Plum Pudding

21 Dec 2012

I had never plunged into a Christmas pudding until I moved across the Atlantic. Since then, I have quickly come to learn that Christmas is simply not Christmas without a pudding at Christmas dinner. While the mere idea of steaming or boiling a cake seemed a very unusual notion, it is now a challenge that I have decided to bravely take on in my own kitchen.

In November we got a head start by preparing our first plum pudding on “stir-up Sunday” which apparently always falls on the Sunday before the first day of Advent (this year it was the 25th November). I put all of the ingredients together and allowed Geoffrey to flip a coin into the mix, give it a good stir and make a wish. We left the pudding to mature in a cool place overnight, and the next day, steamed the pudding. I was informed that puddings improve with age and alcohol, so we have it stowed away in a dark place, and each week we have been feeding it a drop cup or two of brandy. All going well on the big day, we will flambé the pudding and sit gazing in awe before fanning the flames and digging in.

I will churn some homemade butter for a spiced brandy or rum butter. But, I also know that there are fans of rum raisin ice cream in the family, so I have been testing ice cream recipes {I know, tough job}. I’ve chosen a custard-style, which reminds me of the classic Haagen-Dazs version and seems like a divine pairing for our Christmas pudding. See recipe below..it’s perfect!

*Bits of Bacchanalia*

Our family recipe for Plum Pudding was featured in this month’s Foodie Crush Holiday Magazine, along with loads of AMAZING holiday tips and stories by other bloggers, writers and photographers. Many thanks to Melissa Coleman, who so kindly asked me to be a part of it, and who also has such a fabulous food blog, talent!

On a recent shopping trip to Dublin, I listened to my new favourite foodish podcast: KCRW Good Food with Evan Kleinman, the latest episode is superb,  featuring their picks for 2012’s best cookbooks; including excellent interviews with Yotam Ottelenghi + Sami Tamimi for their book, Jerusalem, and Magnus Nilsson, of Fäviken, and his Fäviken cookbook among others.

Venture down to Ardkeen Quality Food Store in Waterford and support local Irish artisan producers. Ardkeen supplies great food direct from a fantastic community of some of my favorite Irish producers, growers and farmers.

These ladies have captured the Christmas magic so beautifully here and here 

You must have a look at Cliodhna Prendergast’s Breaking Eggs, beautifully produced food films, shot at her home in the West of Ireland with her children. Cliodhna says that “Home and family cooking is a life skill. We believe in practical, simple food for kids with lots of variety and the odd indulgence!” I must agree! Best of luck on your next shoot Cliodhna!

John and Sally McKenna have released their acclaimed McKenna’s Guides Megabites Awards, a running list of ‘Who’s Who in Irish Food’ compiled in the best taste, of course. 

Happiest Holiday Wishes To All!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell 2012

Rum Raisin Ice Cream

MAKES ABOUT 2.5 Pints

180g raisins

250ml dark rum

160g sugar

6 egg yolks

480ml milk

480ml cream

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

 Place raisins and rum in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit until raisins soften and absorb rum, 8 hours or overnight. Drain, reserving 2 tbsp. rum, and set aside.

 Place sugar and yolks in a saucepan, and whisk until pale yellow and lightened slightly, about 2 minutes. Add milk, and stir until smooth. Place over medium heat, and cook, stirring often, until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Pour through a fine strainer into a large bowl. Whisk in drained raisins along with reserved rum, cream, and vanilla; cover custard with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until completely chilled.

Pour custard into an ice cream maker, and process according to manufacturer’s instructions until thick. Transfer to an airtight container, and seal. Freeze until set before serving, at least 4 hours.

 

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One of the best bits about the holidays for me is all the baking and confections of the season. It’s the one time of year where you are likely to throw caution to the wind, indulge in all the festive sweets that your heart desires and chalk it up to holiday spirit. I personally think that is A-OK. That is, until the first day of the New Year when I can’t seem to fit into my stretchy yoga pants.

Over the weekend, my little baking assistant and I made magnificent mince pies. I discovered that these savory/sweet tiny tarts are perfect for little hands to help out with, and Geoffrey had loads of fun rolling then cutting out circles of pastry and spooning the mincemeat into each little case to be topped off with a star. Later we packaged the pies up all pretty and brought them across the road to share with family. They went down a treat and Geoffrey was delighted with himself.

I must say, mince pies in Ireland are so perfectly dainty and elegant looking. Even if you don’t like mincemeat, it’s impossibe to not pick up a parcel of these eye-catching pies delicately sprinkled with powdery icing sugar. They just seem to jump out at you when you’re browsing the market, oozing the essence of Christmas.

