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.

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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.

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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!

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{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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Smoky Irish Eggnog

14 Dec 2012

For the second year in a row we journeyed down to the wood and selected a tree to cut down for Christmas. Last year, it took some persuading as I had a certain urban Amerian-ised vision of what choosing your tree should look like, and it was admittedly a bit less rustic than the cut-your-own version. I have such fond memories of Christmas markets with old-fashioned C7 lights strewn along city blocks lined with beautiful Blue Spruces, long-needled Scots Pines, and families of fantastic Firs; all propped up and waiting patiently to be chosen and taken home to be delicately dressed in decoration.

I have learned my lesson. It is beyond special to cut down your own tree, from your family forest, that was planted (with caring foresight) by your father-in-law years ago. I believe the trees in the wood are Firs. But, it wouldn’t matter if it they were Birch or Yew, it’s all about the wonderful little snapshot of time spent together as a family during the holidays. Our last two trees have to be the best trees I’ve ever had at Christmas.  We will be planting a few more rows in the Springtime to keep the tradition alive.

I decided to make eggnog instead of mulled wine to sip on while trimming the tree this year. Eggnog is a classic holiday tipple that is enjoyed by many in the USA during the holidays. It is essentially a sweetened dairy-based beverage traditionally made with milk or cream, sugar, and whipped eggs (which gives it a frothy texture). It can be made with or without liquor so it is perfect for both little ones and adults alike. I recall seeing it in a supermarket here in Ireland when I first arrived, but it hasn’t been back on the shelves since.

Luckily {like everything} eggnog is better homemade. And, using fresh milk + cream from the farm to prepare it can’t be beat. For the grown up version, I went with an Irish variation and added a jigger of the super smoky and spectacular Connemara peated single malt whiskey instead of using American bourbon and rum. I also used a drop of Bittercube Bolivar Bitters, (optional) which are very herbal with beautiful cassia and dried fruit notes. The result is the smokiest, most velvety smooth, fruitcake-y festive eggnog.

I decided it would be prudent to include a special recipe for the splendid Snowball cocktail here as well. I was introduced to the Snowball when my lovely friend from Britain brought Advocaat to a dinner party a few years ago and insisted it was eggnog. While it is not the eggnog we are accustomed to in America, it does contain eggs and is very popular holiday spirit in the UK.   The Snowball is a bit like a dreamsicle in flavour; delicious and fun to serve at a holiday cocktail party. Both Advocaat & Connemara Irish Whiskey are available at fine liquor stores in the USA.

Cheers!

Smoky Irish Eggnog

Serves 4-6.

INGREDIENTS

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar (you can use less if preferred, it will still taste lovely)

2 cups milk

2 whole cloves

Pinch of cinnamon

1 cup cream

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 drops of Bittercube Bolivar Bitters {or similar woodsy, fruity, herbal bitters} (optional)

2-3 Tbsp of Connemara Irish Whiskey {or similar Peat smoked Whiskey or Scotch} (omit for kid-friendly eggnog)

METHOD

In a large bowl, use a whisk or an electric mixer to beat egg yolks until they become lighter in color. Slowly add the sugar, beating after each addition, whisking until fluffy.

Combine the milk, cloves, and cinnamon in a thick-bottomed saucepan. Slowly heat on medium heat until the milk mixture is steamy hot, but not boiling.

Temper the eggs by slowly adding half of the hot milk mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly while you add the hot mixture. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. {Or, if you are nervous about scrambling, wait 5-10 minutes for milk to cool down a bit and then whisk in the eggs}

Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to thicken slightly, and coats the back of the spoon. Do not allow the mixture to boil, or it will curdle. Remove from heat and stir in the cream, vanilla and bitters, if using.  Strain the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove the cloves. Let cool for one hour.

Mix in nutmeg and whiskey. Chill. 

Sip by the fire. 

The Snowball

1 jigger of Advocaat

1 jigger of fizzy lemonade (sweet-n-sour or sprite would work too)

1 jigger of fresh lime juice

Mix + Sip

 

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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A Farmer’s Ramen

05 Dec 2012

I am constantly searching for role models or examples or just mere kindred spirits that I can learn from, be inspired by, be comforted with a feeling of being less of a stranger in this world of rural living, or to just plain witter on with about the fact that chicken plucking is grissly work. 

