I know, I know, it’s January and according to every well-meaning food magazine I am supposed to be in full throttle detox-n-dry damnation mode. But, despite my best intentions to become a “new me,” I seem to keep turning up in the kitchen on tippy toes peering into a piping hot oven to supervise blistering dishes of creamy cinnamon and cardamom-scented baked rice pudding. I simply can’t look away from that bubbling picture of gooey goodness; I’m like a school marm with beady eyes on a busy playground, like a magpie on a blackthorn branch ready to swoop down on it’s delicious prey. About every second day, I inevitably find myself hunkered down at my writing desk savouring spoonfuls of irresistibly milky rice pudding by the bellyful.

Someone call Slimming World, I might need an intervention.

In the meantime, I shall choose to view this habit as a sort of restorative treatment, a body wrap of warming and protective wholesome comfort food in preparation for my big year ahead. It’s all about the FOMO on rice pudding. (because you never know when this dairy delight will be extinct) and the YOLO relating to rice pudding (it is actually sort of dangerous.)

The BIG year that I am banging on about would be the year that my first book (aka second baby) is due to hit stores around the world (GULP!) this spring. March 8th to be exact. And, honestly, despite all the minutes, hours, days and years that have gone into bringing this lovechild to life, it still feels like some sort of apparition to me. I suppose until I am actually holding the bouncing hardcover book baby in my hands, I can continue to live my rice pudding dreams. Right?

The Farmette Cookbook, Recipes and Stories from My Life on an Irish Farm is now available for pre-order here, herehere and via all good book outlets. I will be cordially giving away 5 copies upon publication date, so do leave a comment below describing your favourite comfort food (or drink), and your name will be included in the lucky draw.

Farmette_mech_1p-page-001 (1)

Some of my very favourite food heroes got an early sneak peek of the book, and I am gobsmackingly flattered and humbled to share what they had to say (with a heartfelt thanks again to all!)…

“A joyful celebration of life on an Irish farm.  A super, chic book written with the appreciative eye of an outsider who reminds us of the sheer pleasure of living on a dairy farm. Rearing a few table fowl, planting a vegetable garden and an orchard, rediscovering the satisfaction of using home-grown Irish produce to make truly delicious and creative food for family and friends.”—Darina Allen

The Farmette Cookbook is a lovely combination of personal tale and transportive recipe, and it makes me want to come to Ireland tomorrow. In a world full of culinary flimflammery, Imen McDonnell is the real thing: wonderful storyteller and creator of delicious recipes with a traditional edge, all mouthwateringly evocative of this magical place she now calls home.”—Elissa Altman, author of Poor Man’s Feast

“Imen has beautifully captured the rich heritage of Irish farmhouse cooking and cast a 21st century spell on it!”  —Catherine Fulvio, author and award-winning proprietor of Ballyknocken House & Cookery School

“There is magic in Imen McDonnell’s new book, and in her story. Her dedication to uncovering Ireland’s rich food culture and cultivating her own shines through. You’ll want to dive right in, start cooking, and build your own fairy tale.”—Sarah Copeland, author of Feast & Food Director of Real Simple Magazine.

“Imen takes traditional Irish cooking to the next level with her American curiosity and ingenuity. She weaves big city cravings, like potstickers, tacos, banh mi, harissa, pizza, and more, with traditional comfort food made from scratch. Imen’s brave leap of faith and love is a boon for the rest of us: we now have this charming book full of stories and recipes I can’t wait to make.”—Susan Spungen, food stylist, cookbook author & founding food editor of Martha Stewart Living

“It was Imen’s endearing and touching personal writing on all things Irish that first drew me to her beautiful blog.  Her personal journey into the history of traditional Irish recipes is celebrated throughout this carefully considered cookbook.  Filled with stories of old and inspirations from Ireland’s exciting new cooking scene, Imen is putting Irish Farmhouse Cooking firmly back on the map.”—Donal Skehan, Irish food personality and author of Kitchen Hero 

“If you have not yet visited Ireland and tasted its authentic foods, you’ll want to after reading Imen’s new cookbook. Living on an Irish farm has never looked this attractive. What a charming and delicious book!”—Béatrice Peltre, author of La Tartine Gourmande

“A beautiful story of an American city girl falling in love with a dashing Irish farmer and the food that she began to create once settled in rural Ireland. With recipes for everything from Nettle, Sweet Pea and Turf-Smoked Ham Soup to Irish Stout and Treacle Bread, this evocative cookbook will have you wanting to don your wellies and your best apron to grow, cook, and preserve Imen-style.”—Rachel Allen, Irish food personality, bestselling cookbook author, and teacher at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Here’s a handful of recipes & images that I love….

