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[turkey harvests.]

holidays.

new Years.

[weddings.]

Birthdays.

New beginnings.

[old friends.]

[Family time.]

farming time.

Flax Dreams.

linen Fairs.

[Milk Jam.]

beach walks.

[Cookbook Edits.]

Paris [Through the Excited Eyes of a Little Farmer.]

More life, less blogging. 

Rather than banter on with 5000+ words about all the reasons it’s been awhile since my last blogpost, I thought it might be nicer to sum it up e.e. cummings-style. Bit more poetic, right?

hen

It’s been busier than a milking parlour at 4pm these days, but let’s jump right back in with some beautiful bits of bacchanalia.

First thing’s first, the lucky recipient of Darina Allen’s book is Kit Mitchell, whom I have emailed for shipping details. Many congratulations Kit! This book is a true treasure.

I have one big blogging resolution this year and that is to share more vintage Irish recipes with you in 2015 (with more frequency too). I have been spending some clandestine time researching antique housekeeper’s books and hand-written recipes from the sculleries of some very old Irish estates and cooking hearths of thatched farms. These recipes have proven to be both extraordinarily fascinating and quite simply delicious. I hope you will agree, so please stay tuned.

It would be impossible to not be absolutely smitten with acclaimed The Year in Food blogger Kimberley Hasselbrink’s first book, Vibrant Food. I made her gorgeous grilled Halloumi with strawberries and herbs for lunch today and I swear I was instantly transported to a sunny day in Santorini.

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Kimberley creates irresistible masterpieces from fresh, vibrant, honest ingredients and there isn’t one recipe in her book that I wouldn’t want to prepare.

Baking Mad sent me a crazy good care package filled to the brim with baking goods and asked me to try my hand at some recipes on the Baking Mad website. Any excuse to make salted milk jam (aka salted caramel) right?!

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Find the recipe for salted caramel ring doughnuts (pictured at the top) below.

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I was thrilled to contribute to GIY International’s cookbook Grow, Eat, Cook along with many amazing Irish food personalities such as Rachel Allen, Donal Skehan, Clodagh McKenna and more. You can find my recipe for a Wild Chanterelle, Caraway, and Toonsbridge Buffalo Cheese Tart in the October chapter. Order the book online here.

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Some big news. I have been asked to contribute to the new (and improved) Condé Nast Traveler with Editor-in-Chief, Pilar Guzman, and Creative Director Yolanda Edwards at the helm. You may be familiar with Guzman and Edwards as the team that previously headed up editorial at Martha Stewart Living, and before that basically reinvented the parenting magazine genre with the magnificent (and much missed) Cookie magazine.

I have long been inspired by this dynamic duo, have followed their trailblazing paths throughout the years, so the invitation to be a part of their team of tastemakers was certainly a huge honor and privilege. The new Traveler feels so fresh and fun and attainable, yet still holds onto a timeless spirit of splendor, romance, and adventure. I will be submitting food stories from Ireland and abroad. Here’s a look at my first piece.  And, the cover of the fabulous February issue.

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I did a fun interview for Australian SBS Feast last month….a little bit of this and that….have a peek here if you fancy.

And finally, I have begun edits on my own book, Farmette, Stories and Recipes from Life on an Irish Farm (Roost Books). The process is moving along a bit slower than I presumed, but has been just as fulfilling as imagined. There will definitely be a post on the entire process once we are nearly ready for print. You will be the first to know the precise publishing date.

Back soon, promise!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Food Images and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ballymaloe Balloons

07 Feb 2012

I know, I know, yet another sinfully caloric, overly indulgent, sugary, post. Yes, but this time I have an excuse: Kiddos! We made these up on a Saturday morning after a little farmer’s sleepover and they went down a storm.

While my experiments in Irish baking seem to know no bounds, I like to think they are for the greater good as the fruits of my baking are ultimately bestowed upon hungry farmer bellies. While my amazing mother-in-law, Peggy, still prefers to prepare the large daily dinner feast for the men on the farm each afternoon, I contribute by way of baked goods and puddings. A win-win for all. We get to nibble a bit and then share with others. I have become convinced that baking and sharing is the key to a happy life.

