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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?

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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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Mince pies. Those lovely little devils. If only they had been called mince pies when I was a child. There seems to be a bit more mystery to a mince pie than a minceMEAT pie. Meat was not something I desired in a pie when I was 10 and sitting at my grandmother’s Thanksgiving Day table waiting patiently for dessert. No matter if such a pie had been lovingly prepared, nestled up in a tea towel, and kept cosy on top of a warm tumble dryer alongside his sweet, fragrant friends, pumpkin and apple.

“No mincemeat pie for me,” I would say year after year, which was always followed by the obligatory “one day you’ll know what you’re missing.” (which, by the by, has now been inducted (inherited?) into my ridiculous lexicon of parental vernacular, alongside “were you born in a barn?” (close!) and “hold your horses!” (goes without saying)

Ironically, and most happily surprising, I really didn’t know what I was missing when I declined Grandma Johnson’s mincemeat pie. Turns out this mincing of meat is really pretty terrific. When it doesn’t have meat in it, that is. (Although, having learned that mincemeat pie actually originated in the Middle East, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a savoury/sweet Ottolenghi-fied twist on the classic…but I digress…)

In my humble mincemeat research, I found a North American filling recipe that was published in 1854 which included chopped neat’s (beef) tongue, beef suet, blood raisins (yikes!), currants, mace, cloves, nutmeg, brown sugar, apples, lemons, brandy and orange peel. It was said that this mincemeat could be preserved for up to ten years. Then, on one special Monday at the turn of the 20th century, meatless mincemeat was introduced and the world was a better place. Now that I have sampled a host of variations, I am proud to point out that I am particularly partial to a cranberry-walnut blended mincemeat filling.

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I mention all of this because mince pies are the cornerstone of Irish holiday baking. They are what hot cross buns are to Easter. Quotidian. They are always the first smattering of Christmas spirit to hit the bakeries and markets across this fair country and the last to leave. When you see the mince pies, you know that elaborate Christmas cakes are not far behind. Their debut tips you off to the perfect storm of puddings that lies ahead. From that day forward, you are granted the perfect excuse to whip up a boozy brandy butter, and sip copious amounts of mulled wine with friends and family… or, not with friends and family.

This weekend, we had our 2nd annual DIY holiday wreath-making party. The first thing I did was bake up a batch of Ballymaloe mince pies along with a few fun variations. Afterward, Geoffrey and I headed down to the wood to collect holly and ivy, evergreens and laurel leaves. We snipped branches from the olive tree and rosemary in our garden. Then, we made our traditional rosemary-mint cake, this time with chocolate instead of a snowy white sponge. My sister-in-law and her three children came over on Sunday afternoon and we gathered round the table to craft three wreaths. One for each of our homes, and another to place on Peggy’s grave with a prayer. We sipped mulled wine and nibbled on warm pies slathered up in zesty orange brandy butter and planned the big Christmas Day meal. Then, when everyone went home and Geoffrey was off to the farm to feed the calves, I cleaned up our workstations, sat down, and savoured every last morsel of the lone mince pie left on the platter.

Grandma would be proud.

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Miniature Mince Pies

Ingredients
225g (8oz) plain flour
175g (6oz) butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1 dessertspoon icing sugar, sieved
a pinch of salt
a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind
1lb mincemeat (see recipe below)
egg wash
Method
Sieve the flour into a bowl. Toss the butter into the flour and rub it in with your fingertips. Add the icing sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix with a fork as you gradually add in the beaten egg (do this bit by bit because you may not need all of the egg), then use your hand to bring the pastry together into a ball. It should not be wet or sticky. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4
Roll out the pastry until it’s quite thin – about 3mm (1/8 inch) Stamp into rounds 7.5 (3 inch) in diameter and line shallow bun tins with the discs. Put a good teaspoonful of mincemeat into each tin, dampen the edges with water and put another round on top. Brush with egg wash and decorate with pastry leaves or stars.
Bake the pies in the preheated oven for 20 minutes approx. Allow them to cool slightly, then dredge with icing or caster sugar. Serve with Irish whiskey cream (or brandy butter.)

Homemade Mincemeat
Makes 3.2kg (7lb) approx 8-9 pots
Ingredients
2 cooking apples
2 organic lemons
900g (2lbs) Barbados sugar (soft, dark brown sugar)
450g (1lb) beef suet
450 (1lb) sultanas
224 (8oz) currants
110g (4oz) candied citrus peel
70ml (2.5fl oz) Irish whiskey
2 tbsp Seville orange marmalade
pinch of salt
Method
Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4
Core and bake whole apples in the preheated oven for 30 minutes approx. Allow to cool. When they are soft, remove the skin and pips and mash the flesh into a pulp.
Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of the stainless steel grater, squeeze out the juice and stir into the pulp
Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of a stainless steel grater, squeeze out the juice and stir into the pulp. Add the other ingredients one by one, and as they are added, mix everything thoroughly. Put into sterilized jars, cover and leave to mature for two weeks before using. This mincemeat will keep for two to three years in a cool, airy place.

