oystercollageAka: three of my guiltiest pleasures.

Three things that I think about more than a farm any girl should. Three things that must really be done all in one day to fully appreciate. Add champagne to any and all and you’ve upped the totty. The best.

I have a few bits of bacchanalia I wanted to share this week in between recipe posts. They involve oysters, cake, and cinema.

I am doing a cookery demonstration at The Galway International Oyster Festival this year. What will I be preparing? Something oysterlicious, of course.  And, 50′s style Americana. Using amazing local Irish artisan ingredients and a drop of smokey Connemara Whiskey. The festival takes place today, 26th September through the Sunday the 29th with a schedule filled with remarkable oyster and seafood events. I’ll be there on Saturday afternoon at 3pm, after Birgitta of Burren Smokehouse and before Michelin star chef, Kevin Thornton. (don’t ask me how that happened!). On Sunday, the fabulous Clodagh McKenna will be cooking for everyone. Do come along!

Galway Native Oysters back in season for the Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival, 26-29 Sept 2013 (Large)[1]

Our film, Small Green Fields, has been selected to screen at the Food Film Festival in Chicago in November! We are so thrilled to share the stories of incredible artisan Irish food and farming personalities with audiences across the pond. In the Windy city where so many people can say they are proud to be Irish, I’m hoping will be a big hit. Have a look at the other films screening, fun + impressive company.  Also, on October 17th, Small Green Fields will screen at the IndieCork Film Festival in Cork City. More details to come.

smallgreenfieldfinal

My friend and fellow Irish food blogger/author, Lilly Higgins along with Patrick Ryan of Firehouse Bread will be baking cakes for ACT for Meningitis at Bake Fest Galway this year.  The national festival takes place on Saturday 5th & Sunday 6th of October. Organised by Goodness Cakes, in association with charity ACT for Meningitis, Bake Fest Galway will be Ireland’s biggest baking festival and competition for both novices and professionals.

BAKE

Back soon with a new farm adventure + recipe to share.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

 

 

 

 

 

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currantpie

One of the very first meals I shared with Richard in Ireland occurred at the ridiculously charming Mustard Seed. I’ll never forget driving up the hill that evening to the stately restaurant and inn, which he explained, “was housed in a former 19th century convent.”  I had been prepared to enjoy a romantic dinner for two, but I suddenly began to worry: could my dashing and devout Irish farmer be shipping me off to a nunnery for a bit of parochial polishing up?

Deep breath.

We parked the car and found ourselves being graciously greeted at the grand entrance door by a handsome and attentive maître d’ whom swiftly handed us each a crisp and cordial glass of bubbles.

Exhale. 

After taking our coats we were shown into a wonderfully wabi sabi yet classically drawn sitting room oozing with warmth and tartan and books and pictures and bottles of scotch filled with smoke and history. We lingered on the davenport and sipped our bubbly glasses dry while giddily holding hands in front of a roaring fireplace.

mustardseedpurple

After just the right amount of time, we were summoned to a beautiful dining room all dressed in blue where we feasted on pan fried Kerry scallops, nasturtium jelly, wild mushrooms, freshly-caught roasted trout, a tender fillet of local beef and puddings galore which we washed down with chalices of wine and spirits and tea and coffee until the early hours of the morning.

Unforgettable.

mustardseedblue

That night, there was no way of knowing that years later I would move and marry and become simmered in the spectacular world of Irish food, embracing traditional skills and championing artisan producers as I have done.  Perhaps involuntarily that meal at the Mustard Seed planted this special seed. A nice notion to ponder.

Last month, I paid a visit to the Mustard Seed to collect a gift certificate just as they were expecting a large group of local guests. The ebullient proprietor, Dan Mullane, was in the front of the house preparing glasses of fresh black currant cordial with soda + sprigs of lemon verbena for the impending arrivals. When he handed me an amethyst-coloured glass of the refreshment I more than happily obliged.

The flavour was out of this world.

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I am ashamed to admit that black currant offerings were a bit lost on me when I first came here. I tended to associate black currant with the flavour of bittersweet grapes, as the black currant juices that line supermarket shelves here resembled a certain deep purple grape juice that I never fancied in America.

Ignoramus.

