pumpkinpie

Despite the fact that the famed Jack-O-Lantern has it’s roots in Irish lore, the pumpkin definitely does not get the same celebrity status as it does in the USA. (Case in point, see Sara Cornelius’s extraordinary #virtualpumpkinparty recipe compilation over at Cake Over Steak)

I’ll never forget the time when Richard and I were still dating and I was visiting Ireland during the Thanksgiving holiday. At the last minute, I boldly decided that I would make Thanksgiving dinner for his whole family. I mean you can’t NOT celebrate Thanksgiving just because you are traveling outside of the USA, right? It didn’t matter that I had never attempted to make Thanksgiving dinner for just me, let alone ten guests. I guess I was feeling invincible, in that mad-lovestruck-irrational-trying far too hard to impress way.

I arrived at Shannon airport very early in the morning, looking wrecked after the red-eye, alternating trying to push my eyeglasses up on my face with my right shoulder while hobbling along with a lofty suitcase covertly packed with 2-3 tins of pumpkin filling, bags of ruby red fresh cranberries and my trusty Pyrex measuring cups. When Richard offered to take my suitcase from me, he nearly fell over.

The following day, a turkey was plucked from the farm. (Yes, literally) And, on Thanksgiving morning, I was up bright and early to begin preparing an extravagant 5 course meal that I thought everyone would surely love and appreciate. Well, okay….fall over themselves in utter awe, with heaps of love and appreciation for me.

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The first thing that went wrong was that I was oblivious to the fact that there would be differences in oven temperatures. Here, we use celsius, not fahrenheit, so I had to do some major conversions which, at the time, admittedly drove me mad. Then, the same story with the measurements. Everything is in metric so instead of cups I had to work in mls and grams. The last time I had used grams for anything I cannot discuss here, but let’s just say it was a long time ago, so as you can imagine converting ounces to grams to mls to cups and back again put me into a head spin more than any other grams-related incident in the past.

Still, somehow I sorted it out and a remarkable meal for everyone was served. I even got to use my (future) mother in law’s retro heated hostess trolley. I was feeling like Martha Stewart, Irish farm style.

We sat down in the formal dining room and started to eat. I was happily taking in all the compliments and actually feeling a little chuffed when I was posed with a curious question:

“So, Imen, is Thanksgiving a Jewish holiday?”

(inside voice) Really? I forced myself not to giggle, and decided they were perhaps really asking if I was Jewish. I answered eloquently, explaining the history of Thanksgiving (Charlie Brown style, of course) and that “no, it was not a specific Jewish holiday, but that Jewish people do, in actual fact, observe the holiday with all the other North Americans.” They were fascinated, put their heads down, and ate nearly every last morsel on their plates. Success!

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But, then came dessert. The famous pumpkin pie. I wish I had videotaped the faces on everyone as they took their first bite of this yummy sweet/savory delicacy that we love so dearly in the USA.

Surprise.
Delight.
Terror.
No expression, just fast gobbling to get it over with.
Sheer happiness (me).

And then, out of the blue, a quote uttered by Grandma McDonnell in her best Irish lilt,

“Tis Different.”

A phrase that I learned much later had meant “It tastes rotten.” According to another relative, she actually really thought it tasted rotten (in some obscure way, if you’ve never eaten pureed pumpkin, I can begin to understand this ), but she graciously ate it all, and never, ever, said a bad word about it to me. May she rest in peace.

“Tis Different” Pumpkin Pie
I have always had an affinity for Thanksgiving.  It may possibly be my most favorite American holiday. Growing up, we had the same lovely tradition for so many years of traveling to my grandmother’s house where all of my wonderful extended family would come together on a (usually) pretty snowy day and celebrate with loads of turkey and all the trimmings. The best bit of it all? Pumpkin pie, of course.

Makes One 9 inch pie

2 cups (440g) of pumpkin pulp purée from an eating pumpkin* or from canned pumpkin purée (can also use puréed cooked butternut squash)
1 12 oz.(350ml) can of evaporated milk
1/2 (100g) cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 (66g) cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs plus the yolk of a third egg
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 9” pie crust

*To make pumpkin purée from scratch, cut a medium-small eating pumpkin in half. Scrape out the insides (reserving the pumpkins seeds to toast) and discard. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or kitchen foil. Place the pumpkin halves cut side down on the lined baking sheet and bake at 350°F until a fork can easily pierce them, about one hour. Remove from oven, let cool, scoop out the pulp. Press the pulp through a food mill and then puree in blender.

