stickypud1

I woke up bright and early on the first morning of midterm break to a heartfelt request from an energetic little farmer, “Mom, can we pleeeease watch Attack of the Crab Monsters together this morning?”

I rubbed my eyes and blinked twice before yawn-smiling and stretching my arms out wide, “Morning sunshine, of course we can sweetie, now come here and give mommy a hug.”

But he was long gone on an intrepid search for a 1957 Roger Corman B-movie viewing device.

Lately there is far too much testosterone in this house.

I peel myself out of bed and totter on a trail of upsided darts Lego pieces that lead to the bathroom. The same Lego Ninjago trail that gets picked up and magically set down like clockwork every day.

After washing my face, pulling my hair back into something resembling a bobtail, and covering myself with the first three things I see in the closet, I go to my next order of early morning business: loading up the washer with slurry soaked dungarees and jumpers. Two pods/scorching hot/pre-wash/intensive/ medical rinse. Repeat.

Lately there is far too much testosterone in this house.

I go downstairs and make coffee. Standing at the kitchen counter I quietly slurp coffee and look out the window at the my garden beds which are weeping and weathered, but still alive with bits of chard and kale and new globe artichoke foliage peeking up. I smile. I turn to the living room and see Teddy’s dog grit smeared all the way across the top edge of our stone-tinted sofa (I know, you told me so). I drop my coffee cup and, well…..cry. No tears, but still.

Just then, Geoffrey skids into the room with an open iBook shouting in a burly voice with a timbre as towering as an NFL announcer, “YES! We can watch the Killer Crab Monsters now!”

I fall to the ground.

Lately there is far too much testosterone in this house.

Valentines came and went. We suffered a devastating gale the night before so Geoffrey challenged me to a fierce game of Settlers of Catan by candlelight while Richard was away with a group of men on farm business in England.

Lately there is far too much testosterone in and out of this house.

On a side note, we are surrounded by estrogen-charged maiden heifers ready to give birth any day.

Somehow there is still far too much testosterone here.

I patiently watch Attack of the Crab Monsters with my son. It is actually quite good.

I then try to convince him to take a shower. A task he once enjoyed.  We have to bargain about it.

Lately there is far too much testosterone in this house.

After watching one too many American sitcoms, my husband now has a man cave for when he’s home from the farm cave. There is a desk, a chair worthy of Larry Flynt, farm paperwork, whiskey books, a writing diary, a clunky old weight machine. Oh, and a weird wood carved wall hanging of Road Runner and the Tazmanian Devil.

I’m putting on my prettiest pinny and making sticky toffee pudding.

With whiskey.

And yeah, those are fighting words.

stickycollage2

Sticky Whiskey Toffee Pudding

Ingredients

85g softened unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

225g soft Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped

100ml Irish (preferably peated) Whiskey (optional)

175g flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

150g dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

For the sauce

300ml heavy cream

200g dark brown sugar

60g unsalted butter

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan160°C/gas 4. Butter 6 x 200ml individual pudding moulds.

2. Put the dates, whiskey and 100ml boiling water (or omit whiskey and add 200ml water) into a small pan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, then simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the dates are very soft. Set aside to cool.

3. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and a pinch of salt into a bowl and mix together well. In another bowl, cream the softened butter and sugar together with an electric hand whisk for 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition.

4. Alternate adding in the flour mixture and dates, a little at a time, mixing in each addition well before adding the next. Spoon evenly between the moulds, smoothing the tops. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of each pudding comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

5. Meanwhile, make the toffee sauce. Put the cream, sugar and butter into a pan and bring to the boil. Cook for 3 minutes, until the sauce is smooth and thickened. Pour the sauce over the warm puddings and serve immediately with or without ice cream.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

PS. My blog is listed on The Kitchn’s Homies Awards…so far it has 22 nominations for best blog from abroad, but it sure would be lovely to get more as today is the last day for voting! Have a look if you like. Thank you ♥

stickypuds6

Images and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013. The plate was handcrafted by the very talented Trish Riley  for Sweetgum Co

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Fine Fettle Flapjacks

12 Jan 2014

honeycover

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.

hen

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.

flapjackoverhead

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.

honeyduo

honeylover

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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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.

Home Cooked

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.

hen

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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Farmhouse Films

29 Nov 2013

smallgreenfieldposter

Looking back, around the time that I first landed in Ireland, I remember being absolutely fascinated by how many potatoes were eaten in this country.  Of course, my perspective was somewhat obscured having been on a self-inflicted-American-fad-diet-potato-strike for so many years. Here, spuds were revered and described at the dinner table with such compassion and gusto, it was both astonishing and honorable…and, for a starch-starved food lover, even a wee bit romantic. I recall boldly declaring that one day “I will make an extraordinary film about the potatoes of Ireland!” I even proudly gave it the title of “Práta!” That’s Irish for potato, you see.