Boxty ComfortingFishPie haybale mayeveteacake sweetfarmercheesedanish

Farmhouse Rice Pudding
One of my mother-in-law’s favorite desserts was a simple creamy, dreamy rice pudding with a spoonful of orchard jam. It took me a few tries to create my own working recipe, and eventually I realized that a simple, old-fashioned baked version yields the perfect consistency to please everyone on the farm. Still super creamy, but with a golden, carmelized skin on top that everyone fights over, this recipe is easy to knock up and serve any day of the week.

Serves 6

1 3/4 cups (414 ml) Evaporated Milk
2 cups (475 ml) whole milk (raw, if you can get it)
4 oz (110 g) pudding or aborio rice
1/3 cup (40 g) golden granulated or superfine sugar
1 whole nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
2 tablespoons (25 g) butter
1 jar of your favorite jam (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Lightly butter a 9-inch (23-cm) round or similar sized ovenproof baking dish.
Mix together the evaporated milk and whole milk in a bowl. Stir in the cinnamon and cardamom. Put the rice and sugar in the baking dish, pour in the liquid, and stir well. Grate the whole nutmeg over the surface, then dot the butter on top in little pieces.
Bake on the center shelf of the oven for 30 minutes, then slide the shelf out and stir the mixture well. Bake for another 30 minutes, then stir again. Bake for another hour without stirring.
At the end of the cooking time, the rice grains will be swollen, with pools of creamy liquid all around them, and a carmelized coating on top. Allow to cool slightly then. Slather the top with jam, if you like, and serve.
Scullery Notes: If you cover the pudding completely with a layer of jam, it will be freshest if eaten within two days; otherwise, it will last for week in the fridge.

Which foods bring you comfort?

Slan Abhaile,

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell and Sonia Mulford Chaverri.

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Farmhouse Piccalilli

04 Nov 2012

In a pickle. (idiom): experiencing a difficult situation

You could say that I was faced with a difficult *kitchen* situation this weekend. I was planning to use up some of the last harvest veg from the garden and could not decide if I should go with preparing a sweet pickle spread, a tangy piccalilli relish or our family sauerkraut recipe. I eased ahead with some sauerkraut (uncle Jim would be proud), but then it was still a toss up between the two pickles. It was little bit like deciding what to wear to the farm on a daily basis. Do I go for the sweet and wholesome country look, stir it up a bit with something more spicy, or do I go for the old standby traditional? Oops. I keep forgetting. It really doesn’t matter what you wear to the farm as long as it’s functional and waterproof.

But, I digress. Pickles. I have always had an affinity for pickles. Sweet and sour. Bread and butter. Neon green Chicago dog relish. Dill. Jumbo. Kosher. Miniature. But, never, ever came across the marvelous, plain and simple “pickle” until moving to Ireland.

You see, they mean something different by “pickles” here. Pickles are not necessarily the cucumber-y gherkin-y pickle that we are used to in America. No, no, no. Think malty, cider vinegary, zesty, sweet, savoury, spicy, chunky, cloyingly tangy. Often there are no cucumbers involved at all. Pickle can be a gorgeous sandwich spread. A Ploughman’s lunch. Or, better yet, a piccalli on a grilled dog. The only thing that could make piccalilli on a charred sausage better is if it was blanketed on a Wisconsin bratwurst. These pickle recipes came to Ireland via the UK, but Britain borrowed them from India. Whatever way you look at it, piccalilli is true {fermented} perfection in a jar.

While both pickle and piccalilli are positively divine, I had to choose only one, so I went with piccalilli. Piccalilli is essentially crispy vegetables pickled with vibrant and aromatic Indian spices in a velvety sauce. My first taste of piccalilli was so exciting that I wanted to tell the world “Extra, extra, read all about it!” style.  I now can’t imagine life pre-piccalilli.

If you’re in a pickle {or even if you’re not}, make yourself some pickle.

Here’s the recipe:

Farmhouse Pickle (lilli)

Makes 6 x 340g (12oz)jars

Select, wash, peel  2kg (2.5lbs) of 5-6 of the following vegetables: cauliflower, swede, asparagus, radish, green beans, cucumbers, courgettes, green or yellow tomatoes, carrots, small pickling onions or shallots, peppers

100g (1/2 cup) fine sea salt

60g (1/2 cup) cornflour

2 tbsp ground turmeric

2 tbsp English mustard powder

2 tbsp ground ginger

1 tbsp caraway seeds

2 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsp coriander seeds

1.2 litres white or cider vinegar

300g (2.5 cups) granulated sugar

100g (1/2 cup) honey

1. Cut the vegetables into small, bite-sized pieces. Place in a large colander over a bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Mix well, cover with a tea towel and leave in a cool place for 24 hours, then rinse with ice-cold water and drain thoroughly.