The winner of Rochelle Bilow’s signed book, The Call of the Farm is YVONNE CORNELL. Many, many thanks to everyone for their heartfelt turkey comments, you have helped me in ways you’ll never know!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014

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We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started 

And know the place for the first time.
-T.S. Eliot

Finally. I picked the blackberries. I have no less than ten thorny incisions on my violet-stained fingers to prove it. In Geoffrey’s words, I’ve more than earned a brave brambleberry scout badge.

In a concerted effort to “will” or tame the season….to somehow preserve traditions of y’ore, I patiently lingered until just a day shy of autumn to tackle our humble creepers bursting with ripe fruit.

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When the day came, I packed up a punnet of necessary things: a flask of strong coffee, some bits to nibble, a special book, gloves and nippers. I set up a workstation by the old cottage at Ballyhahill, and set out to pluck a bucket of deep purple berries from the wall of prickly vines that surround and protect it.

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Despite my efforts to reclaim the bounty of a true fall harvest, to go back to a time when seasons could be held accountable, the swallows have gone and packed up to soar south for their holidays. And, believe it or not, red berries are already beginning to dot our shiny, sharp-leaved holly trees. Hedgerow sloes have been ripe for the picking since mid September…usually not ready until after the first frost. Dare I ask, do these signs point to an early, hard winter? Seasons just seem to come earlier and earlier, but just how far can back can they go….in a nod to a T.S. Eliot poem, could nature somehow arrive back to where it all started?

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Ten years ago, I couldn’t have told you the difference between a swallow or sparrow and I certainly never knew that sloes were a fruit that grew on a tree; rather, a putrid syrupy “gin” poured as a cheap fizzy cocktail. I, ashamedly, was not at all concerned about climate change or farming or growing my own food. It was far easier to go through life eyes wide shut, worrying about my next new pair of shoes or how many air miles I was stacking up. I had a career that could cunningly give you a false sense of influence; a feeling that honestly never quite sat right with me, but also a feeling for which now I will embarrassingly admit, sure was easy to get used to…

Today, I am forced to reckon with raw nature, and well, it can be daunting. There is no sense of superiority here that’s for certain. We are ruled by nature. It affects everything we do here on the farm. From rearing animals on grass to growing crops for winter fodder. Sowing and cultivating the kitchen garden, and even allowing our new heritage turkeys to frolic in Turkey Hollow, it’s all down to what Mother Nature decides.

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So, I picked the blackberries and left some behind, and I will stubbornly, and perhaps ridiculously, wait every year until it’s truly autumn to take them again.

And now, we feast.

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Blackberry & Apple Tart with a Hint of Sweet Geranium

I learned straight away that any and all things Blackberry and Apple reign supreme here in Ireland during the autumn harvest season. It is certain that any manner of tarts, crumbles, cakes and puddings will be found on the dining tables of Irish country houses at this time of year. It is a tradition that was uncommon to me initially, but one that makes perfect sense as the two fruits do truly sing together. I experimented with adding a hint of sweet geranium essence to these individual tarts and we really enjoyed the subtle addition. Sweet geranium is unrelated to the flowering garden geranium and has leaves in a variety of scents from rose to lemon and even a mint-y version. Of course, you can leave out the sweet geranium syrup infusion altogether for a classic fruit tart with full-on jammy blackberry/tart apple flavour.

Makes 3 miniature tarts, or one standard pie.

