Spotted Dog

19 Mar 2013

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…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).

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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.

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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.

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Slan Abhaile,
Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

 

 

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Lady Marmalade

26 Jan 2012

I’m not gonna lie. Making marmalade this weekend nearly killed me. It also came very close to destroying our beloved kitchen in a single swoop of a sugar boil over. What started as a fun, sweet smelling adventure….even Zen-like at times, turned into a study in wrong utensils, burnt orange peels, arms and fingers, and a massive citrus manicure that would make bathtub shriveled hands look as smooth as a baby’s bottom to boot. So, no, no, no, a Lady Marmalade, I am not.

It was a good lesson. This blog has received a few nice foodie mentions lately, which are wonderfully cherished & remarkable given that I am still only learning the ropes in the kitchen. And, while I’m having a great time getting acquainted with a food culture that is very exciting to learn and share, it can still feel very unfamiliar to me at times.

When I lived in America, I would marvel at the pretty marmalade packaging at my local co-op, but never really indulged. At the time, there was not the same variety of flavours…a couple of brands peddling your straight-up orange marmalade is what was mostly on offer. Then, I moved to Ireland and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first walked down the jam & preserves aisle at the supermarket or at our local Milk Market.  I was fascinated by so many versions of marmalade: whiskey marmalade, bitter orange marmalade, thick cut, fine cut, chips style, lime, grapefruit, tangerine, orange and ginger…the list goes on.

I presumed marmalade making was a traditional preserving skill that would be easy and fun to try in the kitchen. After all, I had made Peggy’s Gooseberry Jam without fail. But, marmalade is a different beast, it takes an extraordinary amount of patience. For the cooking of the oranges, for the cutting of the peel, for the waiting of the set. I suppose there is still a part of me that craves quick and convenient, even though my life is anything but!

A staple in cupboards across the country, marmalade is the perfect accompaniment to a slice of toasted bread for breakfast, a new tradition that I have come to enjoy. In fact, the principal at Geoffrey’s school told me that long ago children were given marmalade in the morning to brighten their moods. I could understand, marmalade is like sunshine in the morning.

Since this is the time of year for Seville oranges and I had just received my Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management book in the post, I decided to give it a go. I found the oranges in Superquinn. It was very exciting. I had never seen a bag of oranges labeled “for cooking only.” They cooked for two hours in a large pan of water covered with a plate. The following day, it was time to slice and ream out the oranges. Luckily, I had a reamer, but it still was an awful mess. I guessed the peel would take roughly thirty minutes to complete. Three hours later, I was still trimming. I had started out cutting the peel thin, and kept going increasingly thinner and thinner until paper thin, as I obsessed about all the advice I received on making sure the peel wasn’t too thick.  After an hour, my hands were already sore and raw and I was nearly ready to throw in the towel despite having a kilo of oranges left to ream and peel.

I was making two versions, straight up marmalade and marmalade with cardamom so I divided everything up into two saucepans, which seemed to be large enough. I brought them both up to a fast boil and planned to keep them at a low rolling boil until the setting point. After about fifteen minutes, I tested the consistency with a plate. Watery. Five more minutes, syrupy. Six more minutes and a happy dance later, the cardamom version had set so I turned it off to cool. 15 minutes down the road and the other batch still had not set. It was boiling over and turning very dark. I had to keep turning it down. I burned myself more than once.

Thankfully, I ended up with six pots of delicious orange-cardamom marmalade. The rest of the marmalade never did set, and is bitter and burnt to the taste. I still don’t know what went wrong. I also managed to make two jars of Seville orange curd with three reserved oranges which turned out absolutely delicious, so will share the recipe here.

Seville Orange Curd

Combine the grated zest of 3 Seville oranges & juice of one lemon,

125g butter and 250g sugar in Bain Marie over simmering hot water until completely melted.

Slowly stir in 2 whipped eggs, stirring constantly until mixture is thick on back of wooden spoon (15 mins or so)

careful not too have the heat too high or your eggs will scramble.

Put into jars and let cool

Refrigerate and eat within a week

I am sure in a year’s time the memories of sweat, burns and tears will have faded….

….and I will try, try, try my marmalade again.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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Demi Irish Breakfast

24 Sep 2010

No doubt you’ve heard about the quintessential Full Irish Breakfast. In fact, I previously wrote a blog post detailing out the various delicious elements of this famous breakfast platter which you can read here. While the Full Irish is magnificent and reknowned, I couldn’t help but want to share what I like to call our “Demi Irish Breakfast” which is basically what we routinely eat for the weekday breakfast here on the farm as do many other Irish families around the country. Sure, my husband can fry up a mean full Irish on a Sunday morning for us-always a treat-but we also love the simplicity of a boiled egg in cup with a slice of toast and a pot of jam on the side.

I remember my mother-in-law offering this one morning when I was visiting before moving to Ireland. I just thought it was so special and sweet. Of course, we don’t use eggcups at home and hers were dainty stainless steel cups which had gotten a lot of use over the years and had a little patina to them. In the photo you will see one of her egg spoons. It’s a combination of a tiny butter knife and a spoon, perfect for cutting the egg across and spooning out the egg. You’d have a hard time finding those in shops anymore, though they are the perfect design.

I love this breakfast because I am an egg-white only girl and I can scoop out the yolk (hand it over to hubs) and eat the rest. It’s fun to cut the toast into strips or “soldiers” as they are called here for the children to dip into the yolk of a soft boiled egg. We tend to have full slices with bitter orange marmalade or raspberry preserves, but many families I know serve the sweet little “soldiers” with their eggs and love the dippity dipping.

Why not try a charming little Demi Irish Breakfast this weekend?

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell

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