2. Blend the cornflour, turmeric, mustard powder, ginger, caraway, cumin and coriander into a smooth paste with a little of the vinegar. Put the rest of the vinegar into a saucepan with the sugar and honey and bring to the boil. Pour a little of the hot vinegar over the blended spice paste, stir well and return to the pan. Bring gently to the boil. Boil for 3-4 minutes to allow the spices to release their flavours into the thickening sauce.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully fold the well-drained vegetables into the hot, spicy sauce. Pack the pickle into warm, sterilised jars and seal immediately with vinegar-proof lids. Leave for about 6 weeks before opening. Use within a year.

Slan Abhaile,


PS.  {farmette} has just made the esteemed “Sites We Love” by Saveur magazine! Obviously, I peed my pants when I heard.  Have a look at the profile, and also take a peek at the others listed……just make sure you have some extra time because there are many brilliant blogs to enjoy!

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2012


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Irish Artisan Cheeses

13 Oct 2011

Clockwise from the top: Glebe Brethan Gruyere, Figs {graciously donated by Avoca}, Cooleeney, Cratloe Hill’s Sheeps Milk Cheese, Cashel Blue, Beal Organic Cheddar, St. Tola Goat’s Cheese.

Yes, it is true. I have become a bit obsessed with all things dairy as of late. Butter, raw milk, cheese, cheese and more glorious cheese. I confess, I have become a born-again cheesehead and this is for a perfectly good reason: one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets is that this beautiful “food island” is awash with absolutely amazing artisanal cheeses that you simply cannot ignore.

Of course, I felt it was my obligation to share just a few {which had nothing to do with my luxurious sampling of each and every one of them over wine, figs and crackers for an entire week…no, no, no…not at all} so that you can celebrate this cheesy goodness with me as well.

And while I don’t have any recipes to share with you for this blog post, I hope to do so in the future as my farmer and I are taking a cheese making course here this summer.

So, without further adieu, I invite you to indulge in a few of these special cheeses along with so many more that Ireland has on offer…

Cooleeney is a soft mould ripened cheese, with a beautiful creamy texture and a distinctive aftertaste. This cheese is produced on the Maher farm in the heart of Tipperary where the pastures are rich and are surrounded by damp boggy land an environment which allows the Mahers to produce Cooleeney which, when mature are creamy and oozing with the flavour of one of the finest cheeses.

Glebe Brethan is an artisan cheese made from unpasteurised Montbeliarde cows’ milk at the Tiernan Family Farm, Dunleer, Co. Louth, Ireland. The pedigree cows graze on lush pastures and are fed cereals grown on the farm. It is a gruyere-type cheese made in 45-kilo wheels, which are matured on spruce timbers for 6-18 months. It is carefully hand-turned and salted to form a natural rind, which enhances its unique flavour.

St. Tola Cheese has a unique and distinctive flavour that owes much to the clean fresh environment in which it is produced. The 65 acre organic farm provides herb rich grass and hay for the goats. The St Tola Herd comprises of Saanen, Toggenburg and British Alpine Goats approx 220 in total – a mixture of milkers, kids and pucks. Every year the herd increases by keeping the offspring from the best milkers while retiring goats and their kids are given away as family pets or sent onto Bothar.

Cratloe Hills Sheep’s Cheese was the first Irish ewe’s milk made in modern times. The Fitzgerald family milks their herd of pedigree Friesland ewes from March, after the lambing has finished, until September when the ewes get a much-deserved winter break. The lightly waxed cheese is matured for between 2 – 6 months. The young cheese has a semi-firm texture and a light caramel taste and a slightly dry finish. As the cheese ages, the texture dries slightly and the flavour becomes more robust. Enjoyable with a light wine such as Beaujolais or Chateau Filliol.

Cashel Blue is a semi-soft blue cows’ milk cheese. It is unique, as it is Ireland’s first farmhouse blue cheese. It is all made on the dairy farm of Jane and Louis Grubb nr Cashel in Co. Tipperary Ireland. While some milk is purchased, the majority of the milk comes from the pedigree Friesian dairy herd on the farm. The cheese is made from pasteurised whole milk. It is sold in many speciality outlets in the U.K., United States and Ireland, as well as being listed by most of the British Multiples. Much of the cheese is sold young, while it is firm and crumbly, but for a fuller flavour it is best eaten at about three months of age, when it has a softer texture and more mature flavour.

You can find these cheeses and many more at Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Fallon & Byrne, Superquinn, Avoca and other shops and restaurants that support local cheese producers in Ireland.

Collins Press has sent me a copy of this lovely new book: Irish Farmhouse Cheeses, A Celebration to share with one lucky reader! Please leave a comment below to be included in the drawing…just tell me why you love Irish cheese, what your favourite Irish cheese is or why you’d love to learn more about these magnificent cheeses. I will happily ship this gem throughout Ireland and abroad.

Slan Abhaile,


Photography by Imen McDonnell

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