That all changed once I had a taste of my mother-in-law’s homemade, fresh-picked black currant jam. To this day, both Peggy’s homegrown black currant and gooseberry jams are the conserves that I cherish most. They are also two jams that I never had in my life before moving to Ireland {and for the record, two more reasons to make a girl never leave Ireland.}

blackcurrantorhard

Peggy’s black currant jam changed my mind about black currants. And, Dan’s black currant lemon verbena cordial at the Mustard Seed took my love for this little berry one step further. {and yes, I am reading your mind, indeed this clever concoction pairs wonderfully with a finger of gin and a splash of tonic, I know this from obligatory experimentation}

I contemplated: if fresh black currants were so damn good in jams and drinks, wouldn’t they be great in a tart? Because the lemon verbena matched so beautifully in the cordial, I decided experiment with a vanilla bean + lemon verbena glaze over fresh picked black currants. The result was a splendidly tangy (but not tart) velvety vanilla, bursting berry flavour with a cornmeal crust that comfortably cradles its filling.

currantpie

See what you think!

Black Currant Lemon-Vanilla Verbena Glazed Tart with Cornmeal Crust
INGREDIENTS
CRUST
300g/2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
30g/1/4 cup corn (maize)meal (medium ground)
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
113g/1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
55g/1/4 cup nonhydrogenated solid vegetable shortening frozen, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 tablespoons (or more) ice water

GLAZE
2 teacups (or handfuls) washed fresh lemon verbena leaves
1 vanilla pod
450g/2 cups sugar
120ml/1/2 cup water

FILLING
750g/5 cups fresh black currants (about 27 ounces)
175ml/3/4 cup lemon verbena glaze
120g/1/2 cup caster sugar
30g/1/4 cup cornstarch
Milk (for brushing)
1 1/2 tablespoon raw sugar

METHOD
FOR CRUST
1. Blend flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt in processor.
2. Add butter and shortening; blitz on and off until mixture resembles coarse meal.
3. Add 4 tablespoons ice water and blend just until moist clumps begin to form
4. Gather dough into ball.
5. Divide dough in half; flatten each half into disk.
6. Wrap disks separately in plastic and chill at least 1 hour.

FOR GLAZE
Put all ingredients into saucepan and slowly heat just until sugar dissolves and creates a thick syrup. Remove from heat and let cool and steep for 2 hours (or longer if you can, the longer you steep the more pronounced the flavour) Strain leaves and pod. Reserve syrup for glaze.

FOR FILLING
1. Combine black currants, lemon verbena glaze, sugar, cornstarch in large bowl; toss to blend.
2. Let stand at room temperature until juices begin to form, about 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 200c/400ºF.
4. Place rimmed baking sheet in bottom of oven.
5. Roll out 1 dough disk between 2 sheets of generously floured parchment paper to 12-inch round.
6. Peel off top parchment sheet; invert dough into 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish.
7. Carefully peel off second parchment sheet.
8. Gently press dough into pie dish, pressing any cracks together as needed to seal and leaving dough overhang.
9. Spoon filling into piecrust.
10. Roll out second dough disk between 2 sheets of generously floured parchment paper to 12-inch round.
11. Peel off top parchment sheet. Carefully and evenly invert dough atop filling.
12. Peel off second parchment sheet.
13. Trim overhang of both crusts to 1 inch.
14. Fold overhang under and press to seal.
15. Crimp edges.
16. Cut five 2-inch-long slits in top crust of pie to allow steam to escape during baking.
17. Lightly brush top crust (not edges) with milk. Sprinkle with raw sugar.
18. Bake tart 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 175c/350ºF and continue baking until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling thickly through slits, about 1 hour 15 minutes.
19. Cool pie completely on rack.
20. Serve with scoops of ice cream, custard, or whipped cream.

The lucky recipient of Nessa Robin’s, Apron Strings, randomly picked out of an old milk pail by our little farmer, is ORLA O’BRIEN. Congratulations Orla! Please email your address to me at imenmcdonnell@gmail.com.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013. Black currants for the tart were graciously gifted to us by the Mustard Seed, and also picked from our own orchard at the farm. 

 

 

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Apron Strings

07 Aug 2013

book3

She…

is a scratch-made girl who swears by using wholesome, honest ingredients. she is genuinely endearing….salt of the earth, if you will.  you want to eat and linger in her kitchen for days surrounded by sweet children soaking up every bit of tender love in the air. you want to watch butterflies and pick berries in her garden and then sit outside for tea and tart al fresco. she radiates a supreme goodness, yet has absolutely no pretense…….she’d make me a damn fine neighbour.

