sloegincollage

Tis true. I am writing a book! Umm. Rewind and playback: “Imen, you are writing a book.” Sorry, but I have to do that at least once a day for it to really sink in. At least that was formerly true until my lovely and amazing editor, Rochelle Bourgault, assigned my first deadline last week.

YIKES!

I guess we are all aware that I have been on one helluva(n?) epic journey, both culturally and gastronomically since moving to Ireland. However, I have only been able to reveal small snippets via this blog, insta-love, FB, and the twittaverse.

Now, I get to share, no-holds-barred, all the nitty-gritty, slurrifically soaked bits about life on this Irish farm and the pantry of pretty remarkable food that goes along with it. Perhaps my beginner’s step-by-step guide to milking your first cow? How-to pluck-n-process a chook? Dressing tripe 101? Or, new recipes like Farm Fresh Buttermilk Beignets, Lobsta Blaas and Peggy’s Potato Stuffing? There is so much to share, and I am thrilled and honoured to do so.

With the generous assistance of my patience-of-a-saint literary agent, Sharon Bowers, my book will be published in the USA and Ireland/UK by ROOST in autumn 2015, is provisionally titled FARMETTE: Adventures and Recipes From Life on an Irish Farm, and will be an illustrated cookbook/food memoir chock full of modern recipes, stories, and vibrant imagery from our kitchen and farm.

hen

Since leaving urban America for my Irish farm(er), I have tackled the task of building a foundation of kitchen skills and time-honoured cookery traditions, gaining wisdom from my dear mother-in-law, and other amazing connoisseurs of cooking both in Ireland and abroad.  Building that base, has been for me, an absolute essential requirement of my lifestyle change. I have become a home cook and baker in my own right, first by necessity, and now as one of my life’s greatest (and most creative) passions.

If I do it right, Farmette will become an absolute devilishly delicious + stunning diary of my expat journey into Irish country cooking, following my five-year culinary home/farm schooling—or as I like to think of it, a charming confusion of cake and cream and all things in between.  

Thank you, as always, for taking the time to visit here and hold my hand on this journey. I only began blogging to record the crazy happenings of my new life to share with friends and family overseas. Over time, this journal has healed homesickness and forged some fantastic new friendships. And now, it will create a book. (rewind and playback) I am astonished and so very grateful.

But hey, it’s not all about me! I don’t know about you, but I was taught that it is not courteous to applaud when others are celebrating your achievements. So, in keeping with that mantra, I would like to share a extraordinary new book authored by a very dear friend. The Irish Beef Book by 5th generation master butcher, Pat Whelan (with Katy McGuinness) is the consummate guide to Irish beef (and beef in general!) As the doyenne of Irish cookery, Darina Allen says, “This book is filled with recipes that use every scrap of meat from nose to tail, and provide a noble end for the animals Pat rears and butchers.” I am giving away one copy to one lucky reader. If you want to be in with the draw, please leave a reply below telling me your favourite cut of beef. Will announce/ship on my next post!

irishbeefbook

Now, a toast to new books, good friends, and plenty of plum pudding…..cheers!

sloegin2

Wild Sloe Gin Rickey

Since moving to the farm, we have made a ritual of searching for sloes in our hedgerows each autumn. They are usually put to use in a gin or vodka infusion. But, I have also made sloe jelly, which is a lovely compliment to game dishes as well. The Gin Rickey is a classic American cocktail, and since citrus pairs so well with the sweet, tangy sloe, why not call it a Sloe Gin Rickey? Slurrrp. 

Makes One Serving.

1.5 oz Wild Sloe Gin (here is link to my somewhat science experimental-esque step-by-step recipe for lavender + sloe gin)

1 squeeze of  1/2 lime

carbonated water (or tonic), depending on strength/taste preferred

ice

Pour juice of lime and gin into a highball glass over ice cubes. Fill with carbonated water and stir. Add the wedge of lime and serve. You can also shake gin and lime juice and pour over cubes in a highball or lowball glass.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos & Styling by Imen McDonnell 2013. 