INGREDIENTS
For the shortcrust pastry
Scant 1.5 cups/113g butter, softened
Scant 1 cup/200g caster sugar
1 small egg
4 drops vanilla extract
2.5 cups/300g standard plain flour (all purpose)
For the filling
5 sweet geranium leaves
200 mls water
150g caster sugar
80 g butter, plus extra for greasing
100 g golden caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
4-5 Bramley apples, cored, peeled and each cut into wedges
200 g blackberries
1 large free-range egg, beaten
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
METHOD
To make the pastry
1. In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until a light creamy consistency has been achieved.
2. Add egg, vanilla and mix until combined. Add flour and mix to a paste just until pastes comes clean off bowl. (Be careful not to over mix or pastry will become elastic and doughy.)
3. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or even better, overnight.
To make the sweet geranium syrup
1. Place 5 sweet geranium leaves in a saucepan with the water and sugar.
2. Heat until sugar is fully dissolved. Take off heat and set aside to cool.
For the filling
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.
2. When syrup has cooled to room temperature, pour over blackberries and steep for at least one hour.
3. Put the butter and sugar into a saucepan and, when the butter has melted, add the apples.
4. Slowly cook for 15 minutes with a lid on, then add the infused blackberries, stir and cook for 5 more minutes with the lid off.
Assembly
1. Remove your pastry from the fridge.
2. Dust your work surface with flour, cut the pastry in half and, using a floured rolling pin, roll one of the pieces out until it’s just under 1cm thick. (Rolling the dough between two layers of greaseproof paper will also stop it sticking to your rolling pin.)
3. Butter a shallow 26cm pie dish or three mini tart tins and line with the pastry, trimming off any excess round the edges using a sharp knife.
4. Tip the cooled apples and blackberries into a sieve, reserving all the juices, then put the fruit into the lined pie dish so you have a mound in the middle.
5. Dot each mound with a teaspoon of remaining butter
6. Spoon over half the reserved juices. Brush the edge of the pastry with beaten egg. 6. Roll out the second piece of pastry, just as you did the first, and lay it over the top of the pie.
7. Trim the edges as before and crimp them together with your fingers.
8. Brush the top of the pie with the rest of the beaten egg, sprinkle generously with sugar and the cinnamon, and make a couple of slashes in the top of the pastry.
9. Place the pie on a baking tray and then put it directly on the bottom of the preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.
10. To serve, slice the pie into portions and serve with a generous dollop of custard.

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014. 

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“Hold on, hold on, hold on…let me go and see, I know there is one tree out there with sweet fruit on it.” My father-in-law pulled on his wellies and rushed out the kitchen door to what Geoffrey and I like to privately call the baby orchard.

I had ambled in moments earlier after checking the gooseberries and black currants (sadly, very sparse this year) along with the young apple, pear and plum trees that he and Peggy planted about six years ago only steps from the scullery.

When I explained that I noticed one tree with a gang of green plums and wondered out loud if they were Greengages, Michael scratched his head and told me he couldn’t be sure, “Peggy wrote the names of all those new trees down when we planted them, but I can’t recall where that list might be now.” These are things you don’t think a second about until someone is gone and you can’t ask them anymore.

He just wanted to get to the sweet. Who cared about those sour green plums. We needed to plunge into a sugary candy-like plum, like the ones he and Geoffrey shared the week before. I couldn’t shake the subtle hint of metaphor between sweetness and sorrow.

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Michael came back into the kitchen with one piece of deep purple fruit, opened the cupboard and pulled three more from a brown paper bag. We stood in front of the kitchen sink eating those perfect plums. No words, just the sounds of bite-slurping into the fleshy fruits followed by the telltale mmmm’s and ahhh’s of pure taste ambrosia. When we finished our impromtu picnic, I thanked Michael and he suggested that I head out to the back orchard to check on the older fruit trees.

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This “old” orchard, which dates back about one hundred years, was heaving with ripe fruit. When I say heaving, this is partially due to the tremendous storm earlier this year that downed several large beech trees and blew over the fruit trees with such a vengeance that they mostly now look more like arched Espaliers than Bramleys; the whole scene suggestive of a fine Dr. Seuss story.

I filled a basket with plums, most of them ripe, and a few with a way to go. And, in the spirit of summer fruits, this sweet surprise was born.

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Orchard Plum + Black Currant Madeira Cake with Mascarpone-Cassis Icing

Madeira Cake did not originate in the Madeira Islands, rather from the Portuguese Madeira wine that would have traditionally been served with this tea cake in Ireland and the UK many years ago. This wildly popular (and, once new-to-me), beautifully buttery, dense cake is normally prepared with just a touch of lemon zest, but I’ve pushed the limits and made it rich with summer fruits, balanced with a creamy mascarpone, cassis-spiked icing. I added black currant jam and a touch of smoked sea salt to the frosting, which is lovely, but definitely optional and not necessary if you prefer a less profound flavour profile. The pretty green plums in the photos were not used in the cake mix; sweet, ripe plums are a must for this recipe. You could cut the recipe in half and leave out the layers + icing altogether for a simple summer fruit Madeira. 

