orange polenta cake

Gah! Isn’t that photo GORGEOUS? Don’t you just want to DIVE INTO that cake? Damn. Donal Skehan, your cake + photography looks SO good on this blog. Also, those beautiful orange twists? I’m desper for a zester (did I really just say that? Apologies)

With all the baking vested in me, I declare this cake a masterpiece to be-hold and be-eaten.

Right. Let me shed some light on what’s happening here. I’m still the full shilling, promise.

My dear friend, Donal Skehan, has just released his 4rd cookery book, Homecooked. And, to be prudent, I must add that not only has he put a book out this year, but he’s filmed two separate television food series, worked with Jamie Oliver on Food Tube, created and published a stunning new dinner journal/magazine that is Ireland’s answer to Kinfolk, went on a national “blog tour” where he brought his satire + cooking to the theatrical stage (absolute brilliant fun), and has also launched a new line of spectacular savoury pies with his family. I am sure I am missing more bits, but my point is that this man has the energy of a 26 year old.

Oh yeah, he is 26.

Sigh.

Home Cooked

Now his book itself is going on a (blog) tour too. Not kidding. Yesterday, it launched with Waterstones and Emily Holmes. Today it’s me. Tomorrow it will be Lily. When Donal’s publisher asked us to be roadies, we  jumped right into that virtual RV.

There isn’t ONE recipe in any of Donal’s books that I wouldn’t make, but my favourite recipe (so far) from Homecooked is this Orange Polenta Cake with Honey and Rosewater Syrup. It was hard to choose because one (little) farmer is partial to the Mikado Coconut Cream Cake (tied with the Waitress Mermaid Pie), and another (big) farmer is crazy about Buttermilk Fried Chicken. Plus, there’s the fact that there is a shot of me in my mother-in-law’s pinny holding the most amazing Crazy Monkey Brownie Baked Alaska on page 169. But, I digress.

hen

I love this sweet, dense cake because it is especially good prepared with our woodland honey, but would taste incredible with any honey that is accessible. What is fantastic about Donal’s cookbooks is that they have been tested til the cows com home, and anyone can make his recipes, including his biggest fan, our 8 year old son, Geoffrey. Okay, Geoffrey needs a leeeettle help, but you get the gist of it. Delicious. Easy. Accessible. Comforting recipes to cook at home.

This fragrant and moist cake is not only visually beautiful, it also has the most delicious spiced sweet orange and honey flavour. The cake can be made gluten-free as long as you use a gluten-free baking powder.

ORANGE POLENTA CAKE WITH HONEY & ROSEWATER SYRUP

SERVES 6-8 (V)

Butter, for greasing

8 green cardamom pods

225g ground almonds

100g polenta

1 heaped tsp baking powder

225g caster sugar

225g butter, softened

3 large eggs

Grated zest of 3 large oranges

1 tsp vanilla extract

50g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

Creme fraiche, to serve

FOR  THE  SYRUP

Juice of 2 large oranges

3 tbsp honey

2 tsp rosewater

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F), Gas Mark 4 and grease a 20cm diameter springform tin, then line the base with baking parchment.

2. Bash the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar and extract the seeds. Then bash the seeds to a fine powder and add to a bowl together with the ground almonds, polenta and baking powder.

3. Beat the sugar and butter in a bowl until the mixture is light and pale. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Tip the bowl of dry ingredients into this mixture and fold with a spatula until just combined. Add two-thirds of the orange zest together with the vanilla extract, and just fold through.

4. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and place it on the middle shelf of the oven to bake for about 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and the tin and allow to cool on a wire rack.

5. Prepare the syrup by placing all the ingredients in a small saucepan over a medium heat and bringing to a steady simmer.

6. Pierce holes all over the cake with a wooden skewer while it is cooling and pour over half the syrup, a little at a time, until the cake has soaked it up. Sprinkle with the pistachio nuts, drizzle with the remaining syrup and sprinkle with remaining orange zest to decorate.

7. Serve in slices with a little creme fraiche.

I hope you enjoy Homecooked by Donal Skehan as much as we do.

Back in few days with new farm adventure + recipe, promise!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Cake photo by Donal Skehan 2013. Book cover supplied by Harper-Collins. 

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wildboy

overheadcloseup

Long before I was familiar with  “ramps” or “ramsons” {or wild leek, spring garlic, and wild onion for that matter} I was visiting the honeybees in the wood with my father-in-law.  I wandered off to admire the babbling brook when I stepped on a plant and suddenly the scent of woodsy garlic hit the air with a vengeance.