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Irish Waygu Ragù

11 Sep 2012

This week I am delighted to share two prized personalities in Irish food: Catherine Fulvio & Pat Whelan.

Catherine Fulvio has just released a gorgeous new cookery book, Eat Like An Italian: Recipes for the Good Life, which the postman delivered to the farm last week. In my estimation, I’ve made three stunning recipes already, so I am hoping we are all well on our way to la dolce vita.

Catherine grew up holding the apron strings of her mother who managed their guesthouse on the family farm. She continues her passion today at Ballyknocken Country House and Cookery School in the wilds of gorgeous County Wicklow, which has been in her family for more than 100 years. {If you are traveling to Ireland, book in and stay, I’ll come join you for a cookery class!}.

Catherine’s interest in Italian cooking may have something to do with the fact that her husband, Claudio, hails from Palermo, Sicily, and judging from her latest release, she certainly knows how to celebrate Italian food like a bonafide bella donna.  Catherine has presented two food programs for RTE, Catherine’s Italian Kitchen and Catherine’s Roman Holiday as well as appearing on NBC’s The Today Show in the USA. In person, she has a way of making you feel instantly at ease with her genuine warmth and girl-next-door nature. Her books and television programs convey that same welcoming feeling, leaving you yearning to sit down at her kitchen table for lunch and end up chatting all afternoon.

Pat Whelan is a fifth generation butcher from Clonmel, County Tipperary. Both his mother and father came from farming families, and the family business, James Whelan Butchers uses beef from its own farm where the cattle are grass-fed and then into their own private abbatoir. Pat explains “having our own farm, our own abattoir and our own shop to sell our beef, allows us to give people that essential element of trust that every consumer requires when they buy meat today in our store or order meats online.”

I count Pat as a friend and collaborator. We have worked together on several creative food endeavours and he is a featured artisan in my film, Food Island alongside his happy herd of Irish Waygu cattle. Pat is a butcher and businessman who has a big personality and is constantly thinking out-of-the box, yet always manages to be quietly composed, if not humble. He is considered to be an innovator and inspiration to many in food including Rick Stein, who lists Pat as one of his food heroes.

James Whelan Butchers is headquartered in Clonmel, County Tipperary and also recently opened a stunning boutique butcher shop in Avoca, Monkstown, Dublin.

In Eat Like An Italian Catherine Fulvio celebrates all that is great about Italian food and food culture with over 100 new recipes for la dolce vita complete with tips on introducing Irish artisan produce to each preparation as well. On the bottom of each recipe page there is a lovely footnote which includes a suggestion for a local Irish ingredient. In my case, her recipe for pappardelle with ragù was made impossibly delicious by using braised Waygu short ribs from Pat Whelan.

So go on, Waygu your ragù.

Pappardelle with Ragù

from Eat Like An Italian

extra virgin olive oil

75g pancetta diced

400g slow-roasted shoulder of pork (I used slow braised Waygu beef)

1 onion

1 carrot

1 celery stalk

1 tsp dried oregano

2 garlic cloves

2 tbsp tomato puree

400g tinned chopped tomatoes

275 beef stock

150ml red wine

salt and freshly ground black pepper

350g pappardelle

fresh basil leaves to garnish (I used fresh oregano leaves)

1. To make the ragù, heat a large saucepan with a little oil over a meduim heat. Add the pancetta and cook until it’s crispy and brown, then add the shredded pork (or substitute)

2. Stir in the onion, carrot, celery and oregano and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato puree and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tinned tomatoes, stock, wine, and some salt and pepper. Allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes, until a thick ragù has formed. Season to taste.

3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package.

4. Add the cooked, drained, pasta to the ragù sauce and garnish.

Wherever you live, you can substitute a locally sourced ingredient…or just use the recipes as-is, they all look absolutely gorgeous.