Ingredients
350g/12oz butter, at room temperature
350g/12oz caster sugar
6 free-range eggs
500g/18oz self-raising flour
6 tbsp milk
300g/10 oz peeled, pitted, thinly sliced sweet plums
200g black currant conserve
Method
1. Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease two 18cm/7in round cake tins, line the base with greaseproof paper and grease the paper.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture well between each one and adding a tablespoon of the flour with the last egg to prevent the mixture from curdling.
3. Sift the flour and gently fold in, with enough milk to give a mixture that falls slowly from the spoon. Fold in the sliced plums.
4. Spoon the mixture equally into the prepared tins and lightly level the tops. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 40-50 minutes, or until golden-brown on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
5. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, turn it out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
6. Level out each cake layer with a serrated cake knife so that they easily lay flat on top of one another.
7. Spread a thick layer of black currant conserve on top of bottom cake layer.

Cassis-Mascarpone Icing
Ingredients
450g/1lb mascarpone cheese, softened
350g/12oz unsalted butter, softened
450g/1lb confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3/4 tsp. oak-smoked sea salt (optional)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3-4 tbsp crème de cassis
1 tbsp black currant conserve (optional)
Method
1.In a large bowl, beat the mascarpone and butter with the mixer on medium speed until very smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
2. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, crème de cassis, optional sea salt and black currant conserve and beat on medium high until blended and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
3. Cover the frosting and set aside at room temperature until ready to frost cake.
4. Dab a bit of icing on the cake plate. Carefully set the bottom layer of cake (the piece with black currant conserve spread on top) down on the frosting. Sandwich second layer on top.
5. Using a metal spatula, evenly spread a thin layer (about 1/3 cup) of frosting over the entire cake to seal in any crumbs and fill in any gaps between layers. Refrigerate until the frosting is cold and firm, about 20 minutes. Spread the entire cake with the remaining frosting.
6. Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days. This cake is best served slightly chilled or at room temperature.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Recipe, Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2014

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Lens & Larder

14 Aug 2014

ballynahinch

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{SOLD OUT}

I swear I have been dreaming of putting together a gathering that would bring people together to share a convivial food + learning experience in my adopted country for as long as I have been on this farm. My first instinct was to organize a series of farm-to-table harvest weekends. By and by, we’ve done this in small ways, knocking up country suppers with visiting friends which warble on till the wee hours of the morning, leaving little time before milking. So fantastic. Times to relish. Imagery to cherish. Pity, yet hopefully only “for now,” we don’t have the space to host more than a couple of folks. But, since serendipity is no stranger in our lives, after meeting and working with brilliant new friends in the West of Ireland, a plan was hatched to create a harbinger of food, photography and adventure….escape is the pastoral word that pops to mind; to a haven which feels a half a world away.

So now, I am absolutely thrilled to share the very first Lens & Larder creative retreat which will take place this autumn in the breathtaking Connemara region of Ireland. This workshop will focus on food photography and styling, and I am honored to announce that the magnificent talents of photographer, Beth Kirby and seasoned food stylist, Susan Spungen will be at the helm of our maiden voyage.

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Have you ever wished for someone to take you through selecting the best camera angle and lens, or how to make the best use of natural available light to create your own food story?

Have you ever wondered how to style that big bowl of creamy chowder to make it just as appetizing as the beautiful slice of bread with butter on the table next to it?

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Have you struggled with how to layer and compose a shot to compliment the food? Where does it all start? The food? The props? The camera angle? The light or location?

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Allow Beth and Susan to guide you in creating your very own repertoire of basic camera and styling techniques while exploring the stunning setting of Ballynahinch Castle in the Connemara region of Ireland. During your stay, you will find yourself foraging for wild edibles in the lush ancient woodlands on the estate of the 16th century Irish castle, rolling pastry like a styling pro and baking up a rustic galettes in a classic AGA stove, venturing to a bay on the Wild Atlantic Way to pull lobster and crab pots while jigging for mackerel (or just watching the action while breathing in the fresh sea air, if you please) and afterward gathering in a centuries-old island schoolhouse for lunch and more learning. Each evening you will retire to the stately and luxurious Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, voted best hotel in Ireland by Condé Nast Traveler in 2013, but more importantly, a sacred place that has provided artistic inspiration to kindred creatives for hundreds of years.

Participants will receive focused, personalized guidance in photography & styling for natural light settings—we will touch on camera basics, post-processing, food and prop styling and more.

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When:

October 21st to October 24th 2014

What:

2 days/3 nights = 2 full days filled with instruction interspersed with hands-on practice. There will be a small amount of time off to explore the area individually as well.