The beauty of mince pies came as a surprise to me, however, as, unless I am mistaken, you would be hard pressed to find mince pies trimming the aisles of every supermarket  in America at this time of year. (or any time of year, really) Remarkably, my grandmother made mincemeat pie for Thanksgiving every year as a part of her trinity of classic tarts: apple, pumpkin and mincemeat. Still, I do not recall witnessing a mince pie at a friend’s home nor a bakery or grocery store in the States. I remember as a child, we considered mincemeat pie extremely old-fashioned because only the adults took a slice for dessert. In our naïveté, we also thought it very strange that people would eat a ‘meat’ pie after a massive meaty meal.

At the weekend, my wee assistant and I will be hitting the kitchen again and attempting to make meringues for the first time. The recipe looks uncomplicated, but I’ve been told that either you can make them or not. I’m hoping for the former. Wish us luck!

Now, for more exciting holiday pressie news!  We put all the butchery course entries into a big milk pail and the farmer drew a name last evening. And, the winner of last week’s holiday giveaway is…drum roll please….Kristin Jensen! Congratulations Kristin, leave it to my farmer to pull another expat out of the mix! You will be joining me on 21st Feb at 6:30 and we will butcher the night away! Will be sending more details via email soon. Thanks so much to everyone for leaving a comment, even if you didn’t win a place on the course, I would encourage you to still sign up…it will be an excellent opportunity to learn about butchering techniques and where our meat comes from!

For my second lovely Christmas giveaway, I am very excited to announce that I have a stunning book from The History Press Ireland up for grabs. A Taste of Cork, A Gourmand’s Tour of its Food and Landscape by Seán Monaghan and Andrew Gleasure captures Cork’s rich and diverse landscape and presents it in a whole new light, combining the spectacular scenery with the artisan gourmet food producers who are so much a part of the culture. The book features Ummera Smoked Products, Cork’s English Market, Ardrahan Farmhouse Cheese and Lullaby Milk, McCarthys of Kanturk and many, many more sensational artisan food producers and beautiful Cork scenery. Leave a comment to be included in the draw. I will ship internationally!

Irish Mince Pies

For the homemade mincemeat

1lb sultanas

1lb beef suet (or a shredded veg suet)

8 oz mixed peel

2 oranges, juice and rind

6 tbsp brandy or cognac

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp mixed spice

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1lb raisins

2lb brown sugar

1lb cooking apples

2 lemons, juice and rind

1 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground cloves

In a large bowl, mix together all the dried fruit, suet, sugar and spices. Grate the apples and add in along with juice and zest from oranges and lemons.  Add brandy. Leave for 24 hours, then put into pots and seal.  (makes 8-10 jam jars)

For the pastry

200g/7oz plain flour, sifted

40g/1½oz caster sugar

75g/2¾oz ground almonds

125g/4½oz unsalted butter, diced

1 large free-range egg, beaten

milk, to glaze

Lightly butter a 12-hole pie/shallow muffin tin. Tip the mincemeat into a bowl and stir so that the liquid is evenly distributed.

Place the flour, sugar, almonds and butter in a food processor and process briefly until resembling breadcrumbs, then slowly add the egg. (Or rub the butter into the dry ingredients by hand and stir in egg)

Bring the mixture together with your hands, wrap in clingfilm and chill for an hour or so.

Thinly roll out the pastry on a floured surface. Cut out 12 circles with a fluted pastry cutter, large enough to fill the base of the prepared tin. Press gently into each hole, then fill with spoonfuls (as you like) of the mincemeat.

Cut out another 12 slightly smaller discs and 12 smaller stars and use to cover the mincemeat. Press the edges together to seal. Brush lightly with milk. Chill for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Bake the pies for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Remove to a wire rack and serve warm with lashings of brandy butter.

Happy Holidays!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos & Styling by Imen McDonnell 2011

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Holiday Gingerbread

08 Dec 2011

I love gingerbread at this time of the year. Not the cookies. Not the houses. The kind of gingerbread which is more like a cake or a loaf. The kind of gingerbread that you slather deep and thick with homemade butter. Sweet, but not too sweet…more like a tea cake. In my producing days, a post production house in London once sent me a holiday gift of Grasmere gingerbread and the memory of that flavour still lingers on. In fact, it has persuaded me to bake at least one batch of gingerbread for the holidays each year here at the farm.

Since I was doing a charity butter-making demo last evening in Tipperary, I decided it would be festive to bake up some gingerbread to bring along to share with the audience. Once I had the honey-rum butter made, it could be lashed onto squares of gingerbread and passed around the audience. The response was overwhelming. The recipe requested. I was going to post about mince pies today, but they will have to politely wait their turn until next week.

In other news, I am crazy thrilled to announce the first of 3 holiday giveaways that I am doing on the blog this year. Weeee, I feel like Oprah! Giving is far superior than receiving at Christmas, such a wonderful feeling.