These “Ballymaloe Balloons” were originally created by legendary Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House. They have since made their way into to both Darina and Rachel Allen’s kitchens + cookery book repertoires. They are quick and easy to make as they don’t include yeast so no need to raise dough, plus you don’t need a deep fryer, you can simply use a frying pan and flip them when golden. Roll em’ in sugar & cinnamon and serve immediately.

I am super excited to announce another fun giveaway, perfectly suited for this wintery time of year. A new Irish brand that I find innovative, creative annnnnnnd practical: Slugs & Snails tights for boys! I stumbled upon these beauties a few months ago and they made me wish I had a baby boy again. Slugs & Snails are a small family run business, which started in 2008 with the birth of their son, Noah. Living in an old house, atop a cold windy hill on the west coast of Ireland, keeping Kat’s newborn baby boy warm was a priority, and tights were the obvious solution, yet she simply couldn’t find any tights designed for little boys.

No stranger to farm living either, Kat and her family bought a farm in 2007 and have raised a pig, chickens and look after their vibrant veggie patch. Couple her country living background with the fact that she has used PacMan ghosts for one of her designs, and I immediately had to order a pair for my nephew-in-law!

Simply said, they ROCK.

PS. Girls can wear em too =)

Leave a comment below to win two free pairs of Slugs & Snails tights for boys, perfect for your baby boy or for a baby shower gift. Kat will ship internationally.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen. Styling by Geoffrey McDonnell and his sweet little hand 2012.

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An Irish Coffee Cake

24 Feb 2011

I had my first encounter with an Irish coffee cake while we were living in Adare, County Limerick in 2005. We had been renting a sweet little bolthole in the village during the construction of our new home on the farm. There used to be a charming little café + deli called Lloyd’s just up the lane from our place, which was run by a lovely woman named Anne Lloyd.  I believe Lloyd’s even made the esteemed Georgina Campbell’s Blue Book of Ireland’s Best Places, and if not, it should have because it was a very special place and everything that came out of her kitchen nearly melted my heart.

Lloyd’s was literally where I first sunk my teeth into many gorgeous Irish dishes and baked goods. Almost everything on Anne’s menu was exciting to me, not because the ingredients seemed foreign, but because the ingredients were put to different uses than I had ever previously experienced. Chocolate biscuit cake (digestive cookies stirred into chocolate), flapjacks (big square honey oatmeal bars), painstakingly stirred scrambled eggs with a sprinkle of curry, a certain carrot and coriander (cilantro) soup, the perfect Irish stew topped with a splash of white wine and freshly chopped parsley and that oh….so…..wonderful warm brown bread that is essentially an Irish “brand”.  Still, more than anything, I was in very much intrigued by her sensational coffee cake and went on to have an endearing love affair with this cake that still lingers on to this day.

In America, coffee cake takes on a whole different meaning. “American” coffee cake is not an iced cake-y cake at all. Coffee cake in the USA is often more of a cinnamon streusel, bundt-like pastry that is traditionally meant to be eaten while sipping a hot cup of coffee {hence the name “coffee cake”.} While the American version is different than the Irish coffee cake, it is absolutely delicious and also one of my favorite treats. I grew up with a mother who liked to bake coffee cake in the morning and have the neighbour ladies over for coffee and gossip. And I will never forget the incredible poppyseed coffee cake that my grandmother sourced from her local Eastern European bakery and always, always had on hand whenever we visited.

So, at first, I didn’t know what to make of this new idea of coffee cake which is basically a coffee-flavoured sponge layer cake slathered in coffee-caramel-y flavoured icing. But, over time, this cake has become one of my all-time favorites….

First, you must find coffee/chicory essence.  Strong coffee or espresso would work, but would likely produce a flavour that is not the same as the sweet caramel coffee taste of the chicory/coffee essence used in this recipe. In Ireland, look for IREL (In England it is called CAMP and in the USA you can use Coffeol)

After you’ve mixed all the ingredients together, split the batter evenly into two lined, buttered and dusted sandwich tins (layer cake pans)

When the cakes are done and cooled, frost the first layer.  Because I love a caramel-coffee-nut combo, I decided to top the frosting with a handful of toasted pecans.

Sandwich the cakes together, pour over the icing, and tuck into a slice!