Included:  3 nights accommodation, 1 welcome reception with oysters and Stout, 3 full Irish breakfasts; 2 lunches; 3 dinners including wine, beer and cocktails; all food with a focus on locally sourced, artisan ingredients (vegetarian options will be catered for). One foraging expedition with photo and styling technique, one kitchen demo with photography & styling workshop, one boat trip from Roundstone to Innishlaken Island with schoolhouse location shoot and styling workshop. Tradition Irish music on one evening.

Excluded: Travel to Ireland and transportation to Ballynahinch Castle; Travel insurance; Extras

Cost:

USD $1,960 – EUR €1,470 per person sharing dual occupancy. If you prefer a private room, please add a surcharge of USD $160 – EUR €120.

A 90% non-refundable deposit will be required to secure your spot.

Final 10% Payment  will be due on October 10th, 2014.

Due to timing logistics, there will be absolutely no refunds for this workshop. Please make sure you can attend before securing a space for the retreat.

(We recommend that you to take travel insurance. Owning a SLR camera is preferable)

Beth Kirby is a Tennessee based photographer, writer, recipe developer, and stylist, and she is the creator of the blog Local Milk, a space devoted to seasonal recipes inspired by the south as well as travel, home, fashion, and entertaining. Local Milk was the winner of the 2014 Saveur magazine readers’ & editors’ choice award for best photography on a food blog, and her work aims to capture the beauty of the mundane & provide inspiration for slow living. When not behind the stove, lens, or keyboard she can be found combing farmers markets & flea markets alike in search of inspiration.

Susan Spungen is a Cookbook Author, Entertaining Expert, Culinary Consultant and Food Stylist for both print and film, having brought the food to life in major feature films such as Julia & Julia, It’s Complicated, Eat, Pray, Love, and Labor Day. She is a frequent contributor to national magazines such as Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, More Magazine, and Dr. Oz The Good Life, where she is a Contributing Editor. Susan is the co-author of Martha Stewart’s Hors D’Oeuvres Handbook, and is the author of RECIPES: A Collection for the Modern Cook. Her latest book is What’s a Hostess to Do?, a guidebook for entertaining in the modern world.

To make a booking for this workshop, please email lensandlarder@gmail.com.  Registration will close on  August 27th, 2014.

We hope to learn with you at Lens & Larder……Pip Pip!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Images provided by Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, Beth Kirby & Susan Spungen.  

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Intermission

20 Jun 2014

suitcase

Tonight I sit at the table looking at life over the rim of an ingeniously crafted grilled lemon gimlet.* I am pondering this crazy, cathartic journey of love that I signed up for nearly 11 years ago.

Warm fuzzies take up residence on my forearms and I smile.

Still kismet.

As I gallop nearer to the finish of photography for this book, I am filled with emotion and pride. Looking back, I am simply struck by how life can take so many turns and twists in your one go ‘round.

Damn, destiny can be demanding.

I sip down the last gorgeous citrusy drop of my mixed drink and start wiping down the kitchen worktop.

Nine years in Ireland. (Pinch)

Where did that go? (Ssshhhh, don’t ask)

I hazily conclude that if you give life your best shot, demands are met with very handsome rewards.

Hic.

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I’ve been floating around in my apron and wellies for the for the past month prepping, testing, cooking, co-styling and shooting recipes nearly every day, in and around our home, the farmyard, and the many pastures and meadows that cradle and surround us.

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Fortunately for me, my fabulous friend and food stylist, Sonia Mulford-Chaverri made it across the Atlantic to be my partner in all of this food fluffing. So far we’ve been having great fun making everything look awfully pretty together.

Of course, everyone in the family has been enlisted as well, including our Airedale Terrier, Teddy, who clearly seems to feel he has some directorial talents. He takes the biscuit.

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Sure, during week 3 the dishwasher died (that one last butter bell?) and our clothes washer waned (too many tea towels?), but thanks to our local dairy co-op, we were back in business in no time. Yes, I stumbled while eagerly trying to hoist a large piece of furniture (a.k.a “prop”) and subsequently spent the day at the hospital waiting for an x-ray (no break, just a bad sprain, but plenty of colorful chinwagging with fellow Irish patients.)

As of today, I am on oven burn #6 and wearing it like a badge of cookbook courage. Also, the donkeys breaking into one of my kitchen garden beds and eating most of my strawberries and newly sprouted Georgia collard greens was admittedly quite heartbreaking.

Ahhhhhh, farm life.

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On the other hand, we had a lovely visitor from Tennessee who brought and baked her special family recipe for buttermilk pie (yes, it will be in the book!) and afterward, we made beautiful buttermilk fried chicken with a big mess O’greens, so all was not lost. Thank you Lavonda Shipley.