I came back and explained what happened to Michael and he enlightened me by saying that the plant was ‘wild spring garlic’ and to him it was a bit of a nuisance. Especially if it grew near the bee hives.  {garlic honey anyone? Actually, that kinda sounds good!}

I went home that afternoon and secretly marveled over the idea of ‘wild spring garlic’.  The following weekend, the little farmer and I packed up a basket and the garden shovel and we went down to collect some of this chive-y plant to use in a soda bread recipe.

Nowadays, Geoffrey and I have an annual outing for ramsons. We have found their haven in the wood, where the flowering onion grows madly and looks like a blanket of snow amidst the ivy entangled trees.

newwild1

We’ve done many things with these gems, wild garlic pesto is easy and lovely, wild garlic infused oil works perfectly, I’ve pickled the bulbs and used them for double dirty martinis. Today, I decided to throw them into our favourite go-to pasta. I usually use regular garlic and lemon zest, but switched it up with the ramsons and grapefruit zest. Wild garlic + grapefruit should really get a room together because they absolutely sing. Serve this simple pasta with rhubarb cordial like we did {or a lovely chilled rosé would be divine}

tabletop

Irish Ramson + Kale + Grapefruit Linguine

Serves 4

200g Linguine {other any pasta, even asian rice noodles would be nice}
1 chicken or veg stock cube
2-3 tbsp of olive oil
2-3 large ramson bulbs {or 4-5 small}
Handful of ramson flowers {rinsed thoroughly}
200g of blanched kale
1 tbsp grapefruit zest (or lemon zest)
100g grated parmigiano-reggiano (or more to taste)

1. Boil water then add stock cube and linguine.
2. While linguine is cooking, sauté ramson bulbs in olive oil over low heat for 5
minutes until golden.
3. Add kale and cook for another 5 minutes, tossing together gently.
4. Stir in grapefruit zest and 1/2 of the parmesan.
5. Strain linguine, reserving 1/2 cup of stock liquid.
6. Add linguine and reserved liquid to sauté pan, stir through.
7. Serve with remaining parmigiano-reggiano and dress with ramson flowers.

I have a few bits of bacchanalia to share as well. First of all, Donal Skehan has just launched a magazine! Aptly titled FEAST, it is a dinner journal filled with delicious, beautifully photographed Irish food stories. I have recently been contributing recipes + photographs to the positively divine My Little Box, part of My Little Paris. For the moment, the boxes which are similar to the Birch Box, but also filled with a lifestyle +food magazine are only available in France and Belgium, but will soon be expanding to other parts of the world.  I recently discovered Mimi Thorsson’s magnificent Manger blog and can’t get enough of her gorgeously documented life of convivial food and family in France. Beth of  Local Milk blog came to visit Ireland last week and didn’t want to go home. She is a contestant on the new Masterchef series stateside, tune in! Another American girl/soon-to-be-an-Irish-farmer’s-wife shares her recipe for Kombucha. On a non-food related note, I have finally found a store in Ireland that rivals my lingerie lady at Bloomies. This is big news, I tell you.  Dublin Lingerie Co. is an online shop that sells pretty + quality underpinnings {that fit!}.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

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Farmhouse Apple Cider

25 Oct 2011

A few weeks ago, I blogged about one of my favorite autumn traditions in America: sipping apple cider and nibbling on cider doughnuts at the local apple orchard or pumpkin patch. Some of you may have already seen + heard me carrying on via Twitter or Instagram sharing our happy success with, “Rosie”, our charming new fruit press, and the first batches of pressed cider here at the farm this week. And, yes, we sipped cider with doughnuts by the turf fire immediately! Now all is good in the world.

Some excellent questions popped up during my initial exploration into cider making, a fellow blogger asked, “So, what is the difference between apple cider and apple juice anyway?” Of course, my farmer questioned how/if we could make batches of boozy cider with our apples and new press. {In case you were wondering, YES, WE CAN!}

The truth is, fresh cold-pressed apple juice is nearly the same as apple cider. It can be made any time of year when apples are available, but is most commonly pressed in the autumn when apples are plentiful. Cider and juice are both made in the same way, but the difference is that apple juice is pressed and strained through a thinner mesh than cider. Cider tends to be cloudier and darker in colour than juice and has a more tart and raw flavour than the juice. Also, the bottom line is, depending on the quality of apples, which vary from year to year, the taste, sweetness and consistency of apple juice and cider can vary widely.

Alcoholic cider or perry (pear-based cider), an institution in Ireland, UK and France, is made by fermenting the juice after pressing, either by a naturally occurring fermentation or by adding a yeast strain.  This type of cider is one of my favorite drinks here on the isle, something that was new to me when I first arrived in Ireland & which I took an affinity towards….rather quicky. Fermented alcohol cider, such as Bulmers or Strongbow have dry, complex flavours and are not sweet. Perfection. I have also just learned of a new craft cider in Ireland called Stonewell which we will be sampling soon.