I truly hope you enjoy this cake as much as we do on the farm!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell. Recipe adapted from Darina Allen’s “Forgotten Skills of Cooking”

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One of my New Year “promises” is to become more involved in farm projects. This means less worrying about what has become of my M&M’s {Manolos and Milk Duds} and more concentrating on creating something fulfilling and worthwhile here at home in Ireland. If you follow along on Twitter you may have heard some mention of a certain sweet little thatched cottage restoration that I will be taking on in 2011. I have also been wanting to try my hand at making butter from our own fresh cream and honey. So, when I gleefully received the gift of a KitchenAid mixer for Christmas, I couldn’t wait to get stuck into some Adventures in Butterland!

Turns out, it’s pretty easy.

First, you’ll need to get some raw milk from your farm or local dairy. (7 litres {about 2 gallons} yields about 2 pints {4 cups} of cream) Leave it sit still long enough to form a layer of cream on top. 12-24 hours worked for me. If you want a more traditional flavour, you can leave it out instead of keeping it in the fridge the whole time. If you don’t have access to a farm or dairy, you can use cream or double cream from the supermarket instead. 500mls = 227g of butter.

Once you skim the cream off the top of your milk, pour it straight into an electric mixer and pop it on medium speed. After 2 minutes, it should look like this:

After a few more minutes, like this:

And after about 6-9 minutes,

the butterfat will separate from buttermilk and it should look like this:

Remove the butter from the bowl and place it into a cold sieve to strain out all of the buttermilk.

{save the buttermilk for pancakes or scones}

When you’re sure you’ve squeezed out as much buttermilk as possible,

use your hands or wooden spatulas or butter bats to form the butter,

and make sure you keep the utensils icy cold or the butter will begin to melt.

{Since I have kid-sized hands, these children’s spatulas worked perfectly!}

If you want, add some honey, like I did

or fennel, garlic, thyme, rosemary, lemon…

and maybe stamp it with a special motif.

After you have it all shaped and pretty,

Serve it with a special meal

or slathered on a piece of morning toast.

Yum!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

*when using non-pasteurised cream, keep refrigerated and it will last for a week. Pasteurised cream butter will last 2-3 weeks in the fridge.

Guidelines taken from Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen. Photos by Imen McDonnell

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Caraway Seed Cake

30 Sep 2010

For as long as I can remember I have had a crush on caraway. Maybe it’s because growing up there was always a loaf of Rye lying around and as I recall it was also often sprinkled into various suppertime dishes. The distinct anise-y flavour is delicious and always brings back fond memories of home. In researching this post, I discovered that caraway is a member of the Apiaceae plant family, which also includes fennel, anise, cumin, licorice-root (Ligusticum), dill, and coriander (cilantro).  All flavours I fervently love.

When this classic seed cake recipe kept turning up in many of the old Irish cookbooks that I have been collecting, I instantly put it on my must-make list. I simply could not wait to sink my teeth into a slice and see how caraway would fare in a sweet cake.  And lo and behold, it is the perfect balance of sweet and savoury, which makes it remarkably delicious.

Caraway seed cake is a variation of one of the most popular cakes made in Ireland, the Madeira. Similar to our American pound cake, but lighter and flakier-as not a full pound of flour, butter and eggs are used; it is moist and sweet in all the right ways. Madeira is considered a sponge cake and is the base of many traditional Irish cakes, including the traditional “Birthday Cake” which is a Madeira made with citrus peel, stem ginger and sultanas. I made this time-honoured cake for my father-in-law’s birthday in August and he was absolutely over the moon.

Other variations on the Madeira are cherry, sultana, rice (using rice flour), chocolate, sultana, Excelsior (coconut), Athassal (tri-coloured: almond/chocolate/vanilla), Jam sandwich (layered with raspberry jam), Ginger, Genoa (fruit peel with sliced almonds on top), poppy seed and, of course the classic Christmas cake.

According to Darina Allen, Madeira cake was originally made to be nibbled on by the ladies as they sipped their Madeira or port wine. This nibbling has been going here on since the 18th or 19th century and it certainly doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon. Give this recipe a try and have it on hand when friends call over for a cuppa and some chit- chat on a crisp Autumn afternoon.