This is Nessa Robins.

bookcover

When I opened my copy of Nessa’s beautiful new cookery book, Apron Strings, I read it through from top to tail. This was not an entirely easy task given the fact that I was in wellies mucking out a shed in between chapters. The book embraced me, much like Nessa’s personal warmth. I went into the kitchen and immediately made a comforting crock of her potato soup for everyone. Not just any Irish potato soup; a savoury + spicy white onion, potato and chorizo number. It was pure velvet heaven on a drizzly, fresh day.

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I am sorry if this seems a bit heavy handed, but the truth is, I can’t say enough about how special this cookery book is…..I mean, there is a chapter called Home Nurse. Emmmm, can I move in for a weekend, Nessa?

homenurse

For the record, this is not a review. We bought Nessa’s book; and will buy a few more before the holidays. However, her publisher has generously offered to give away a copy to a fortunate reader. If you are interested in being in the draw, please leave a comment below. Of course, will ship domestic or international. {If you are not chosen to win, you can buy Nessa’s book here or here}

Other quick bits of bacchanalia to share…

The very first Ballymaloe Garden Festival is on Aug 31-Sep 1st. We are hoping to attend; maybe will see you there?

Our short film, Small Green Fields, has applied for an Arthur Guinness Project grant to produce a feature length version…will the big dogs support a small dog? We will have to wait and see….you can vote here if you like.

Does anyone else use Eden knives? I recently bought two and they have changed my world in the kitchen. Would love to hear other experiences with this {new to me} brand.

Expedia recently asked me to review their new travel app. Since I don’t do formal reviews on this blog, I declined, but I will give it a mention it here as we frequently use Expedia for booking our travel to America and the app will surely come in handy.

Still going gaga over Toonsbridge Dairy water buffalo cheeses that I picked up at the Milk Market over the weekend, you can find it in the The Real Olive Oil Co. stall.

My friend, Niamh Shields, is writing a new BACON book and needs our support, here is a link to her Kickstarter campaign for Project: Bacon

Food 52′s Provisions has opened it’s virtual doors! I am coveting more than a few items in stock….

Oh, the Irish Blog Awards are coming up. They are accepting nominations from Irish diaspora this year too so if you are Irish and living abroad with a blog there is now a category for you.

Listening: Jake Bugg

Insta-loving: @dashandbella {Dash and Bella blog}

Hope you are all enjoying the summer.

Next post: An Irish Country House Tea…and a very special berry pie

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos of book by Imen McDonnell 2013. Nessa Robins did all of her own photography for the book.

 

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Welsh Cakes

19 May 2013

welsh

Sundays are the one day of the week where I am not preparing 2-3 separate brekkies. Richard can usually take a break from late morning until late afternoon so we’ll share a lazy, simple brunch of something like eggs, American crispy bacon and buttermilk pancakes {Geoffrey’s favorite}. Sometimes I’ll splash out and whiz up a full Irish or an eggs benny, or if we’ve had friends for dinner the previous evening, an easy strata that I prepared the day before and can just pop into the oven. If I have a hardcore hankering for home, I’ll do a version of a Sunday favourite that I used to share with a special friend, a breakfast quesadilla made with egg whites, salsa fresco, fresh guacamole, farmer cheese and fresh herbs from the garden. We try to make Sundays sublime.

hen

This morning I woke up with a mind whirring on about Welsh cakes. Similar to griddle scones, they have added fruit in the form of currants or raisins and are cooked on a griddle or in a frying pan. These charming little cakes originate from nearby Wales, and can also be referred to as a bakestone. Feeling the will of the wisps this morning, we simply swapped Geoffrey’s fluffy pancakes for fruity Welsh cakes and he was equally delighted.

I have had several requests for the recipe today, so I wanted to quickly oblige….hope you enjoy them as much as we did. They can be served at tea time (late afternoon) or anytime really, including 8pm on a Sunday night….

Welsh Cakes
{makes about 16}

225g plain flour
85g caster sugar
½ tsp mixed spice or cinnamon
½ tsp baking powder
100g butter, cut into small pieces, plus extra for frying
50g currants
1 egg, beaten
splash milk

1. Combine the flour, sugar, mixed spice, baking powder and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Then, with your fingers, rub in the butter until crumbly. Mix in the currants. Work the egg into the mixture until you have soft dough, adding a splash of milk if it seems a little dry – it should be the same consistency as shortcrust pastry.

2. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface to the thickness of your little finger. Cut out rounds using a 6cm cutter, re-rolling any trimmings. Grease a flat griddle pan or heavy frying pan and place over a medium heat. Cook the Welsh cakes in batches, for about 3 mins each side, until golden brown, crisp and cooked through. Delicious served warm with butter and jam, or simply sprinkled with caster sugar. Cakes will stay fresh in a tin for 1 week.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell 2013. Hand model: Geoffrey McDonnell

 

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wildgarlic

focaccia

Bread baked by Joe Fitzmaurice is essentially art.

Edible masterpieces that go up in *taste* value as they age {see his remarkable long-fermented rye sourdough recipe below.}

Carefully designed, crafted, nurtured, and loved, each loaf is fired in the beautiful brick oven bakery he built at his home located in Ireland’s first and only eco-village.

kneadingcollage

Joe is a maker, a craftsman. He wasn’t always a part of this trade, but to meet him you get the sense that he’s always had a baker’s soul. He is a warm fella; like his bakehouse. His oven was designed by the late, legendary oven crafter, Alan Scott. He counts reknowned Tartine baker, Chad Robertson, as inspiration. He wins bread awards, but doesn’t talk about it.  And lucky for us, his loaves are still served up at Blazing Salads  in Dublin where his baking story began.

joe

baskets

The efficient, timber-burning brick oven gets fired in the evening, which, in turn, magnificently provides enough heat to bake breads for the entire next day. Brick-radiated heat is meant to be “more kind to the dough” Joe explained. The bakery uses only certified organic flours, and specialises in sourdough, long fermentation, spelt and rye breads.

ovencollage

Find Joe’s bread at Blazing Salads Bread Company, Dublin. Cloughjordan Wood Fired Bakery is not open to the public, but you are welcome to visit by appointment….go on.  www.cloughjordanwoodfiredbakery.com

Joe’s Country Rye

For the Starter:

Organic Strong bread flour 1100g

Organic Rye flour 1000g

Water (lukewarm) 480ml

Water (78f/25c) 150ml per feeding

For the Leaven:

Water (78f/25c) 200 grams

For the Dough:

Water (80f/27c) 750ml

Leaven 200g

Organic Strong bread flour 900g

Organic Rye flour 100g

Salt 20g

1. Make the Starter: Mix strong bread flour with rye flour. Place lukewarm water in a medium bowl. Add 315g flour blend (reserve remaining flour blend), and mix with your hands until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter. Cover with a tea towel. Let rest in a cool, dark place until bubbles form around the sides and on the surface, about 2 days. A dark crust may form over the top. Once bubbles form, it is time for the first feeding.

2. With each feeding, remove 75g; discard remainder of starter. Feed with 150g reserved flour blend and 150ml warm water. Mix, using your hands, until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter. Repeat every 24 hours at the same time of day for 15 to 20 days. Once it ferments predictably (rises and falls throughout the day after feedings), it’s time to make the leaven.

3. Make the Leaven: The night before you plan to make the dough, discard all but 1 tablespoon of the matured starter. Feed with 200g reserved flour blend and the warm water. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let rest in a cool, dark place for 10 to 16 hours. To test leaven’s readiness, drop a spoonful into a bowl of room-temperature water. If it sinks, it is not ready and needs more time to ferment and ripen. As it develops, the smell will change from ripe and sour to sweet and pleasantly fermented; when it reaches this stage, it’s ready to use.

4. Make the Dough: Pour 700ml warm water into a large mixing bowl. Add 200g leaven. Stir to disperse. (Save your leftover leaven; it is now the beginning of a new starter. To keep it alive to make future loaves, continue to feed it as described in step 2.) Add flours (see ingredient list), and mix dough with your hands until no bits of dry flour remain. Let rest in a cool, dark place for 35 minutes. Add salt and remaining 50ml warm water.

5. Fold dough on top of itself to incorporate. Transfer to a medium plastic container or a glass bowl. Cover with kitchen towel. Let rest for 30 minutes. The dough will now begin its first rise (bulk fermentation), to develop flavor and strength. (The rise is temperature sensitive; as a rule, warmer dough ferments faster. Try to maintain the dough at 78f/25c degrees to 82f/27c degrees to accomplish the bulk fermentation in 3 to 4 hours.)

6. Instead of kneading, develop the dough through a series of “folds” in the container during bulk fermentation. Fold dough, repeating every 30 minutes for 2 1/2 hours. To do a fold, dip 1 hand in water to prevent sticking. Grab the underside of the dough, stretch it out, and fold it back over itself. Rotate container one-quarter turn, and repeat. Do this 2 or 3 times for each fold. After the 3 hours, the dough should feel aerated and softer, and you will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. If not, continue bulk fermentation for 30 minutes to 1 hour more.