Thankfully, this type of cider libation has also been making a comeback stateside. In doing my cider research, I discovered that during the 18th century, hard cider was actually the drink of the people, from farmers to fighting men, and deservedly so as President John Adams himself drank a tankard of cider every day. Children drank a less potent version, called ciderkin.

However, when the Germans arrived in America, beer fell more into favour and after the prohibition, cider was virtually nonexistent. Now, with wonderful artisanal ciderys cropping up across the country such as Bellwether and Tieton, the cider tradition is swiftly being reborn in America.

Whether a warm mug of autumn apple cider or a cold glass of dry {alcoholic} cider suits your fancy, I say long live apple cider!

I am thrilled to announce that we will be packing up “Rosie” and heading to Kilkenny at the weekend to press cider at Savour Kilkenny, a fabulous food festival in it’s fifth year running. Please come along and sample a taste of sweet cider with me in the Forgotten Skills tent on Parade Plaza from 11:30AM on Saturday. I’d love to see you there! There is an amazing schedule of events at the festival including food demos by Donal Skehan, Catherine Fulvio and Edward Hayden. The Great Irish Food Debate, a panel discussion about whether or not ‘Irish Cuisine’ exists will take place during the Food Camp on Friday, and reknowned American food writer/food historian and founder of Saveur magazine, Colman Andrews, will be weighing in. Not to be missed!  www.savourkilkenny.com

So, here’s how we made our apple cider:

Procure a mix of apple varieties. Apple juice tastes much better if sweet, tart and fragrant apples are mixed together. We used the two types of apples that we currently have in the small farm orchard: Bramley and Pippin varieties. Yields can vary widely, but as a general guide, 20 lb/10kg apples will yield a gallon/4 litres of juice.  Wash the apples by running cold water over them and removing any dirt or other contaminants. Remove any obviously rotted or discolored parts of the apple. Be cautious when using apples that have been picked up from the ground after falling from the tree as these will require extra cleaning to remove possible contaminants. Never use “ground apples” from an area where livestock graze.

Chop and mash the apples. For larger quantities, an apple chopper is the easiest method. For smaller quantities, you may use a food processor, meat grinder, or just cut the apples into very small cubes. I used our food processor. Do not worry about stems, seeds or peels–they can all be included in the mash. (I originally cored all the apples, a waste of time!) 

Insert a mesh bag into the fruit press. Our model came with a two bags. Bags with larger diameters are used for cider, while a smaller mesh will product a more juice-like product. Place a large pot under the spout of the fruit press to catch the juice as it is pressed.

Fill the fruit press with apple mash. Add 1 tbsp. lemon juice, if desired, to help reduce oxidation ofthe apple juice. Apples and apple juice, will react with oxygen and produce a brownish color. Lemon juice will lessen but will not eliminate this effect.

Tighten the fruit press to begin the flow of juice. Keep tightening the press until the flow of juice comes to a halt, which takes approximately 10 minutes. The pressed mash can be composted, discarded or fed to local wildlife or in our case, resident donkeys, Conor and Cormac.

Pour the apple juice into plastic or glass containers. Drink. If you plan to freeze the juice, fill the containers three-fourths full, to allow room for expansion.

If the apple juice has not been heated, it will keep in a refrigerator for one or two weeks before yeast naturally present in the juice starts the fermentation process.

APPLE CIDER DOUGHNUTS

Makes Approx 20 Doughnuts

1 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

¼ cup buttermilk

½ cup apple cider

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

4 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon allspice

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup sweet apple finely chopped

Topping

1 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Mix 1 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon in a brown paper bag. Set aside.

To Make the Doughnuts

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat eggs and sugar until thick and creamy
  • Add the melted butter
  • Combine the milk, cider, and vanilla. Set aside.
  • In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and salt
  • Alternately add the flour and milk-cider mixture to the eggs, beginning and ending with the flour. Combine thoroughly.
  • Fold in the apple
  • Turn out the dough onto a large piece of parchment paper.
  • Fold the paper to cover the dough and place in freezer for 30 minutes. Dough will be very sticky but will become workable after it firms up in the freezer.
  • Roll out firm dough on a lightly floured surface ½-inch thick.
  • Cut 2-1/2-inch circles with 1-inch center holes (or use a doughnut cutter). Dough will be soft, which makes light, tender doughnuts when fried.
  • Let cut doughnuts rest five minutes on a cookie sheet.
  • Heat 3 to 4-inches oil to 360 degrees in a large pot.
  • Fry three to four doughnuts at a time for about 1-1/2 minutes per side or until golden brown. (Be sure to maintain the temperature of the oil, lowering or raising stovetop heat accordingly).
  • Shake fried doughnuts in the cinnamon sugar mixture.
  • EAT IMMEDIATELY WHILE SIPPING WARM APPLE CIDER! (do not take snaps, if you want to see what they look like, here’s a great example)