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I must admit, the best bits have been shooting outdoors frolicking in all of the once-foreign-to-me fauna and flora (even if the sweet heifer calves that surround us in the fields are forever trying to guttle up our picnics before we can properly photograph them). Can’t blame em, right?

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It is the absolute perfect time of year to capture the breathtaking nature of the Irish countryside at its finest. Things don’t bloom here, they BURST…virtually everything is heaving with flowers and leaves everywhere you turn. Beguiling.

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Will leave you with some other bits of bacchanalia….and back soon, promise.

Last month, I was invited to travel to the charming Inishbofin Island off the coast of County Galway to enjoy a lovely dinner and night at the Inishbofin House Hotel. The island, which translates to “The Island of the White Cow” is reachable by ferry from Cleggan and boasts breathtaking beaches and ruins chockablock with history. BBC chef, Ray McCardle, is on board at Inishbofin House consulting on the menu with head chef Taidgh McDonald and their new menu is a treasure to keep an eye on. If you are traveling to Ireland and want to try something different than the Aran Islands, hop over to Inishbofin..it is truly delightful.

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I will be blabbing about food blogging on a fantastic panel at this year’s Hay Festival in the ancient town of Kells, County Meath on Sunday, July 6th. The Hay Festival is a vibrant mash of literature, world music, politics, comedy and film and is produced every year across Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. My friends at Sheridan’s Cheesemongers asked me to participate this year, and I’m proud as punch to join this renowned gathering. Come along if you’re free! On your way, check out the Hill of Tara and put an intention on the wishing tree.

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Shake, shake, shake ♫ ♬…..come and boogie with me while making farmhouse butter at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin on July 26th. More details to come.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

*Sonia’s Grilled Lemon Gimlet recipe: one sliced lemon, sprinkled with sugar and grilled. Fill one small tumbler with ice. Pour in two jiggers dry gin, healthy splash of lemon juice, and top with grilled lemon. Suck and eat lemon slices when you’ve finished your drink. Photo of rag tree by Bruce Friedman. All other photos by Imen McDonnell 2014. 

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At precisely this time each year, I become consumed with any and all things garden. It starts with the pull of Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols from the bookshelf and onto my nightstand. For the past few spring seasons, I have read this book in its entirety in bits and pieces before bed in the evenings. And each year, the words seem to re-introduce themselves to me as if we’d never met and everything is new again. (Surely those are the best books?) Mostly pertaining to floral and formal planting, there are chapters detailing the flamboyant author’s very colourful conundrums with both his kitchen garden and orchards as well.

Down the Garden Path is wildly entertaining, but mostly it gets me thinking about what I intend to plant in our very own vegetable and flower beds for the year. It also creates a bit of an obsession in planning for time when I can get out and make a clean sweep to prepare for new growth. (By obsession, I mean waking up in the middle of the night worrying about how far the horseradish root has invaded into artichoke territory over the winter months, and how very sad, but very likely it is, that one of the Wisteria isn’t going to make it this year.)

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So it begins. With a pencil behind my ear, I peruse seed catalogues, gardening books, GIY Ireland meeting times and fancy landscape magazines. I chat with friends and neighbours, and begin scribbling and planning.

Essentially I decide that I am just looking for a few new offerings in the veg and fruit department, and perhaps a new tree or two. Luckily, I was gifted a peony plant from my generous neighbour, and I can see new growth already so blossoms will be something to really look forward to in July

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Right now there is an abundance of rhubarb and rosemary with pretty lavender flowers around the farm. I’ll make some rhubarb jam and slather it on a duck egg sponge, but first l shall dig into unknown territory with a syllabub featuring two ingredients that I can’t help but imagine will love each others company.

Syllabub is a classic dessert on this side of the Atlantic where people have been enjoying it centuries. It is essentially a dish made of milk or cream with the addition of wine, cider, or other spirit, and often enhanced with a natural flavor. In this case, I have decided to cut the cream with Poitín (formerly known as Irish moonshine) and sweeten it with a simple syrup made from rhubarb and rosemary.

For me, syllabub  simply spells spring garden party in BIG BLAZING LETTERS. And, while we’re not quite there yet, I am already dreaming of such a sunny afternoon dalliance. Admittedly, this is especially easy to visualize while spooning sweet, boozy, creamy bites of said fluffy syllabub into my eager mouth.

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Geoffrey already has his pumpkin and Purple of Sicily cauliflower seedlings started; his bumblebee garden packet at the ready for sprinkling. He gets a bed or two to himself; last year he grew upwards of 30 Romanesco courgettes, the long stripey ones. He was quite proud of himself, but he missed the pumpkins that he had planted the year before with great success so we are back onto those again.