Our kind neighbours have been here for generations. They are lovely, but country living is not new to them. My experience is very different. As much as I embrace it this lifestyle, I admit that there are days that I double-damn the notion that I can’t just walk out my door and down the street with my family for a steaming hot bowl of Pho, a 10-minute freshly wood-fired pizza, the perfect donut that someone else made, potato latkes from the Jewish deli, or to be perfectly honest, a grande soy “holiday spiced” latte that hails from a certain mammoth coffee chain. The longer I am here I recognize that the upside to not having those conveniences is that I appreciate it all so much more when I do spend time in the city. {That girl jumping up and down for joy waiting for takeaway at Cecil’s?  Me!}

Then, I stumble upon a memoir…discover a blog….meet a person…whom shares a similar lifestyle, and if I am lucky, a remarkable recipe that widdles down my bouts of whinging.

This time the recipe is: ramen.

And, the person is: Nancy Hachisu. A kindred soul living on the other side of the world. A woman moved to a new country for the food and ended up falling in love with a farmer.

I love her story, a flipflop of ours, but more importantly, I am thankful that she has shared a beautiful, time-honoured recipe for ramen with me the world.

Using freshly plucked chicken(s) from the farm and as many home-grown + local ingredients as possible, we followed Nancy’s recipe.

Is there anything better than a steaming bowl of homemade ramen?

I think not.

We ladled up. I closed my eyes, took one slurpy mouthful and was instantly transported to my favourite noodle bar in NYC. It was better than a scene out of Tampopo. It made me cry.

From a farm in Japan to a farm in Ireland, I give you-

Ramen At Home

{Make sure you have tissues}

Recipe from Japanese Farm Food, by Nancy Hachisu

Serves 4.

For the broth:

2 carrots, cut into 1 inch lengths

2 small Japanese leeks, or 4 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1 inch lengths

1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

4 bone-in free-range chicken thighs (or 8 wings)

1 tsp sea salt

2 TBS rapeseed or sesame oil

For the noodles:

TBS sesame oil

2 c. flour

2 eggs, at room temperature

2 egg yolks, at room temperature

For the toppings:

4 eggs

1 small bunch chopped bitter greens, such as bok choy or kale

3 TBS finely chopped Japanese leeks or scallions

1 sheet nori, cut into eights

Soy sauce, miso, or sea salt (to taste)

Make the broth.  Preheat the oven to 450°F.  Place carrots, leeks/scallions, ginger, and chicken thighs in a roasting pan, and toss with salt and oil.  Roast for 40 minutes.  Pour chicken, veggies, and all the juices into a large stockpot, and cover with 16 cups of cold water.

Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.  After 1 hour, remove the lid.  Take out 2 of the chicken thighs and place in a small bowl.  Cover the thighs with hot broth and let cool to room temperature, then shred.  Continue simmering the remaining broth for another 30-60 minutes, until it is reduced to about 8 cups.  Strain broth into a clean pot and keep warm over low heat.  Discard vegetables and remaining chicken thighs.

Make the noodles: mix 2 TBS of the sesame oil into the flour with your fingers until it is crumbly.  Add eggs and egg yolks and stir with your hand until incorporated, then knead on a flat, clean surface for 5 minutes until the dough is pliable but stiff.  The dough takes some force to really work it into a pliable piece.  Let dough rest 10 minutes. 

Roll out the noodle dough to a thickness of about 1/8 inch using a pasta machine or a heavy rolling pin.  Cut into linguine-sized noodles by hand with a pizza cutter, sharp knife or by using a pasta machine.

Prepare the toppings: bring a large pot of water to a boil over high-heat. Add the eggs and boil for exactly 7 minutes, then remove with a strainer and place directly into a bowl of ice-cold water.  Let cool, then peel.  In the boiling water, blanch the bitter greens until just tender, then add to the cold water with the eggs.  Keep the water boiling – you will use it to cook your noodles just before serving.

Once the broth, noodles, and toppings are ready, prepare the bowls: add a small amount of miso, soy sauce, or salt to each bowl (according to diner’s preference) and pour a ladleful of hot broth over the seasoning.  Stir the broth into the seasoning.  Divide the shredded chicken amongst the bowls.  Drop the noodles into the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes – they will float up to the top when they are done.  Remove the noodles with a strainer and divide among the bowls.  Top off each bowl with a few more ladlefuls of hot broth, 1 egg cut into halves, a handful of the cooked greens, some of the nori pieces, and a sprinkling of scallions.

Serve very hot, with extra seasoning as desired.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2012. Ramen noodle cutting by Richard McDonnell + the slurping schoolboy is Geoffrey McDonnell. This post is not sponsored in any way by Nancy Hachisu or her publisher, but I love it, and would urge you to find the book if Asian or farm food interests you…it is really special. PS. Thank you Laila for introducing it to me!