7. Pull dough out of container using a dough spatula. Transfer to a floured surface. Lightly dust dough with flour, and cut into 2 pieces using dough scraper. Work each piece into a round using scraper and 1 hand. Tension will build as the dough slightly anchors to the surface as you rotate it. By the end, the dough should have a taut, smooth surface.

8. Dust tops of rounds with flour, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rest on the work surface for 20 to 30 minutes. Slip the dough scraper under each to lift it, being careful to maintain the round shape. Flip rounds floured side down.

9. Line 2 medium baskets or bowls with clean kitchen towels; generously dust with flour. Using the dough scraper, transfer each round to a basket, smooth side down, with seam centered and facing up. Let rest at room temperature covered with towels for 3 to 4 hours before baking.

10. Bake the Bread: Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake the bread, preheat oven to 500f/260c with rack in lowest position, and warm a 9 1/2-inch round or an 11-inch oval heavy ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid.

11. Turn out 1 round into heated pot (it may stick to towel slightly). Score top twice using a razor blade or a sharp knife. Cover with lid. Return to oven, and reduce oven temperature to 450f/230c degrees. Bake for 20 minutes.

12. Carefully remove lid (a cloud of steam will be released). Bake until crust is deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes more.

13. Transfer loaf to a wire rack. It will feel light and sound hollow when tapped. Let cool.

14. To bake the second loaf, raise oven temperature to 500f/260c degrees, wipe out pot with a dry kitchen towel, and reheat with lid for 10 minutes. Repeat steps 11 through 13.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell 2013 with exception of fire photo which Joe provided to me. 

 

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overhead

Finding a white egg in Ireland can be a bit of an adventure. If you live here, this is common knowledge. If you don’t, it could come as a {happy} surprise. Brown eggs are part and parcel to Irish life (and, to most other European countries as well). If you really must have white eggs, your best bet is to look for duck eggs at a farmer’s market, gourmet food grocer, or perhaps visit a local farm.

While we prefer brown hen eggs with their vivid yolks, each spring I go round-robin and gather a couple dozen white duck eggs so that we can carry on the American tradition of dyeing hard-boiled eggs for Easter. I also like to use a few of these ivory beauties to bake up a bevy of special sponge sandwich cakes layered with fresh cream and jam to share with family and friends.

eggs

Irish duck eggs are extra large with yolks that are deeper in colour and richer in flavour than hen eggs. But more importantly, they make for an extremely thick and scrumptious Victoria sandwich; a sponge cake originally dreamed up for the queen’s tea in the UK and later became a baker’s staple in Ireland as well.

Discovering the Victoria sponge is easily one of my favourite food encounters since moving to Ireland. Yes, quick and easy to make, but the best bit? You are meant to eat it with your fingers!

hen

I’ll never forget meeting with Irish Country Living editor, Mairead Lavery, for the first time. She had invited me to her home for a chat. It was a sunny spring day.  I sat in her kitchen with a cup of tea watching in awe as she talked about farming and food and family while effortlessly whipping up a sponge. She baked it, jammed it, sliced, and then finally served each of us a generous warm wedge waxing on nostalgically about a dinner party she had recently hosted. When I looked for a fork, she informed me in her lovely Irish lilt “not all all, you pick it up with your hands and eat it like a sandwich” From that day forward, I have had a love affair with the Victoria sandwich.

rhubarbspongespoon

This year, I scored some beautiful rhubarb at the market, {thankfully, as I cannot seem to grow more than a stem or two in our own garden!} and somewhat outrageously decided to make up a batch of gorgeous velvety rhubarb-vanilla jam specifically for slathering in between spongey sandwich cake layers. What can I say? With the unrelenting cool weather, I was craving a ‘consummate spring cake’. And, If it wasn’t for me, everyone at the farm would not have been spoiled silly with messy thick duck egg sponge sandwich slices slathered in fluffy fresh cream and rhubarb jam for days….{right?}

springcollage

You may have noticed a few small adjustments here on the blog. Keeping in the spirit of spring, I’ve incorporated a new header and layout, along with a few new buttons, bells and whistles. All designed by the marvelous Graham Thew who mostly works on much more important jobs, such as designing an arsenal of cookbooks for Gill and MacMillan. I am thrilled to bits with the new look, it just feels fresh and ready for fun. Let me know what you think!