Leave a comment below to enter the drawing for a spanking new copy of Eat Like An Italian. Will ship anywhere in the world. Best of luck!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Eat Like An Italian: Recipes for the Good Life is available in Easons and online at Amazon.co.uk

Pappardelle photo by Imen McDonnell 2012

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Irish Dulse Butter

28 Feb 2012

At around this time last year, food courtesans from all over Ireland were flocking together in Donegal to celebrate Inishfood, Ireland’s “Glastonbury of Food” as Suzanne Campbell aptly implied. Inishfood was a renegade event organised by the remarkable (and indefatigable!) Donal Doherty of Harry’s Restaurant with Kristin Jensen and Caroline Hennessy of the IFBA and supported/promoted/assisted/accompanied by a myriad of proud Irish artisan food enthusiasts/producers/journalists/bloggers and broadcasters. Even Parisienne Trish Deseine, a Norn-Irelander, who is one of France’s most celebrated food writers, joined us virtually with encouraging + inspiring words that were read over coffee during the welcoming gathering on Saturday morning.

The farmer and I drove from the southwest of Ireland to the stunning northernmost Inishowen Peninsula on a rainy and cold Friday afternoon. In total, the drive took about 5 hours, and even though we did not know exactly what to expect once we were there, there was a feeling that we would be participating in something really special and unforgettable. For the record, ‘special and unforgettable’ was a mass understatement.

We arrived at our beautiful riverside B&B at dusk and were greeted by Margaret and William Grant, the charming couple who own Westbrook House. We sat in their cozy kitchen breezily chatting away about farming, inn-keeping, and relations between the north and the south. In that time, I also spied a vintage butter churn on the countertop and explained that I would be doing a butter making demonstration at the festival the following day. Margaret insisted that I take along their churn. It was kismet because I had been looking for that exact style of churn to use in my presentation as a reference and wasn’t having luck sourcing it. Talk about Irish hospitality!

They showed us to our comfortable bedroom; all the rooms were named after a child in their family and we had one of the daughter’s rooms whose name was written on the door, but I cannot recall it at the moment. What I do remember is that this was my first time staying in an Irish B&B and it couldn’t have been a better experience.

After we freshened up a bit, we were collected and taken to Linsfort Castle for some “to be revealed” evening festivities. We were dropped at the entrance of the large country house with a group of others and then were escorted down a torch lit sandy lane to Darren Bradley’s cottage on the sea. As it was still winter, there was a damp chill in the air, but once we joined the group huddled around Darren’s handcrafted outdoor brick oven with pizzas popping out every 5 minutes, we were fine and toasty. When we were handed a bottle of Irish craft beer and a slice of hot pizza creatively topped with black pudding, potato and rosemary, we were officially all warmed up…have a look: (and listen to that lovely Northern Ireland dialect!)

After plenty of chat and cheer at the pizza and beer party, we gathered inside Linsfort Castle where traditional Irish folk stories and music were shared in front of a blazing hearth fire. We all gobbled down bowls of hot venison stew and sipped on more craft brews. I kept pinching myself to see if it was all for real because I felt so transported to a magical place that when I looked around the room it was hard not to imagine that we were all characters playing out scenes in a beautiful Irish arthouse film.

The next day, everyone gathered at Harry’s in Bridgend where a series of food demos and chat took place with the group happily sharing the same love and enthusiasm for Irish food and the idea of Ireland: The Food Island. Sally McKenna, of The Bridgestone Guides, Mag Kirwin of Goatsbridge Trout Farm, David Tiernan of Glebebretha Cheese, Ella McSweeney from Ear to the Ground, Craft butchers, Ed Hick, Pat Whelan, Jack McCarthy, TJ Crowe of Crowes farm, Seanean and Collin from L Mulligan Grocer in Dublin to name just a few. A plethora of blogger friends, new and not so new, mingled around a smorgasbord of food for everyone to sample, it was an Irish food paradise.