Preheat oven to 425°F/220°C

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Mix in the sugars, salt, and spices. Mix in the pumpkin purée. Stir in the evaporated milk. Whisk together until everything is well mixed.

Pour the filling into an uncooked pie shell.

Bake at 425°F/220°C for 15 minutes. Then after 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 350°F/175°C. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes more, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool the pumpkin pie on a wire rack for at least 2 hours.

Scullery Notes: Serve with plain whipped dairy cream. Or, add a tbsp of maple syrup to the whipped cream for maple whipped topping.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell

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Lens & Larder

14 Aug 2014

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{SOLD OUT}

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

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

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

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

squash soup bread

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

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

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

BootRoom

When:

October 21st to October 24th 2014

What:

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

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

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

Cost:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

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

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Hot Cross Buns !

25 Mar 2014

My very first taste of a warm hot cross bun arrived during the springtime of my second year in Ireland. We were invited to a friend’s farm for an afternoon garden party. The country estate was sprawling, with a main “big house,” several stone farm buildings, and other various dwelling houses dotting the acreage. There was a charming, if a bit battered, vintage grass tennis court and a sweet little lake, which was called The Leap. Dogs and cats roamed freely with the hens, sheep, cattle and horses.

It was a beautiful sunny day and her husband had baked loads of delicious goodies to share with us. I recall that we all sat perched on colorful tartan wool blankets surrounded by blooming daffodils happily feasting upon hot cross buns, brownies, and tiny slices of Simnel cake whilst sipping copious amounts of Ceylon tea under the canopy of a (long-awaited) crayon blue Irish sky. At one point, a striking ringneck pheasant cock strutted across the field in front of us, and we all marveled in awe. I felt like I was an extra in a Merchant & Ivory film.

It is a magnificent memory to say the least, and I was again reminded of it this year when I began seeing hot cross buns in the markets for Easter. I decided I would try my hand at making a batch and perhaps swap currants and sultanas for something a little different.

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Hot cross buns are sweet, yeast-leavened, spiced buns made with currants or raisins, often with candied citrus fruits marked with a cross on the top. The cross can be made in a variety of ways including: of pastry; flour and water mixture; rice paper; icing; two intersecting cuts. They are traditionally eaten at Easter and are massively popular in Ireland and the UK at this time of year.

I was delighted when I stumbled upon a basic Martha Stewart recipe for these yummy yeasty hot cross buns, but I wanted to add a bit more color to the classic original so I substituted sour cherries, toasted almonds and a touch of cardamom to her instructions. The end result is still spicy and sweet, but the cherries and cardamon add a little more pizazz.

These buns can feed a gang of farmers for breakfast on Saturday morning, or make the perfect spring hostess lunch or dinner party gift.  Also, hot cross buns are fantastic for french toast if you actually have any leftover!

After all the ingredients are mixed together,

the dough is kneaded on a floured surface

to ensure cherries + almonds are distributed evenly

Using a pastry sleeve to pipe on the icing crosses is easy and makes less of a mess

I came across this sweet little tidbit while doing my research on these lovely treats: Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if “half for you and half for me, between us two shall goodwill be” is recited at the time.

Goodwill and Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Sonia Mulford Chaverri.

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It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a curatorial here, but good things come to those who wait, right? As a fledgling food stylist embarking on my first cookery book, I am absolutely engrossed in the work of real professionals like Susan Spungen. At a time where it seems like virtually (literally) everyone seems to be an online stylist of some sort, I am even more reminded that it is important to revere the great + founding professionals working in the business of beautiful food.

Ironically, in my former life I had the experience of working with iconic food brands while producing ads for television. I won’t mention names, but on more than one occasion I could be found in a commercial NYC kitchen studio watching a camera rig cruise at 500 frames per second attempting to film mass amounts of pepperoni slices flying in the air. The result? Slow-motion pepperoni. The reality?  A food styling crew who had to work ultra fast and furious, making sure each and every slice of pepperoni was shiny and mouth-watering, and the process had to be repeated for essentially a full day for each flying ingredient. This crack team of stylists would cook and treat the ingredients as well as produce a VIP end product an ooey-gooey pizza that would rival the Mona Lisa. They were very serious. And, extremely gifted. I often thought that despite the fact that I had hired a director whose daily production rate cost more than a year of my university education, the stylists were the real directors on those shoots.