Duck Egg Sponge with Fresh Cream and Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam

6oz/170g caster (superfine) sugar
6oz/170g soft butter
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 large duck eggs at room temperature
6oz/170g self-raising flour
1-2 tbsp of milk
5-6 tbsp rhubarb-vanilla jam (see below)
¼ pint/140ml double cream, lightly whipped
caster (superfine) sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/gas4
Grease and line two 8in/20cm sandwich (or springform cake) tins
Beat the sugar, butter and vanilla essence until very pale, light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs one at a time.
Very gently fold in the flour by hand. Add enough milk to make a dropping consistency.
Divide between the prepared tins, spreading out the mix gently.
Bake for about 25 minutes until well-risen and golden brown.
Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out on to a rack to cool.
Spread the underside of one cake generously with jam and top with whipped cream. Lay the second sponge on top, topside up. Dust with sugar, slice into wedges or fingers and serve.

Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam
Makes 2 x 340g jars

500g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 2.5cm chunks
300g jam sugar (sugar with pectin)
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways

Warm the rhubarb, jam sugar and vanilla pod over a medium-low heat and cook, stirring gently and being careful not to break up the rhubarb, until all of the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat and cook at a rolling boil for five to 8-10 minutes, until the setting point is reached.
Remove from the heat, use a fork to fish out the vanilla pod (you can snip this into four pieces and put one in each jar if you like), and leave to stand for five minutes before potting up in warm, sterilised jars and sealing. The jam will keep in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Slan Abhaile,
Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

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Small Green Fields

30 Mar 2013

smallgreenfieldfinal

After many months of working to finish Small Green Fields, at last we have wrapped the production.  I am absolutely thrilled with how it turned out and feel so lucky to have had the fortune to work with such incredibly talented and passionate individuals both in front of and behind the camera.

I have been sharing periodic updates on the project, but if you are new to this blog, I will explain. After one-too-many conversations concerning the misconceptions and quality of Irish food, I decided to combine my production experience with my food and farming enthusiasm to create a little film on the matter. Last summer, Richard and I invited a small crew from the USA to come over and travel with me cross-country to meet and interview a handful of inspiring Irish food personalities.

On the production path we ventured to the Inishfood Festival in Donegal and mingled with a group of Irish food enthusiasts, bloggers, editors and chefs while foraging on the beach, fishing on Lough Swilly, and breaking bread over an evening feast arranged by Inishfood host, Donal Doherty of Harry’s Restaurant. We visited fifth generation craft butcher, Pat Whelan, and his herd of Irish Waygu cattle to discuss his artisanal approach to beef in Tipperary. We got up-close-and-personal with Mag and Ger Kirwan’s gorgeous Goatsbridge trout in Kilkenny. We sipped Black Rock Stout and chatted with the brewer behind Waterford’s Dungarvan Brewing Company. We enjoyed a magical picnic of lamb stew and sheep’s milk ice cream at Suzanna Crampton’s Zwartbles sheep farm in Bennetsbridge. Donal Skehan shared a tart and a tour of his favourite Howth fishmonger with us. On the last day of filming, we celebrated with Kevin and Seamus Sheridan and loads of other remarkable artisans at the Sheridan’s Food Festival in County Meath. The sun was shining and it was absolutely glorious. Again, thanks a million to all who contributed their time and thoughts on defining Irish food for Small Green Fields.

sgfcollage

{From left to right: Kevin + Seamus Sheridan, Sheridan’s Cheesemongers; Food Writer and TV personality, Donal Skehan; John + Sally McKenna, McKenna’s Guides; Suzanna Crampton, Zwartbles Sheep Farmer; Mag + Ger Kirwan, Goatsbridge Trout Farm; Food Writer + Editor, Aoife Carrigy; 5th Generation Butcher, Pat Whelan; Blogger + Editor, Kristin Jensen; Kevin + Donal Doherty and Ray Moran of Harry’s Restaurant and Inishfood Festival, Cormac O’Dwyer + Claire Dalton of Dungarvan Brewing Company, Karl Purdy, Coffee Angel; Food Writer & Blogger, Caroline Hennessy}

