texture. The milk creates a very rich flavour and texture, and both versions are wonderful.

After combining the flour with butter then adding the salt, sugar and yeast, I added the fresh warm milk. Once it was all mixed, I began to knead the dough which became incredibly velvety and smooth.

Ten minutes later I rolled the dough into an oblong shape and popped it into the loaf pan to rise for about 25 minutes (or until it’s just peeping over the top of the pan) Finally, I slid the pan into a hot oven and 30-40 minutes later out came a gorgeous loaf of bread. Just perfect served warm with fresh honey butter and a colourful salad.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos & Styling by Imen McDonnell 2012 (photos are of the plain/cream flour version)

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