That evening, we enjoyed an unbelievable “no menu” meal at Harrys. Shared serving platters which were continuously delivered to our communal style tables were adorned with food all sourced within minutes from the restaurant. During the night, I had a conversation with Zack Gallagher of The Irish Food Guide. He encouraged me to use dulse (he recommended pepper dulse) to flavor my farm butter. I went home thinking about doing just that and like so many other brilliant suggestions, it took me a bit to get there. Last week, I finally got my hands on some dulse and decided to make butter with it. The flavour knocked our socks off. Spicy, salty…this seaweed adds a dimension of flavour to the butter that you can’t quite put your finger on, but brings enormous satisfaction and makes you want more (umami?).

I brought my dulse butter to the table of a photo shoot that I took part in last week at the stunning Village at Lyons in County Kildare. The shoot was for a feature on food and rural living that will be published in the exciting new Irish glossy Irish Country Magazine coming out on 29th March. Here’s a fun snap from the day (from bottom right to left, Ella McSweeney, Pat Whelan, Yvonne Kerr (deputy editor), me, Lorna Sixsmith)

You can learn how to make your own butter with my DIY editorial here; afterwards, just finely chop up a handful of softened dulse and massage into your butter. You won’t be disappointed.

Inishfood will return again this year over the May 18-20th weekend, and we already have the Westbrook House booked!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Dulse butter photo by Imen McDonnell 2012. Irish Country Magazine photo taken on location by food stylist,  Sharon Hearne-Smith.

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Nollaig Bheag Na Mban

06 Jan 2012


Today is Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Christmas. It’s a holiday celebrated here on the farm with great care and joy. I will never forget the first Little Christmas I celebrated here in Ireland when my father-in-law wore a polka-dot apron and served us a massive roast goose dinner from a heated retro hostess trolley. Let’s just say, I have photos.

The tradition of Little Christmas or Women’s Christmas is still very strong especially in the southwest of Ireland and is so called because Irish men are required to take on all the household duties for the day. Most women hold parties or go out to celebrate the day with their friends, sisters, mothers, and aunts. Bars and restaurants serve mostly women and girls on this night. Children often buy presents for their mothers and grandmothers. We usually have a lovely dinner made at the farm prepared by grandad who he also does all the cleaning for the day as well. While some people think this holiday should be binned, I think it is sweet, but could certainly be “celebrated” more than once a year!

This year, we are having a big ‘ould gorgeous roast duck for dinner complete with walnut stuffing and some beautiful side dishes, all inspired by the cookbook shoot that I styled last Spring.

Are you celebrating Little Christmas?

Roast Duck with Walnut Stuffing

Ingredients

3kg/5-6lb duckling

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp clear honey

2 tbsp plain flour

300 ml/ 1 cup of chicken stock

Salt & Pepper

Walnut Stuffing

1 tbsp oil

1 onion chopped

125g/1/2 cup chopped roasted walnuts

125g/1/2 cup fresh white breadcrumbs

Grated rind of one lemon

1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley

1 tsp chopped marjoram

1 egg beaten

Method

Preheat oven to 220c/425F/Gas Mark 7

Prepare stuffing first. Heat oil in pan and fry onion until soft

Stir in walnuts, breadcrumbs, lemon rind, parsley and marjoram. Season to taste.

Lightly beat egg and pour into the mixture to bind the stuffing

Dry the duck with kitchen paper and prick all over with a fine skewer

Fill the cavity of duck with stuffing, truss and set on wire rack in roasting pan

Mix the lemon juice and honey together and smear over duck

Sprinkle with salt and pepper

Place into hot oven for 10 minutes then lower heat to 190c/375f/Gas Mark 5 for a further 2-2.5 hours

Baste the bird several times during cooking

Leave to rest for 15 minutes

Use the duck fat drippings to make a lovely duck gravy

Happy Nollaig bheag na mban!