I have seed envelopes from Ireland: Brown Envelope seeds from Madeline McKeever in West Cork, and from America: Baker Seed Company, an organic and mostly heirloom seed company out of Missouri.

I begin the whole seedy selection process. Colorado Red Quinoa and Collard Greens from Georgia go in the “TBP” (to be planted) pile while White Scallop Squash in  “NY” (next year). As usual, the amount of seeds I’ve ordered is dizzying and I make a note to cut back in future.

I look at the time a few hours later and then glance around the table. The syllabub is whipped, biscuits are dipped, tea is sipped, and the seeds are finally picked.

It’s spring, after all.

Rhubarb & Rosemary Spring Syllabub with Poitín
Ingredients
300g whipping cream
50g rhubarb & rosemary simple syrup
25ml Irish Poitín (or white wine, hard cider, champagne, sherry)
A stack of Ginger Nut biscuits, to serve
Rosemary stems to garnish
Method
For the simple syrup
1. Cut one large stalk of rhubarb into small pieces
2. Place in saucepan with two stems of fresh rosemary and 80g caster sugar.
3. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer until all sugar is dissolved.
4. Take off heat and let cool at room temperature. Strain into container and refrigerate.
For the Syllabub
1. Whip the cream and syrup together until soft peaks form. Stir in the Poitín.
2. Spoon into glasses or bowls, garnish with rosemary.
3. Serve with Ginger Nut biscuits or rhubarb compote.
 

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014.  

 

 

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Fine Fettle Flapjacks

12 Jan 2014

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Fact: Flapjacks put you in fine fettle.

I can explain. During the time that we were building our own little nest on the farm, we took up residence in the nearby village of Adare, County Limerick. Adare, which in Irish is: Áth Dara, meaning “ford of [the] oak” is a precious little town with a population of about twenty four hundred and is regarded as one of Ireland’s prettiest villages. At the time, it had championed the “Tidy Town” award for five years running and it was easy to see why. To me, Adare village looked and felt like a scene out of medieval times; which, from my urban American point-of-view, proved to be a simultaneously charming and somewhat tricky territory to settle into at that moment in time.

If you strolled the village from top-to-tail in 2006, you would find two spectacular stone cloistered churches built in the 13th century, one petite corner grocery store whose clerk was the face of my stern second-grade teacher, a fish-n-chipper called the Pink Potato, a string of pubs seemingly all owned by one (Collins) family, two quiet fine dining restaurants, a Chinese takeaway that once charged me 5 euro for a side of soy sauce, a filling station with an unusually popular deli counter, a perfect little café. Turf smoke hung in the air over riverbank castle ruins, an itty-bitty post office that closed for two hours every afternoon, a friendly pharmacy with a glowing green cross on its facade, a row of thatched-roof cottages, a small library, the bank, a handful of B&B’s and two estate hotels once inhabited by Lords and Ladies.

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By now you are wondering what this post has to do with a stack of flapjacks. I mentioned a perfect little café. About two blocks from our little bolthole was Lloyd’s. Like most businesses in Adare, Lloyd’s Café was a family-run venture. Small, quaint; a tiny dining room with 4-5 small wooden tables inside and 2 tables outside for when the weather was cooperating.  The simple menu was chalked onto a board daily and consisted of just breakfast and lunch.  A hearty full Irish, buttery scrambled eggs with a pinch of curry powder (the BEST), velvety soups, stews, sandwiches, salads, cakes, scones, and, most importantly, the only good coffee in town. It was one of those buzzy little places filled with excellent food and chatty locals, and if you stayed long enough you could file the village’s full gossip report upon your departure.

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One day after ducking in for a quick lunch, I made my way up to the cash register to pay the bill.

“Would you like anything else?”

I pointed to the large glass cookie jar next to the till, “Em, sure, may I have two of these gorgeous looking granola bars please?”

“Two Flapjacks for takeaway?”

Puzzled, “Oh, no, no, the granola bars in the cookie jar.”

“Those yokes? They are flapjacks”

“Wait, what? Flapjacks are pancakes in America.”

With that lilting Irish irony, “Well, Flapjacks are Flapjacks in Ireland.”

“Really?”

She grinned, “Really. And sure, they’ll put you in fine fettle.

Eventually I figured out that flapjacks are not flapjacks, but yet they are flapjacks, and they are considered a healthy treat in this neck of the woods. I learned that “fine fettle” means to be in good health or good humor, and ended up taking home three flapjacks (combination embarrassment + pregnancy clause.) They were devoured before the end of the day.