 

 

 

 

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Milk Jam

28 Nov 2012

Milk jam. Confiture de Lait. Dulce de Leche. The beautiful byproduct of a simmering pot of milk + sugar. A prime suspect in the mystery of the ill-fitting jeans. A case as easily solved as Nancy Drew’s Case of the Crooked BanisterI could eat milk jam by the spoonful, which is why it is only made for special occasions. Special occasions like “Hey mom, it’s Wednesday!”

Thought I’d share how to make milk jam with you as it’s another fun adventure in dairy farm living. The milk I use is from our cows, but you can use any whole milk (grass-fed and organic would be superior, but not necessary.)

Pour it over ice cream, pudding, cake, apple pie or crumble, prepare it with goat’s milk for cajeta, spread onto sandwich cookies, gift it for the holidays…or just simply put it in a jar and dip a spoon in when the mood strikes. Yes, it takes a wee bit of patience…these time-honoured traditions take time. But, by all means, just make it.

Farmhouse Milk Jam

1 Litre (4 cups) whole milk


300g caster sugar


½ tsp sea salt


½ tsp baking soda


1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

In a pot large enough to fit the liquid with at least 10-15cm from the top of the pot to the level of the milk, add milk and stir in the sugar, salt, baking soda and vanilla extract.

Turn heat to med-high and bring the milk mixture to a boil without stirring. Once you see the milk start to boil and bubble slightly, get ready to turn the heat right down because the milk may froth and rise if it is overboiled.

Once it’s boiled, turn the heat down to the lowest (until it’s barely a simmer) and skim the foam. Continue to simmer uncovered for around 2 – 2.5 hours, stirring constantly (around every 10 minutes or so is best if you’re free) and skimming the foam when necessary.

It’s best to cook it as low and slow as possible. If the heat is too high, the milk will boil and form a skin that won’t disappear no matter how much you whisk it.

Check the consistency at about 2 hours. I usually stop it now when I want a runnier caramel to use in other recipes. Cook it a little longer if you want a thicker jam to use as a spread or to sandwich cookies. Just remember that it’ll thicken up more while it cools and when it’s in the fridge.

I have decided to start sharing some inspiring bits + bobs that I come across during the month. all the time.  Will post on an ad hoc basis and call it Bits of Bacchanalia.  {I love the term bacchanalia, by definition, a gathering of people eating, drinking and having a good time…aka, our kind of people!} 

Tis the season, right? I hope you enjoy.

{Bits of Bacchanalia}

Last weekend, I spent a night at the bucolic & welcoming Barnabrow House in East Cork. Geraldine Kidd is the consummate host, and Scottish Chef Stuart Bowes prepared an absolute *mean* Feast of East Cork. We went home happy with holiday puddings and bottles of Cork’s own 8 Degrees Brewing seasonal Winter Ale. 

The Christmas Market opens at Doonbeg on the 7th of December. We will surely be going, beautiful location + wonderful gift ideas. Not to mention, aul’ Santa.

The first commercially brewed Belgian style ale, Dr. Rudi, has been produced in Ireland under the Brown Bag Project label.  According to head brewer, Brian Short, ‘Dr Rudi is best enjoyed poured into a stemmed glass that tapers in at the top, to concentrate all the lovely big fruity aromas of the hop. Serving temperature should be about 10 degrees Celsius to allow the flavours to shine through.’ Available at two of our favourite Dublin haunts  L. Mulligan Grocer + W.J. Kavanaghs 

RTE Lifestyle did a wonderful little recap of the Kitchen Archives: From Spoon to Screen discussion that I participated in at the National Library in Dublin last week.

My butcher buddy, Pat Whelan, has launched his {first in the world} Beef Bonds this month. Exciting! 

We received a this beautifully illustrated book in the post this week from a Dublin PR co….compiled by Bord na Móna for Focus Ireland…proceeds go to fight homelessness in Ireland. 

Apparently, the New York Times was jazzed by juniper junket last week too.

I have just completed Jeanne Oliver’s Creatively Made Home e-course, I recommend it highly. Now, apparently I can gift it to you at a discount price of 38 USD since I am a former student! Leave a comment below if interested.

My farming friend, Kimberly Taylor, of Blackberry Farm, has just opened her Tiggy + Grace online shop..nip over there now!

Keep an eye out for the fabulous new Foodie Crush holiday issue

I just love Ilana’s blog….how could I resist, she likes to refer to it as  ”the blob”

I’m on Instagram if you want to follow along for more farm + food adventures!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos, styling, and slurping by Imen McDonnell 2012

 

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