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I guess what I am trying to say is that creating something beautiful in the space of your own studio, on your own timeline, in your pajamas and pigtails (yes, by “you” I mean “me”) is far different than working on the set of a professional print or film shoot with a client who is someone other than yourself. Therein lies the profession.

Susan Spungen has inspired me ever since I took my wonderful mother-in-law to see the delicious film, Julie and Julia in 2009. I waited for the credits to roll up so I could see who had styled such a beautiful food-oriented masterpiece. Of course, Susan’s calling began long before that assignment. She has had an illustrious career in styling and cooking, beginning with her work with Martha Stewart in print editorial and television. She has styled the feature films Julie and Julia, Eat, Love, Pray, It’s Complicated, and most recently, the new Jason Reitman picture, Labor Day, in which  Time magazine reported that the lead character “cooks with sexual authority.” Imagine that creative brief! Susan is a constant contributor to cookbooks and magazines, see the latest Thanksgiving cover + editorial from Food and Wine below. Susan also styled the cover of this month’s Bon Appetit, which featured holiday cookies that appear as artfully drawn as they look chompworthy. She has written two books of her own, RECIPES: A Collection for the Modern Cook and her fabulous latest release, What’s a Hostess To Do?

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Let’s face it, I am smitten with all things styled by Susan Spungen.

When I approached Susan to be interviewed for my blog, she warmly accepted. Not only is her food inviting and beautiful, but she clearly has impeccable table manners too. {smile}

Here’s what she had to say…

Hi Susan, thank you so much for having a chat here. Tell us about your formative years…where are you from…where did you grow up?

I grew up outside of Philadelphia- but I left town at 20, never to return! My mom had a variety of careers, and was a bit of a trailblazer for women executives in the 70’s when she worked for Western Union, selling Mailgram- which was at the time revolutionary! She also owned a health food store that I kind of grew up in. My father was always in the paper business.

What was your first job as a food stylist?

I guess you could say that my very first experience was doing some shots for a caterer that I worked for at the time- it was an unknown world for me, but I knew I liked it, because it was bringing together my artistic side with my love of cooking. After that, my first real professional experience was my first day on the job for Martha Stewart Living, when I was hired as Food Editor. I worked with Maria Robledo as photographer, and was styling side by side with Martha.

Where do you live now? Are some places better than others to live in order to work as a stylist?

I live in NYC, which is probably one of the best places to work as a stylist since almost every major magazine is based here and does most of their shooting here. Major ad campaigns are shot here too. Other cities have slightly different markets, but still a lot of work. A lot of packaging gets shot in Chicago, and in LA and SF, TV commercials and cookbooks dominate.

You worked with Martha Stewart for many years. What did you take away from that experience? Has she influenced how you work or vice versa?

This is hard to answer briefly, but it was the seminal experience of my life. I learned so much while working there- about food, about people, about business. working there when I did, and with the people that I did, it gave me a lot of confidence in myself, and the courage to do things differently, even if they haven’t been done that way before.

You have styled the films Julie and Julia, It’s Complicated and Eat, Pray, Love.  How does styling for films differ from magazine shoots?

It couldn’t be more different! There are practical differences and artistic differences. Artistically, film food has to have real presence, just like actors do. It has to act, so to speak. To see what I mean, check out the peach pie in Labor Day, Jason Reitman’s latest film, out Christmas day. Logistically, it is way more difficult- my motto on film shoots is “Expect the unexpected”. You have to be prepared for anything, including prepping all day for a shot, only to have it not happen and be rescheduled for another day. This can happen repeatedly!

Did you ever work in commercial advertising production for tv or print? Is that role more restricting creatively?

Advertising is always less creative, whether it’s print or TV, because you have a very specific story to tell, and the agency and client are looking to achieve a very specific vision, so it is my job to deliver that, in the best way possible. There is some creativity in that, but not in the same way that there can be on an editorial shoot, where you really have to bring it, to elevate the food to a whole other level.

Which is your favourite medium to work in, and why?

I prefer a good meaty, editorial assignment with major payoff. Dec Bon App cover, case in point!

Take us through your process upon being awarded a new assignment.