So, first up, with a million thanks to Pat Whelan, and following on in the spirit of celebrating Tipperary Food, is a FIRST CLASS BUTCHERY COURSE at James Whelan Butchers in Clonmel, County Tipperary on 21st of February at 6:30PM.  You will join myself and 10 other students to learn all about the meat, where it comes from, how and when it is used along with a range of hands-on butchery skills. James Whelan butchers are fully trained skillful professionals, well-versed in all aspects of cutting meat and the aging process. An in-depth insight into the techniques of cutting beef, lamb, pork and bacon will be covered on the evening.

During our summer in America, I was inspired by so many brilliant artisan butchery classes on offer around the USA that I really wished I could have participated in….now here’s my chance, and yours! Leave a comment below and I will be drawing a name next week.

My Holiday Gingerbread

350g/2 1/3 cups plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda/baking soda

3-4 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp allspice

8 globes preserved stem ginger in syrup, drained and chopped

125g/ 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

100g/ 1/2 cup light muscovado sugar (brown sugar can substitute)

50g caster sugar

225g/ 3/4 cup golden syrup {there really is no substitute for this recipe}

1 organic egg, beaten

75ml/3 oz milk

Grease and line a loaf tin with non-stick baking paper. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320F)/fan140°C/gas 3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, ground ginger and allspice. Set aside. Chop 4 globes of the ginger and add to the flour mixture. Finely slice the remainder and set aside.

Melt the butter, sugar(s) and golden syrup in a small pan. Set aside to cool slightly (this should take about 15 minutes)

Beat the egg and milk together. Stir the cooled syrup into the dry ingredients, followed by the egg and milk and beat well. Spoon into the tin and arrange the remaining ginger overlapping on top. Bake for about 1 1/4 hours until just firm to the touch. Cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy warm with lashings of butter and a cup of tea, coffee or a big glass of cold milk.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell

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A Tale of Two Trifles

02 Dec 2011

I once compared our crazy marriage to sherry trifle: there are lovely sweet creamy bits, some definite fruity parts and pieces that go down hard.

Trifle is a new holiday tradition for me here in Ireland. I’m afraid the closest we came to trifle at Christmas when I was growing up was probably something involving Jell-o, whipped cream and fruit….unfathomably, the liquor part never caught on at our family gatherings Stateside.

Since I am in charge of the turkey and trifle for this year’s Christmas dinner, I decided to try my hand at whipping up a bowl this afternoon using a combination of both my mother-in-law and sis-and-law’s recipes that we could taste-test before the big event. I need to be positive that it’s juuuuusst right, no? {cough}

Every year my mother-in-law makes what we like to call her “Pioneer’s Trifle”. Pioneer, because as a young girl she took a lifelong vow to abstain from drinking alcohol, which in Ireland earns you the ‘Pioneer title.  And ‘Pioneer’s Trifle’ because:

Me: How would you describe your mother’s trifle?

Farmer: It’s a Pioneer’s Trifle.

Me: Why do you call it that?

Farmer: Because you wouldn’t want to be driving after eating it.

Her trifle is basically a massive jelly (Jell-o) shot with fruit and sponge suspended in it. The sponge has nearly disintegrated from being soaked in lashings of Sherry or Cognac. We spoon it up and serve it with a dollop of cream on top and it goes straight to your head. As far as the pioneer status? Eating alcohol is different than drinking it.

My lovely sis-in-law uses her own mother’s recipe which is a creamy, custardy version sans alcohol with fresh berries. Different, but equally glorious.

The hybrid of the two turned out positively divine. If you wanted less sponge, you could take out one layer. You can also omit the sherry or cognac, but I wouldn’t…

Next Wednesday, the 7th of December, I will be donning my butter apron for a fun holiday butter demo at The Tipperary Food Producers Christmas Cookery Extravaganza, taking place at the Clonmel Park Hotel in Clonmel, County Tipperary. The event features Rachel Allen preparing a variety of delicious dishes including her unique take on traditional Christmas favourites. Clonmel-based wine expert, Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine, will be giving guidance on wines to accompany the variety of dishes from the cookery demonstration. Doors open at 7:30PM. Homemade butter makes for a lovely edible Christmas gift! Come along to learn how to make your own and present it in pretty, festive packaging. I’d love to see you there =) xx

Holiday Sherry Trifle

Ingredients

600g/20oz Madeira or sponge cake, halved and cut into thick slices

300g/10oz fresh strawberries

6-8 tbsp sweet sherry or cognac

1.5 pints of prepared raspberry gelatin

500ml/ 2 cups thick custard, ready made or homemade

500ml/ 2 cups double or whipping cream, softly whipped

Handful, toasted, flaked almonds and fresh red currants

Directions

The trifle can be made in one large glass dish or into individual dessert glasses

Line the bottom of the dish or glasses with the cake slices.