Alas, nobody was very excited about my idea, so I shelved it in the hope that one day it would sprout to life.

Well, “Práta!” didn’t happen, but Small Green Fields did. Along with Farmhouse Films, our latest farm endeavour.

So, without further ado, (best viewed in hi-res by clicking on Vimeo link on bottom right hand corner)

Small Green Fields from Imen McDonnell on Vimeo.

I would like to thank everyone who worked on this special little film, both behind and in front the camera, who came together to create this evocative picture of Ireland’s food and farming landscape to share with the world. Last weekend, we were lucky enough to be chosen to screen at the 2013 Chicago Food Film Festival, where I am proud to say the film was very well received, and that we were able to arrange for guests to sample gorgeous Goatsbridge Trout Caviar and Sheridan’s Brown Bread Crackers on the evening.

My hope is that this short piece is just the beginning of more Farmhouse Films projects focusing on Ireland’s incredible food and farming culture. Many thanks to Hayes Design for our lovely Farmhouse Films logo and website.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Small Green Fields is dedicated to the memory of David Tiernan of Glebe Brethan Cheese & Mary Davis of Ballymore Farm

 

 

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grandad

{excerpted from Irish Country Living}

If you walked into our kitchen on Saturday afternoon you may have mistaken it for a confectionery. There were all the inner workings: steaming stainless steel pots of bubbling sugary concoctions on the stove, candied apples drying on waxed paper, tiny bottles of food colouring lining the countertop, finely chopped nuts of every sort in bowls ready to be dipped. It looked and smelled like some sort of candy heaven, which, of course, is always a good thing.

dipping

confectionery

Building this kitchen confectionery actually began days earlier when my father-in-law said he had spotted a crab apple tree bursting with fruit in a hedge while checking cattle one afternoon.

So, when a sunny window of opportunity welcomed us, Geoffrey and I met Grandad at the gate of the pasture; ladder and empty rucksack in hand.  We swiftly walked as a trio toward the tree, acknowledging that the weather could change and blow us and our dear apples hither and tither at any moment. Time was most certainly of the essence.

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The tree was situated on the edge of a shallow stream running through the paddock so Michael had no choice but to plant the ladder into the water and climb on up.  As he quickly plucked the abundance of fruit, Geoffrey and I stayed below to catch any falling apples. This turned out to be quite laughable because each time an apple dropped into the water, the current would hastily whisk it away before we could grasp it in our hands. We came away soaked, but with smiles and an overflowing sack of dainty apples.

fallingapples

closeupapples

I perused Pinterest in search of crab apple concoctions and came across several delicious looking images of tiny candied apples which are a popular treat in other parts of the world. Descriptions revealed that sweet candy coating plays perfectly with the tart apple taste creating a tantalising balance of flavours.

overheadapple

It was decided. As well as preserving a few jars, I would pick out the smallest fruits with the longest stems and try my hand at bringing this world-class candied treat to our Irish country kitchen.  And, let’s just say: there were no regrets.

Candied Wild Crab Apples

adapted from mattbites.com

Ingredients

10-15 small ripe crab apples
 with stems intact
675g/3 cups granulated sugar
180g/1/2 cup golden syrup (or light corn in USA) syrup
250ml/1 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon of red food colouring

Method

1. Clean and dry the apples and set aside.
2. Heat and stir sugar, golden syrup and water in a saucepan until sugar has
dissolved.
3. Boil until the syrup reaches 150c/310f degrees on a candy thermometer.
4. Remove from heat and stir in food coloring.
5. Allow to cool slightly and wait for bubbles to disappear
6. Dip one apple completely in the syrup and swirl it so that it becomes fully coated. Hold the apple above the saucepan to drain off excess.
7. Place apple onto a baking sheet that’s greased or lined with waxed paper or silpat.
8. Repeat the process with the remaining apples. If your syrup thickens or cools too
much, simply reheat briefly before proceeding.
9. Let the apples cool completely before serving.
10. Chomp away!

Recipe Notes:
Do not allow candy temp to go over 150c/310f degrees or it will burn.
Be very careful, this mixture is extremely hot. Not a project for the children.

The winner of Pat’s Irish Beef Book is: PAULA LYDON. Congratulations!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos + Styling by Imen McDonnell 2013. Excerpted from my Country Living column 7.11.13  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

verbenadrink2

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.

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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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