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos 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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Good Mood Food

07 Jan 2010

One of my favourite things about living in Ireland is discovering exciting new people, places and things (and, of course, food!). Last week, I discovered one such remarkable person whom I am delighted to share with you all—that is, if you haven’t already heard of him. His name is Donal Skehan, a bright new star in Ireland’s culinary world and according to RTE (Ireland’s largest broadcasting network), “Ireland’s Answer to Jamie Oliver”.  Pretty impressive stuff for a 23 year-old fellow from Howth.

Donal’s book, “Good Mood Food” hit the stores in October and has been flying off the shelves ever since. Based on the blog that he started 2 years ago, Good Mood Food, is filled with delicious recipes that maybe even my husband could make (yes, that’s a hint honey). He’s young and fresh and his recipes mimic that style…healthful and light–many of which you’d think were coming from Northern California rather than Ireland. And let’s face it, sometimes on a gray, rainy Irish day it would be grand to have one of Donal’s yummy sunny recipes on hand just to put a little spring into your step.

When he’s not cooking, blogging or shooting, he’s recording music with his band, Industry, which makes him all the more fascinating. Still, the best bit about Donal is that for all the press and publicity he is an undeniably friendly guy with a genuine love for all things food (including a wonderfully quirky addiction to reading cookbooks). This lovely spirit of friendly foodie enthusiasm comes through in his book, blog…even his tweets.

Donal graciously took the time to share with me a little more about himself and his relationship with Ireland:

What was is the best thing about growing up in Ireland?

I grew up in Howth which is a fishing village 30 mins from Dublin city centre and as kids we had the run of huge green fields filled with horses behind the house, so one of my favourite things was to be lucky enough to have the freedom to spend the whole day out in the open air!  It’s only now that I really appreciate it and realise what a special thing it was.

Which Irish dishes do you love…or have you redesigned to be “good mood food”?

You can’t beat a good Irish stew and like most families, we have our own version, the recipe for which is on the blog. I also love baking Irish soda bread, it’s a flavour which tastes so distinctly like home to me.

In what ways do you support Irish farmers and producers?

I think one of the most important thing is to buy veg that is in season, Ireland produces fantastic fresh fruit and vegetables and by choosing home grown seasonal veg, we as consumers are not only helping the environment, but we end up eating more fresh food.  I actually got to visit a free range Turkey farm before Christmas and it was hugely inspiring, the birds lived a happy life, were extremely healthy and had a farmer that was incredibly passionate about what he did.  In the world we live in it’s becoming more and more important to know where our food comes, and the step by step process its goes through before ending up on our plates.

What are some Irish traditions or sensibilities that you love?

I think growing up I would always have been a little dismissive of Irish traditions, the music, the language etc, but having grown up a little more and travelled, I am so proud to be Irish and I love showing off our fantastic culture to any visitors we have!

What are your fave places in Ireland that you would recommend visiting?

In the last two years I have travelled more in Ireland than ever before and it’s been great because you get to see the amazing sights we have to offer on our doorstep.  We took a little road trip to the Burren and drive up to Galway from there and the views are just amazing.  I also went to Irish college on Achill Island in Mayo in my teens and it’s a really special place too!  Lots of good surf!  Of course I also have to mention my home village of Howth as well, it gets huge numbers of tourists right through the year, we have an amazing cliff walk which is a must see!

In your words, describe your book, Good Mood Food.

Good Mood Food is all about simple, healthy homecooking.  It’s full of really easy healthy recipes that are perfect for even those who haven’t done too much cooking before.  I like to think that I write recipes that become part of a routine, simple family meals which can be done with your eyes closed!

Donal is currently filming an episode of Market Kitchen for the BBC’s Good Food Channel which will air later this month. You can read his blog at: http://www.thegoodmoodfoodblog.com. His book, Good Mood Food is available online at http://www.mercierpress.ie/

I have decided to give one priviledged reader a copy of “Good Mood Food”. If you’re interested, please email me at imen.producer@ireland.com before Monday. I will be drawing a name and announcing the winner next week.

In the weeks to come I will be featuring more extraordinary Irish talents as well as blogging about my wee life as an Irish farmer’s wife.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

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