Pour over sherry or cognac

Pour over cooled gelatin

Hull the strawberries and then layer evenly over the cake. Press lightly with a fork to release the juices.

Spoon over the custard in a thick layer.

Finish with a thick layer of whipped cream either spooned over or piped on using a piping bag

Decorate with toasted flaked almonds and pearls of red currants

Put in fridge to set for 2-3 hours before serving.


Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2011

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It wasn’t until my first Irish family Christmas that I was introduced to the quirky splendor of the Christmas cracker. Ever since, I get giddy with excitement when I see them nestled up next to our plates at Christmas or St. Stephen’s Day just calling out to be pulled apart with a loud snap and lots of laughter.

When our little boy brought home a holiday activity book from school that included a how-to page for constructing Christmas crackers from scratch, I knew we had to sit down and give it a try.

We had loads of fun making crackers for our family and friends on a snowy Sunday afternoon. Fill them with a little tissue paper crown, a handwritten riddle or perhaps a fortune like we did {“I see many lovely pressies for you in the near future”} and some tiny treats-either kiddie-style (choccy gold coins, finger puppets) or grown-up (small biscuits or a small handmade ornament).

You can buy the snap tape in specialty shops and I’ve been told the Euro store as well, they are lovely with or without the pop. These crackers make lovely hostess gifts or gifts for workmates + friends during the holidays.

Happy Cracker Making!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

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Foraging For Holly

09 Dec 2010

A new Irish country tradition that I love

is having fresh holly

strewn about the house for the holidays.

This year, Grandad ventured down to the wood

with his determined lil’ helper in tow

And as they were foraging for holly,

they stumbled upon

a faerie ring of magical mushrooms…

And a glistening green pine

covered in ice drops…

Then, down by the shore

they discovered one berry-less tree

that some hungry little birds had feasted upon

But just beyond

the babbling brook…

hung the most beautiful holly branches

covered with pointy + deep green leaves

and bright crimson berries

And those were the ones

that the foragers brought home

and placed on the mantelpiece.

Happy Holidays

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

photos by Imen McDonnell

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Snow Worshiper

07 Dec 2009

3536604102_672f4c3474 Galtee Mountains, Counties Limerick, Tipperary and Cork, Ireland

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a snow worshiper. No, I am not an avid skier, nor do I create elaborate sculptures out of snow and ice, but indeed, I have a loving relationship with snow. From the first dainty “dusting” to a full on white-out blizzard, I adore it. Powdery, heavy, sparkling, icey, fluffy, packy, soft, clean, dirty, slippery, flakey…love it all.  For me, it symbolizes the beginning of the holidays and makes everything more merry. The joy of making snowmen and snow angels and going sledding followed by sipping hot cocoa with marshmallows is absolutely priceless. I’ve never found it particularly annoying to drive in the snow, on the contrary, it’s just been a part of life.  I grew up with it and yes, I remember the days when the snow was as high as our house, and when deer would get trapped on icebergs on Lake Michigan and all that jazz. Loved it. And there it was again in the summer when the town council dug up the snow they’d buried in the winter and brought it out for the “Snow Festival” parade and made children’s eyes wide as pies.

Nowadays, everyone back home seems to complain that it just doesn’t snow like it used to and I am here to tell you that AT LEAST IT STILL SNOWS! Sure, Ireland gets a wee bit of snow, but it usually falls short of us by landing on top of the mountains or other highlands. The photo above depicts a beautiful snowfall on the Galtee Mountains which are near us so if I am driving to Limerick I can see this winter wonderland, but not fully experience it. One day last year it began to snow at our house and Geoffrey and I were so happy we nearly fell down the stairs in excitement.  We put on our outdoor gear and ran outside only to find that the flurries had stopped and all of it had melted upon impact. It’s just too mild here for the snow to stick, but I’m forever optimistic; each winter I still think maybe it will really snow this year…

Many of the Irish and English make do by taking trips to Lapland, Finland, located in the frozen Arctic Circle. The twinkling snow covered forests and northern lights-filled night skies are meant to be simply breathtaking. Perhaps we’ll go to Lapland one day, but for now Richard says he’s going to buy some type of snow machine and hmmm, I wonder about that. Would it be the same? Who knows, but there’s no doubt that I’d love it because for me, snow in Winter is like the icing on the cake {with a cherry on top!}.

3191212829_e34c218e82 Spoonbridge and Cherry by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje Van Bruggen. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, USA

Happy Snowy Holidays!

Slán Abhaile,

Imen

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