We ended up with about fourteen hours of footage and began the editing process. It was nearly impossible, but I narrowed Mike’s stunning footage down to single-digit hours of selected scenes, then handed off to our amazing {magician} editor, Carrie Shanahan at Ditch in Minneapolis. The finished taster/mood piece is about twelve minutes long. The extraordinarily talented {& ahem, single + beautiful!}, Cassie Scroggins, designed the animation, title design and artwork {see poster above} in Chicago. My great friends, David Howell + Todd Syring composed and produced the music score which I love so much I could listen for days. Matt Collings finished the film with such a seamlessly vibrant and magnificent look and Ditch producer, Rick Zessar generously gave Small Green Fields its post-production home. I am indebted to the entire crew, I thank you so much again for all of your liberal and creative contributions!

crewcollage

{From left to right: Michael Hartzel, Cinematographer; Carrie Shanahan, Editor; David Howell, Music Producer; Matt Collings, Colourist + Online Editor, Ditch Edit; Cassie Scroggins, Animation + Design; Meighan McGuire, Producer; Todd Syring, Music Composer + Producer; Rick Zessar, Executive Producer, Ditch Edit}

I like to think of Small Green Fields as a little celebration of tantalizing, innovative, and nostalgic stories of food in Ireland, drawing from then and now.  The twelve-minute piece is only the beginning; I have high hopes to produce a feature length film or even a television series, and at the very least will continue to produce more work in this category via our newly formed Farmhouse Films production company.  In the meantime, we will be spreading the Small Green Fields message of magnificent Irish food far and wide via film festival short category submissions.

You can follow Small Green Fields @farmhousefilms on Twitter or check back here for updates. After we finish the pitching process, I will finally be able to share Small Green Fields with you all!

Back with a lovely new recipe next week. Why is it lovely? Because it involves CAKE……

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

 

 

 

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Spotted Dog

19 Mar 2013

marmaladenarrow

…or Spotted Dick as my mother-in-law calls it. I can’t seem to refer to this wonderful tea bread as Spotted Dick without turning red and giggling like a teen girl, so I’ll stick with Spotted Dog. When Peggy creates this cake-like bread formed in a rectangular shape, it becomes Railway Cake, which is lovely as well…but doesn’t look as pretty as the round loaf to me. All three variations are essentially a sweet version of white Irish soda bread. In England, Spotted Dick is considered a steamed pudding with currants. In Peggy’s day, it was an absolute treat to be able to add currants or raisins to bread, something really special to savour. At the farm, here and now, we simply devour it before it gets cold. How times have changed. I love it smeared with fresh butter and marmalade (this one…. not mine).

spotteddogcloseup

Teacups

Geoffrey and I went on a hunt for Gorse over the long weekend {St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland so it was a 4-day weekend} We have been using this lovely flower from a dangerously prickly bush to create natural dye for our eggs at Easter for the past two years. It casts a very subtle pale yellow on the eggs, but is still pleasingly pretty to the eye. An added bonus to using this plant to dye eggs is that when you harvest the flowers, your home will become filled with the fragrance of a sandy summer beach as they give off a scent reminiscent of vintage Coppertone sun cream, aka: JOY.

gorsenarrow

Gathering Gorse followed by Spotted Dog + milky tea = a recipe for smiles.

Peggy’s Spotted Dog

Makes 1 Loaf

Ingredients

450g (1lb) plain flour

1 level tsp caster sugar

1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp salt

100g (3½oz) sultanas, raisins or currants

350-425ml (12-15fl oz) fresh buttermilk 

 Method

Preheat the oven to 230°C (425°F)

Sift the dry ingredients (incl. currants etc) into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.

Pour in most of the buttermilk (leaving about 60ml/2fl oz in the measuring jug).

Using one hand, bring the flour and liquid together, adding more buttermilk if necessary.

Do not knead the mixture or it will become heavy.

The dough should be soft, but not too wet and sticky.

Turn onto a floured work surface.

Pat the dough into a round about 4cm (1½in) deep and cut a deep cross in it. 

Place on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200°C (400°F) and cook for 30 minutes more.

When cooked, the loaf will sound slightly hollow when tapped on the base and be golden in colour.

Allow to cool on a wire rack, but not too long…it’s just perfect eaten warm with butter + marmalade or jam and a cup of milky tea.

overhead

Slan Abhaile,
Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

 

 

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Titles can be deceiving.

Especially in this case.