I gather all of the information, which is usually recipes, test kitchen photos, reference photos, shot lists. Then I start breaking it down into a to-do list. My assistant usually makes the shopping list, which I then refine. If there are specific hard-to-get ingredients, I immediately start to source them, like say summer tomatoes in February or March (this happens every year) or pumpkins in July. (also an annual event)

Do you cook everything yourself? Or how does that generally work on a shoot? Are you both a food and prop stylist?

Yes. my assistant and I cook everything. That is the biggest part of the job- though shopping is the single most important part. Many people don’t realize that a food stylist cooks the food for a shoot. There’s a misconception that someone else cooks and then we come in with tweezers and brushes to “style” it.  Generally, I don’t do props, but I have on occasion. In NY, the jobs are separated.

Do you consider yourself a creative?

Absolutely!

How did you get your start in food, training etc?

Another long story- I was a student of fine arts, but always did restaurant work on the side, eventually, cooking took over as my career, but I tired of the food business, and longed to make more use of my creative, artistic impulses. This led me to connect with Martha Stewart when she was just starting the magazine. Ironically, I ended up being an executive and a department head, but it was still incredibly creative, because I had to impart the idea of how to be creative to my whole team, even when I wasn’t doing it myself. Problem-solving is creative in its own way, too.

When you prepare a meal at home with friends, family, even alone, is presentation important to you?

It is, but it comes naturally. I just try to make my food look pleasing and appetizing, even if it’s just for me. People often remark at my plate when I am going through a buffet line at a party “Why does yours look so good?” is something I hear a lot!

What do you love to eat?

What don’t I love? I love anything that’s good! I especially like Italian food- well made pasta is one of life’s great pleasures. Ice cream is another. Excellent French fries are up there- I guess I sound like a kid who loves comfort food! I love haute cuisine too, but only very rarely these days.

What advice would you give to people interested in a food styling career? Does it take a certain personality?

It is definitely more the just the talent. You have to be able to work well as part of a team, and learn to communicate really well, with the photo editor, the editor, the photographer, the prop stylist, your assistant, and on advertising jobs the agency people and clients. You might be doing a cookbook, where often the author is at the shoot, so you also have to be diplomatic at times, and be mindful that it is their baby you are working on. The best advice is always to seek out someone whose work you admire and try to assist them. Offer to work for free.

Is there any other career would you like to attempt? (forgive the James Lipton-ese)

Believe it or not, I sometimes have thought about acting! Also, maybe being a shrink!

Tell us the most surprising bit about food styling?

That it is often more about solving problems than being creative

What is the most important tool in your styling kit?

I guess I’d have to say my favorite tweezers and my Joyce Chen scissors (which everyone should have whether they are a stylist or not)

I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I have!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo of Susan Spungen by Jake Chessum. Pumpkin bars + Roast Turkey photos courtesy of Food and Wine Magazine photographed by Con Poulos + Bon Appetit cover shot by Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriot.

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People. You are not going to make this. I just know it. From top to tail, it takes nearly a day.  There is yeast in the pastry. It needs to rise. It’s buttery and fussy.

But, it is so damned good. Divine, actually. Divine in the purest divinity sense of the word. I phoned people to tell them about how good this tart turned out. I prattled on about it to school parents who don’t even know me. I confessed to the priest. Teddy, our Airedale, is sick of hearing about it. Now, it’s time for you.

I prepared the homemade cheese with the morning milk from our dairy. The baked filling tastes like a wonderful childhood memory that includes cheese Kolaches and Danish from Jerry’s Bakery with glasses of cold milk and cartoons on a Saturday morning. I think there was a crumbly cheese coffee cake that my grandmother used to serve as well. It’s that soft crumbly cheese consistency that I crave.

This is a recipe from Martha Stewart Living so, of course, it worked. Still, I was nervous throughout the proving process. The dough is really sticky. The kind that you simply cannot punch down without getting your knuckles stuck in.  I’d never used yeast for pastry before. But, now that I have succeeded, it’s one more notch on my ye old ‘pastry perfection’ stick. {If you are new here, I struggle with pastry and have vowed to win!}

If you come to the farm and visit we can make it together…fresh cheese and all. I need some company, and if takes temptation by tarte au fromage so be it.

Have a look at the recipe and see what you think.