Imen

Photo by Moya McAllister, styled by Imen McDonnell 2011

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Holiday Gingerbread

08 Dec 2011

I love gingerbread at this time of the year. Not the cookies. Not the houses. The kind of gingerbread which is more like a cake or a loaf. The kind of gingerbread that you slather deep and thick with homemade butter. Sweet, but not too sweet…more like a tea cake. In my producing days, a post production house in London once sent me a holiday gift of Grasmere gingerbread and the memory of that flavour still lingers on. In fact, it has persuaded me to bake at least one batch of gingerbread for the holidays each year here at the farm.

Since I was doing a charity butter-making demo last evening in Tipperary, I decided it would be festive to bake up some gingerbread to bring along to share with the audience. Once I had the honey-rum butter made, it could be lashed onto squares of gingerbread and passed around the audience. The response was overwhelming. The recipe requested. I was going to post about mince pies today, but they will have to politely wait their turn until next week.

In other news, I am crazy thrilled to announce the first of 3 holiday giveaways that I am doing on the blog this year. Weeee, I feel like Oprah! Giving is far superior than receiving at Christmas, such a wonderful feeling.

So, first up, with a million thanks to Pat Whelan, and following on in the spirit of celebrating Tipperary Food, is a FIRST CLASS BUTCHERY COURSE at James Whelan Butchers in Clonmel, County Tipperary on 21st of February at 6:30PM.  You will join myself and 10 other students to learn all about the meat, where it comes from, how and when it is used along with a range of hands-on butchery skills. James Whelan butchers are fully trained skillful professionals, well-versed in all aspects of cutting meat and the aging process. An in-depth insight into the techniques of cutting beef, lamb, pork and bacon will be covered on the evening.

During our summer in America, I was inspired by so many brilliant artisan butchery classes on offer around the USA that I really wished I could have participated in….now here’s my chance, and yours! Leave a comment below and I will be drawing a name next week.

My Holiday Gingerbread

350g/2 1/3 cups plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda/baking soda

3-4 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp allspice

8 globes preserved stem ginger in syrup, drained and chopped

125g/ 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

100g/ 1/2 cup light muscovado sugar (brown sugar can substitute)

50g caster sugar

225g/ 3/4 cup golden syrup {there really is no substitute for this recipe}

1 organic egg, beaten

75ml/3 oz milk

Grease and line a loaf tin with non-stick baking paper. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320F)/fan140°C/gas 3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, ground ginger and allspice. Set aside. Chop 4 globes of the ginger and add to the flour mixture. Finely slice the remainder and set aside.

Melt the butter, sugar(s) and golden syrup in a small pan. Set aside to cool slightly (this should take about 15 minutes)

Beat the egg and milk together. Stir the cooled syrup into the dry ingredients, followed by the egg and milk and beat well. Spoon into the tin and arrange the remaining ginger overlapping on top. Bake for about 1 1/4 hours until just firm to the touch. Cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy warm with lashings of butter and a cup of tea, coffee or a big glass of cold milk.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell

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For the first time since I moved to Ireland, we are welcoming family from America to the farm for this year’s Thanksgiving celebration and I am just thrilled! Last year, we hosted the dinner in our home with a group of our expat friends which was wonderful and this year it will be just as special again.

We will all be to traveling to Kildare on Wednesday the 23rd to visit a turkey farm and take home our fresh bronze turkey. I have freshly pressed apple cider in the fridge that we will warm and sip the next morning as we prepare for our meal later that day. Pumpkin pie(s) will be made. Martha’s stuffing. Fresh cranberry chutney. Yams. And of course, Richard’s famous Irish coffee.

In America, I think it is safe to say that Thanksgiving is nearly as big a holiday as Christmas. Here, since there is no holiday to break up the time before Christmas, everyone is already dangerously close to hitting the Christmas spirit. It is getting increasingly more difficult to wait to go Christmas cray cray until the day after Thanksgiving, but I will resist!