As you can see, there is a bit more going on in that bowl than just your standard, run-of-the-mill smokey Irish oat crumble. Indeed. But, smoked oaty crumble is a damn fine bed in which to share with the denseness of deep dark chocolate and farm fresh creamy dreamy mascarpone. What’s more? When that oat-y cradle happens to be combination of the quintessential Irish oats brand, Flavahans, blitzed up with a new spin on a tradition that is Ditty’s Smoked Oatcakes, you get a bed as heavenly as a Hästens that you will want to nestle into as much as humanly possible.

Or, at least I do. And, hungry, chocolate-loving Irish farmers appear to be quite grateful as well.

First of all, make the mascarpone using this recipe for farmer cheese substituting cream for whole milk. After that, make your chocolate filling. Lick the spoon. Lick it again. Then, blitz up the oat crumb in the food processor to your taste. Layer into individual ramekins or medium ceramic baking dish; a sprinkle of crumble on the bottom, ladle chocolate mixture over, dot spoons of mascarpone on top and then cover with more of that sultry crumb. Eat warm, and if you are feeling indulgent, serve with a scoop of ice cream or a little bit of pouring cream.

Remember, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner….

Chocolate Mascarpone Smoked Oat Crumble

250ml heavy cream

200g dark baking chocolate (I used Áine Irish chocolate), chopped finely

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs, beaten

Pinch of plain flour

150g freshly made or store bought Mascarpone cheese*

Crumble

4 Ditty’s Irish Smoked Oatcakes**

100g Butter

50g Brown Sugar

50g Flavahan’s Organic Oats***

30g flour

In a small saucepan set over low-medium heat, bring the cream to just simmering. Remove it from the heat, and stir in the chocolate and vanilla until the mixture is smooth and the chocolate is completely incorporated. Whisk a small amount of the hot chocolate cream into the eggs. Transfer the tempered egg mixture back into the hot chocolate and whisk the mixture until it is smooth. Leave to cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 200C or 400F

Place all crumble ingredients in food processor and pulse until crumbly. Add more brown sugar or smoked oatcakes to your taste/texture preference.

Sprinkle a bit of crumble into base of baking dish or individual ramekins. Pour over chocolate mixture.  Dab dollops of the mascarpone cheese on top. Cover with crumble. Sprinkle with a bit of brown sugar.

Place in hot oven for 35-45 minutes until crumble is golden brown and chocolate is bubbling.

Serve warm on its own or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a drizzle of pouring cream.

*if you make your own mascarpone, be sure to use a mixer to create a smooth, creamy texture once you have strained the cheese

**or any other brand of smoked oatcakes if they exist!

***available in the USA

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Irish Reuben?

18 Dec 2012

This was too impossible not to share straight away.

I will keep it brief. I’ve been trying to make sense of Irish *spiced beef* ever since I bought a silverside of it on a whim one December afternoon in 2008. It’s meant to be boiled. I’ve done that. Both in water and in stout. It’s meant for Christmas. Why, I am not sure. It’s savoury and clove-y, but not really spicy nor evocative of the holiday season through my expat lens. I have always felt that it was distinctively like pastrami or corned beef in texture and flavour, but when I broached this with friends and family  no one knew what I was talking about. Do people eat it with potatoes? Meh. Or salad? Meh-Meh. Do you eat it warm? Cold? Never could sort it.

Until this week.

On impulse I bought yet another cut of it on Sunday after seeing a tantalizing piece on last week’s Ear to the Ground featuring my butcher friend, Pat Whelan. I had used up the last of our garden cabbage for sauerkraut about 6 weeks ago, and it was prime for the taking. So, I put it all together and made a Katz deli-style reuben.

And, lo and behold, it worked!

I have mentioned before that I am a tried and true sandwich girl. This beautiful creation sent me straight back to deli days in NY. We’ve been eating our “Irish Reubens” all week and when it is gone, we will wait until next Christmas when the spiced beef makes an appearance again because that will make it that much more special. {Unless, I get creative and start to cure my own….mwahahahahaha}

Boil then simmer the spiced beef half an hour to the pound. Leave it to cool completely in the pan…if your house stays cool enough, leave it in the pan overnight for super moist and tender results. It will be beyond gorgeous sliced thinly + paired with a couple wedges of David Tiernan’s Glebe Brethan Gruyere style cheese  + homemade kraut.  Dublin’s Bretzel Bakery’s caraway rye does the trick and of course, good ole’ 1000 island dressing is key. Layer it all up between two slices and grill.

All I can say is: Just Do It.

Christmas Puds and Tipsy Cake are on deck….stay tuned.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell 2012. Book in background Rose Bakery Paris by Phaidon

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