Sweet Farmers Cheese Tart {or, if you’re French or fancy: Tarte au Fromage}

Dough

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon active dry yeast (from two 1/4-ounce envelopes)

1/2 cup warm water

1 large egg yolk

1/4 teaspoon salt

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for bowl and pan

Filling

1 cup sugar, divided

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) farmer cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup (4 ounces) creme fraiche, room temperature

1 large egg yolk, plus 3 large egg whites, room temperature, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup applesauce

Dough: Mix together flour, sugar, yeast, water, egg yolk, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook until a dough is formed, about 3 minutes. Add butter, and mix until incorporated, about 3 minutes (dough will be sticky). Transfer dough to a buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until almost doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down dough, cover, and let rise 30 minutes. Refrigerate dough, still in bowl and covered, until firm, about 2 hours.

Punch down dough. Roll out into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface. Fit dough into a buttered 9 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, pressing dough up to rim of pan. Prick dough all over with a fork, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise 30 minutes.

Filling: Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in lowest position. Whisk together 3/4 cup sugar and the flour. Whisk together farmer cheese, creme fraiche, egg yolk, salt, and vanilla; stir in sugar mixture, then butter, with a wooden spoon.

Beat egg whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Raise speed to medium-high, and gradually sprinkle in remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Beat until medium glossy peaks form, about 4 minutes. Fold half the egg whites into cheese mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining egg whites.

Spread applesauce in crust, and pour filling on top of applesauce. Bake 30 minutes, then check crust; if it is starting to brown significantly, tent edge with foil. Bake until crust is deep golden brown and filling is puffed, golden, and just set (it should barely wobble when very lightly shaken), about 25 minutes. Let cool, undisturbed, on a wire rack 1 hour. Unmold tart, and let cool at least 30 minutes. Tart is best served slightly warm but can also be served at room temperature.

Coming?

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

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A Farmer’s Meringue

22 Dec 2011

Richard’s favourite Christmas dessert is a massive. sloppy meringue covered with loads of cream and fresh fruit. Pavlova, roulade…anything of the like, and he goes crazy for it. I finally got around to attempting meringues this week as a holiday treat ‘just for him’

{20. 12.11 text message conversation}

Farmer: Did you make them yet?

Me: Make what? I am whipping the meringues right now, can’t talk

Farmer: Yes, meringues

Me: Yes, meringues! Speak tonite

Farmer: Did they turn out good?

Me: You can try one tonite *nearly drops phone into bowl of stiff peaks of egg whites*

Farmer: Right so x *back to feeding cattle*

Me: x

They worked. A few cracks, but oh… so… softly-crunchy-melt-in-your-mouth-delicious.
He told me that if that is all he got for Christmas, he’d be one satisfied farmer.

Here’s the recipe. Very simple….just don’t overwhip and if you have a fan oven start at 140 and turn down to 130.

Farmer’s Meringue

Makes 4 Large “Farmer Size” or 8 Small Meringue Nests

2 Large eggs

4 oz/110 g caster (superfine) sugar

Preheat oven to 300F/150C /Gas Mark 2

Place the egg whites in a large bowl and, using an electric hand whisk on a low speed, begin whisking. Continue for about

2 minutes, until the whites are foamy, then switch the speed to medium and carry on whisking for 1 more minute.

Now turn the speed to high and continue whisking until the egg whites reach the stiff-peak stage.

Next, whisk the sugar in on fast speed, a little at a time (about a dessertspoon), until you have a stiff and glossy mixture.

Spoon 8 heaped dessertspoons of the mixture on to your baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spacing them evenly.

Then, using the back of the spoon or a small palette knife, hollow out the centres.

Don’t worry if they are not all the same shape – random and rocky is just right.

Next, place the baking sheet on the centre shelf of the oven, immediately reduce the heat to gas mark 1, 275°F (140°C) and leave them for 30 minutes.

After that, turn the oven off and leave the meringues to dry out in the warmth of the oven until it is completely cold (usually about 4 hours).

Serve topped with cream and fresh fruit or berries!

The winner of the beautiful book, A Taste of Cork, is Annetje Roodenburg!  Congratulations Annetje and thanks again to everyone else who left a lovely comment here. Annetje, please email me at imen.producer@ireland.com with your mailing/postal address.