As with any recipe, using the best ingredients, organic or free-range and local as much as possible will create the most flavourful result. Of course, we use our own raw milk and eggs from the family farm for any baking or cooking here at home, but if you don’t live on a farm you can easily find these products at your local farmer’s market, cooperative or in most supermarkets. Please support your local farmers.

Caraway Seed Cake

(from Darina Allen’s, “Forgotten Skills of Cooking”)

Serves about 8

175g (6 oz) soft butter

175g (6 oz) caster (granulated) sugar

3 organic eggs

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

225g (8 oz) plain white flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

about 1 tablespoon milk or water

Round (springform) cake tin 18 cm (7 in) wide 7.5cm (3 in) deep

Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F

Line base of pan with greaseproof paper.

Cream butter in a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon, add sugar and whisk until light and fluffy. This will give you a smoother cake than just dumping the sugar in with the butter at the beginning. Whisk the eggs and vanilla extract together and gradually add to the creamed butter and sugar. Whisk well. If preferred the eggs can be whisked into the mixture one at a time. Fold in the flour, adding the baking powder mixed in with the last addition of the flour. Mix in one tablespoon of fresh caraway seeds. Add a little milk or water if needed to make a dropping consistency. Fill into prepared cake tin.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, remove from over and let cool in the tin.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

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Boxty!

15 Sep 2010

Boxty on the griddle

Boxty in the Pan

If you can’t make Boxty

You’ll never get a man

-Traditional Irish Rhyme

Boxty, occasionally spelled “boxdy”, is basically a potato cake, eaten mostly in the north of Ireland, especially in counties Cavan, Fermanagh, Derry and Tyrone. Boxty vies with champ and colcannon as Ireland’s best-known potato dish. It may have originated in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when potato harvests began to fail, as a way of using poor quality potatoes which were useless for boiling. The potato pulp was shaped into cakes and baked on heated flagstone or a griddle.

I find the vast amount of Irish potato creations and descriptive words that go along with them absolutely delightful. I once actually considered doing a documentary called “Práta” which is the Irish (Gaelic) translation of the word potato. The idea washed over me as I sat at a wedding listening to all of my table mates once again carrying on about the texture of our freshly delivered steamy-hot potatoes. Never in my life had I spoken or overheard potatoes discussed in such great detail or at such length. This “práta-talk” is truly a unique Irish endowment. So, here’s the inside scoop: terms such as floury, soapy, fluffy can definitely be chalked up to being “favourable” potato textures, whereas watery, hairy and waxy are no good to you at all. If you are planning a trip to Ireland see if you can tell the difference!

Back to the Boxty. Definitely not for the weight watchers, but a special treat indeed. There are many different variations of this fried potato bliss throughout the world. In America and Eastern Europe, you will find “potato pancakes” which would be made with an egg and possible minced onion or garlic. Crunchy potato “latkes” are traditional in Jewish populations throughout the world. In Switzerland and Germany, the “Rosti” made with the Rosti potato is a commonly served dish. The Swedes have an amazing “Raggmunk”, a thin potato pancake served with Lingonberry jam. I have to admit, I love them all.

Give Boxty a try on a cool autumn evening…I find them lovely with a bit of crème fraiche and/or stewed apple. I used this recipe and made individual cakes instead of one large cake cut into farls.

Pan Boxty

(from Granny Toye of Clones, Co Monaghan)

Serves 4

6 medium potatoes

a handful of white flour

salt

butter

fresh herbs

Peel the potatoes. Line a bowl with a cloth. Grate potatoes into it then squeeze out the liquid into the bowl and put dry grated potato in another bowl. Let the liquid sit for 10 minutes until the starch settles. Drain off the water and leave the starch on the bottom of the bowl. Add grated potato and a handful of white flour and some salt.

Melt a nice bit of butter or oil on a heavy iron pan and pour in the potato mixture. It should be ¾ to 1 inch thick. Cook on medium heat. Let it brown nicely on one side before flipping, about 30 minutes depending on the heat. It’s much better to cook more slowly rather than too fast. It should be crisp and golden on the outside. Cut boxty into 4 farls and serve.

Granny Toye says that pan boxty may be eaten hot or cold and may be reheated.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

Recipe from “Irish Traditional Cooking” by Darina Allen

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