I had eaten my weight in them before I figured out that they were basically bars of butter, golden syrup (like corn syrup), and rolled oats. Not exactly a recipe for health. So, now that we live on the farm and have our own honey, I DIY swapping out the golden syrup for honey and adding nuts, seeds, fruits, and various healthy grains to the mix. They are a versatile snack to nibble with tea, after feeding calves or a run, and super fantastic for the lunchbox. We are butter lovers, but you can swap coconut oil, sunflower oil or nut butter for the butter for a dairy-free version.

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However you proceed, I can promise that they sure will put you in fine fettle. Here is my favorite recipe which is packed with healthy grains and boasts the perfect balance of chew + crunch. Delicious!

Oat-Millet-Chia-Banana Flapjacks

Ingredients:

6 tbsp / 1/3 cup raw honey

200g / 3/4 cup unsalted butter

1 medium ripe/soft banana, mashed

1 tsp cinnamon

Pinch of sea salt

330g / 2 cups organic porridge oats

115g/1 cup organic millet flakes

55g/1/2 cup chia seeds

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas 4

2. Butter a 23cm x 33cm / 9″x 13″ Swiss roll tin and line the base with baking parchment.

3. Place the honey, butter, banana mash and cinnamon into a large saucepan and heat gently, stirring well until the butter has melted completely.

4. Put the oats, millet, chia seeds into a large mixing bowl, add a pinch of salt then pour over the butter and honey mixture and stir to coat the oats mixture.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and spread evenly to fill the tin making sure the surface is even. Sprinkle a small handful of millet flakes over the top.

6. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven while the flapjack is still slightly soft, they will harden once cool.

7. Place the tin on a wire cooling rack, cut the flapjack into squares and leave in the tin until completely cool.

8. Try not to eat them all in one day!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014

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Last week, I hosted our first freshly-foraged DIY wreath workshop at the farm.  I served up winter salads with freshly baked soda bread, spiced mulled wine, and my best snowy white cake all covered in rosemary-mint icing, garnished with herb sprigs from the forest of rosemary growing in front of our house.

….Merry memories were made.

The evening before the gathering, I wandered down to the wood to collect branches of laurel, holly, pine & cedar for the occasion….

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 ….and,  set up a wabi-sabi DIY Wreath Bar in my wee little workshop space

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The girls arrived, and we played for hours….

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One friend decided to make holiday dinner name cards which nestle right into little pine cones…so sweet.

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It was a wonderful afternoon which will hopefully be the first of many freshly-foraged workshops on the farm. I was also able to experiment with some of Sony’s new portable lenses for smartphones on the day. The image of the wreath bar was shot using the amazing Sony QX-10 lens which easily attaches to your iPhone or Android and takes endlessly lush images that rival those shot on my big girl camera. In the spirit of gifting, Sony sent me an extra Sony QX-10 lens to give away as a holiday present to a reader of this blog. Simply leave a comment below to be in the draw. I will announce the winner on Christmas Day.  THE WINNER OF THE SONY QX-10 LENS IS CLAIRE KENNEDY, Congratulations! I will email you for your shipping details. 

Snowy White Cake with Rosemary-Peppermint Icing

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups/280g cake or cream flour
1 cup/250ml milk
6 large egg whites
2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups/350g granulated sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp table salt
1 1/2 sticks/170g unsalted butter, softened but still cool

Method
1. Heat oven to 350f/176c. Prepare two 8-inch cake pans.
2. Pour milk , egg whites, and extracts into medium bowl and mix with fork until
3. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of electric mixer at slow speed.
4. Add butter (cut into cubes) and continue beating on low for about 1-2 minutes.
5. Add milk mixture to flour mixture and beat at medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes.
6. Pour batter evenly between two prepared cake pans.
7. Bake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 27 to 30 minutes.
8. Allow cake to cool to room temperature, and then ice with rosemary-peppermint icing.

Rosemary-Peppermint Icing

Ingredients
1 cup/227g unsalted butter room temperature
3-4 cups/375-500g confectioners (powdered) sugar, SIFTED
¼ teaspoon table salt
1/2 tablespoon peppermint extract
¼ tbsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp rosemary simple syrup
2 Tbsp milk or heavy cream

Method
1. Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed.
2. Add 3 cups of powdered sugar and turn your mixer on the lowest speed until the sugar has been incorporated
with the butter.
3. Increase mixer speed to medium and add peppermint and vanilla extract, rosemary simple syrup, salt, and 2
tablespoons of milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes. You can add more milk or cream as needed.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell 2013. 

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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.

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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.

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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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