Nollaig Shona Duit,

Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2011 {Shot with Loftus lens Hipstamatic}

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My Funny Valentine

18 Feb 2011

I know this is a little late for Valentine’s Day, but I have a perfectly good excuse. I planned on making these sweet heart-shaped deep chocolate Guinness cakes for my special ♥ post, but as luck would have it, I came down with a terrible, knockdown cold this week and was quarantined to the bedroom until today. This illness came shortly after I finally recovered from the worst jet lag I had ever experienced coming back from America on the 6th.  Note to self: don’t forget sleep tabs for flight next time!

The good news is even though I was under the weather, I still managed to have a pretty good week. We’ve welcomed at least 15 new calves since the weekend, which always makes my heart smile and when I checked emails on Valentine’s morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this blog has been nominated in four categories for the Irish Blog Award this year! The categories are Food, Photo, Personal and Specialist. Am deeply flattered by this although I have to admit that I am not quite clear on what exactly I “specialize” in just yet! Check out all of the great Irish blog nominees here.

Despite the fact that I was bed-bound, I was able to have a little fun as evidenced by the #foodiefridgeflash that I jumpstarted in the Twitterverse on Wednesday. I like to call it an international flash mob of fridge innards. It was loads of fun watching the twitpics stream in all day on my laptop from the comfort of my bed. Have a peek at some of the photos here.

I also received my long awaited new P. Allen Smith, “Seasonal Recipes From The Garden” cookbook. If you have not heard of this gardener extraordinaire who has been deemed the “Martha Stewart of the South” by the New York Times, I highly recommend adding this book or any of his previous gardening books to your library. I turned on the kettle, lit my  favorite candle, slathered on some happy hand cream (I truly believe that aromatherapy heals) and proceeded to turn page after gorgeous page of inspiring seasonal recipes. I put the beautiful book down with fresh anticipation for the spirit of spring and getting into our garden again. I mean, poached egg & spring spinach salad? Delicious!

To top the week off, I was invited by Donal Doherty and the Irish Food Bloggers Association to share some of my butter-making love for their “foodies on tour” event next month at Harry’s Restaurant in Donegal. I will be presenting in the esteemed company of Ed Hick and TJ Crowe who will also be sharing their skills on the day. Donal says he has even more surprises planned….Burren Salmon? Artisan Chutney? You never know, as he’s always got something exciting up his sleeve! I am really excited to meet Donal, whom has really made a name for himself here in Ireland for his unwavering support and use of local (sometimes unsual) ingredients at Harry’s. If you are foodie, we welcome you to attend. You can find all the details on the IFBA website here.

So, the moral of this story is that sometimes being sick and in bed isn’t the worst. Except for physically feeling quite awful, I had a fantastic week. And, it’s all really because of this blog and those who follow along, so big thanks to you!

Happy {belated} Valentine’s Day.

Here’s that little Irish chocolate cake recipe I wanted to share with you…

Enjoy!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell. Photographs in P.Allen Smith’s book by Ben Fink.

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Our little boy became a “big kid” this week on the farm.

For his 5th birthday

we decided to make use of

what we are fortunate to have right before us

and celebrate with a

good

old-fashioned

kiddie’s farm fête.

So, we rounded up our two darling donkeys,

A sweet cow and her dotey calf

And three clucky chickens

{yes, the farmer is participating in Movember}

We made loads of fairy cakes to decorate (pictured top)

and homemade marshmallows + caramel corn

We used our very own honey for my special honey bbq beef brisket

that went with Martha’s Perfect Mac & Cheese

Our friend, Claire, created the most magnificent + yummy tractor cake

When the party was ended

each child was given a bag of goodies to take home

The sun was shining

Our faces were smiling

And our big kid was a happy, happy boy.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

My Easy Honey BBQ Pulled Beef Brisket

serves 12

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 3-4 pound beef brisket (in Ireland try the beef rib roast)

1 18-ounce bottle of high quality barbecue sauce

2 onions, chopped

1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce

1/4 cup honey

12 freshly baked soft rolls

Mix together minced garlic, salt, onion powder, paprika and pepper. Rub over the brisket.

Place sliced onion on bottom of slow cooker

In a small bowl mix the barbecue sauce, onions, Worchestershire sauce

Place the brisket in the slow-cooker and pour over the sauce. Spoon in the honey. Cook on low 10 hours or until the brisket is fork-tender. Pull the beef apart into strips.

Ladle the cooking liquid into a bowl or glass measuring cup and skim off the fat. Mix the juices with pulled beef. Serve on rolls

Photos by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

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