In the spring, I worked as a food stylist on a fantastic cookbook written by Irish butcher, Pat Whelan, and photographed by the very talented Moya McAllister. One of the recipes that really appealed to me was Pat’s sweet turkey, ham and cranberry pies. They are just the right size for a light lunch or tea in the evening. Of course, the idea is that these would be easy to whip up with leftovers from the Christmas dinner, but I love the thought of making them after Thanksgiving. With or without the ham.

Here’s Pat’s recipe

Makes 8 (In a regular 12 hole bun/muffin tray. I used tart molds which are a bit larger so recipe would make 6)

Ingredients

500g Shortcrust pastry

250g/9oz/1 1/2 cups shredded turkey

100g/3/4 cup cooked ham cut into small pieces

8 tbsp creme fraiche

8 tsp cranberry sauce

1 egg beaten

Roll out pastry

Cut 8 circles to line holes of the tin and 8 smalled circles for the pie lids

Grease the holes in the tin and line with pastry

Divide the turkey, ham, cranberry sauce and cream between the 8 holes

Season with salt and pepper

Brush the edges of the pastry and apply the pastry lid to seal

Place tray into the fridge to chill for about 30 minutes

Heat oven to 180/Gas 6

Brush pastry lids with egg wash and bake for 25 minutes

Can be eaten hot or cold!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Moya McAllister. Food Styling by Imen McDonnell 2010.

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Springtime brings new growth and here on the farm there are definitely some wonderful new things afoot, including baby calves by the day and soon we welcome new baby chicks and bid farewell to the last group {keep an eye out for our free range whole chickens in Dunnes Stores, labelled with R. McDonnell Farm}

On a personal + creative note, I will be taking the plunge on my first assignment as a food and prop stylist as we begin shooting an exciting new cookery book by master butcher, Pat Whelan, of James Whelan Butchers in Clonmel, County Tipperary.

If you are in Ireland, you are likely aware of Pat and his dynamic business model and ebullient personality.  If not, I think New Yorker turned Londoner and Jamie Oliver business partner, Adam Perry Lang, said it best when he visited Pat’s shop this week and exclaimed, “beyond inspired in Ireland, Pat Whelan Butcher shop has lit a fire. Shop is genius. Old School meets new school answer to industry. Star!!!”  Pat’s new book project is a follow-up to his first release which came out last year and was a great success. If all goes well, this book will be printed and distributed in the Autumn just in time for the holiday gift giving season.

Pat approached me in March at the Grow It Yourself IrelandButter Live event that I participating in with Ella McSweeney and Alan Kingston of Glenilen Farm He complimented this blog and asked if I would be interested in working on his book. Flattered and thrilled, I jumped at the opportunity and also put on my producer hat to assist him in sourcing the perfect photographer to be at the helm of shooting the gorgeous, meaty recipes that he put forward.

Ironically, I had been swapping emails with NYC-based photographer, Moya McAllister, about the prospect of coming over to work on a photo documentary on Irish rural living when I discovered that she also shoots beautiful food and had recently completed a stunning campaign for Bertolli in the USA.  When I asked if she would be interested, she didn’t miss a beat and said absolutely. Moya grew up in Long Island, NY, the daughter of Irish born and bred parents. Her talent with the camera and her passion for all things Irish make up the perfect ingredients for this cookery book shoot.

Our home has officially been transformed to a production kitchen & studio which we have affectionately coined “Farmhouse Productions”. We have put together a tiny production team including a tremendous talent (and one of my best girls), Sonia Mulford Chaverri, who has a great deal of experience working in studio production. Sonia just so happened to be on an extended Irish visit to lend a hand on our farmhouse restore project and will now be assisting me with styling.

Guess it was bound to happen, you can move the producer out of the city, but you can’t take the producer out of the producer…..even if you do live on a farm in the middle of the Irish countryside. And now, I add to my treasured production repertoire, a new adventure in food and prop styling……let the journey begin!

We will be shooting for nearly the entire month of May and I will be sharing brief blog posts about my experience {tweeting too}…hope you stay along for the ride.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Instagram photo taken by Moya McAllister at the Whelan Abbatoire, County Tipperary.

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