Lamb & Lentil Salad

18 Jul 2016

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Nothing says summer more than lunch al fresco under the canopy of one of our massive ash trees on the farm with plenty of salads, warm soda bread out of the oven, and my fresh butter on the table.

Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) recently asked me to be a part of their “Lamb. Tasty, Easy, Funcampaign and I couldn’t refuse as lamb is a firm favourite on the farm. Lamb is possibly more special to me as it was not as readily available in the USA when I was growing up, and definitely falls under the special meals category. Here, we eat lamb quite frequently as there are so many cuts to choose from, and all of them are delicious. I particularly enjoy my visiting my friend Suzanna Crampton’s Zwartbles farm and if we are lucky she sends us off with a parcel of meat from her herd.

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Greek Salad with Lentils & Lamb
This super simple Greek-style lamb salad, is packed with flavor and nutrients and is perfect for an easy + light summer supper; you can double or triple the recipe if you are entertaining friends. The recipe calls for fillet of lamb (ask the butcher) or lamb steaks. I hadn’t used either of those cuts before and I must say, the fillet was incredibly tasty and tender. Let me know if you give it a go! You can find more fantastic Irish lamb recipes here.

Prep time: 20 minutes (+30 minutes resting time)
Cooking times 4-10 minutes
600g lamb fillet or lamb steaks
224g tin of cooked green lentils (or you can prepare your own)
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper
5 tbsp olive oil
250g cherry tomatoes
200g feta style cheese
½ cucumber, deseeded
½ red onion
6 springs flat leaf parsley
6 sprigs mint
12 pitted black olives
Place the lentils in the fine sieve and rinse with plenty of cold water, then leave to drain.
Mix the lemon juice with a little salt and peper in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 tbsp olive oil, then whisk.
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half. Chop the cheese and cucumber into small pieces. Finely slice the red onion and chop the herbs. Place everything into the mixing bowl with the lentils and olives. Mix, cover and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Take the lamb out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature. This will take approximately 30 minutes. Pre-heat the barbeque or frying pan on high heat. Brush the lamb fillets/steaks with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place on the bbq or in the pan. Cook for 2 minutes on each side, then reduce the heat and continue to cook depending on your preference and the thickness of the cut. Remove from bbq or pan and leave to rest for 2 minutes.
Cut into strips and serve with lentil salad and bread.
Scullery notes: Be sure to not oversalt the vinaigrette as the feta and olives are already quite salty.

Keep an eye on my media/events page, I will be travelling to Chicago, Wisconsin & Mpls this summer and have a few fun book events planned!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen xx

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2016.

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In the Irish countryside the true spirit of St. Patrick’s Day really lives on. My husband and his family still pick a shamrock clover and pin it on their lapel for the day, and now I am a part of that special tradition as well.

I will never forget my first St. Patrick’s Day experience after moving to Ireland. Everything in the little village nearest to us was closed on the day; the post office, the bank, a good number of shops, about the only place with open doors was the church, and I soon realized that it was not only a national holiday, but a religious one as well—though the name should have given that away.

My mother-in-law invited us to the farmhouse for dinner that day, and I could hardly contain my excitement about having my first authentic Irish corned beef and cabbage!

We sat down at the dinner table while Peggy brought out generous plates of roasted pork loin with mashed potatoes covered in a white creamy parsley sauce accompanied by a bit of boiled cabbage on the side. I was stunned. Where was the corned beef, and why on earth was there so little cabbage?

I felt it was necessary to explain to my new family that in America, most people eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. My father-in-law looked at me like I was mad and then calmly reasoned, “We do not eat corned beef, t’wouldn’t be the nicest.” I could tell by the look in his eye that corned beef was not held in the same esteem as the beautiful chunk of pork loin, known as “bacon” here in Ireland. I felt at once utterly surprised and somewhat embarrassed. (I later learned that corned beef in Ireland is akin to Spam, it is a type of chopped gelled beef that comes in a square tin)

The truth is, there really isn’t a special meal in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day. Parades, yes. Parties filled with libations, yes. Shamrock-wearing, yes. But, food-wise, at least in rural Ireland, we all just sit down to a nice meal, which can be anything from roast pork to a T-bone steak, but never, ever, corned beef.

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Over the years, our Paddy’s day celebrations have evolved. We have begun a ritual of going for a long walk on the farm and visiting the fairy fort* (a circular earthen mound-style dwelling from ancient times) for a picnic. I bring all the fixings and we sit under an ivy-covered tree and nibble away, all the time being on the lookout for fairies, and heifers and calves that might be exploring the fort as well.

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Since I always like to try something a little different than roast bacon and cabbage, I found that it is fun to prepare an Asian-style potsticker dumpling with pork, cabbage, and parsley sauce. I borrowed the dumpling wrapper recipe from my friend, Molly Yeh, and went to town with traditional ingredients. A couple of hours later, we walked out the door with a basket of dumplings, dipping sauce, chopsticks and a flask of tea. With a picnic like that, who needs corned beef and cabbage! This recipe is in my chapter entitled New Traditions in The Farmette Cookbook: Recipes and Adventures from my Life on an Irish Farm. 

Paddy’s Day Bacon & Cabbage Potstickers
Makes 20 medium sized dumplings
For the wrappers
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cold water
In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Gradually stir in boiling water until the mixture is mealy.
Gradually add the cold water and stir until the mixture turns comes together into a dough.
Knead dough on a floured surface, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough becomes smooth.
Transfer to a clean bowl, cover it with a damp towel, and let the dough rest while you make the filling.
For the Filling:
6 ounces cabbage, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/8 cup minced parsley
1/3 pound shredded smoked ham (or smoked Irish bacon)
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper (or freshly ground black pepper)
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
For the slurry
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup water
For the dipping sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
¼ cup brown rice vinegar
½ cup scallions (spring onion)
¼ cup soy sauce
Make the wrappers In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Gradually stir in the boiling water until the mixture is mealy. Gradually add the cold water, and stir until the mixture comes together into a dough.
Knead dough on a floured surface, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough becomes smooth. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let rest while you make the filling.
Make the filling Put the cabbage in a food processor and pulse until finely minced. Transfer to a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Let sit for 10 minutes. Pulse the ginger, parsley, ham, pepper, soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil to food processor to mix well. Set aside. Squeeze the water out of the cabbage and into the sink. Place the dry cabbage in a dry bowl and add the ham mixture. Fold together with your hands.
Make the dumplings Roll out the dumpling dough into a circle and cut out wrappers with 4-inch round cookie cutters (or the top of a wineglass or teacup). Set aside. Mix together the cornstarch and water for the slurry in a small bowl. Take one dumpling wrapper, and spoon about 1 tablespoon of the ham mixture into the middle. Dip one finger into the slurry, and paint the edges of the dumpling wrapper. Fold the bottom side of the wrapper over the filling and press into a half-moon shape. Place on a baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and repeat with the rest of dumplings. Make sure the dumplings do not touch each other on the sheet.
When all the dumplings are assembled, you can cook immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to several hours. To cook, half-fill a large pot with water and bring to boil. Gently slide in one-third of the dumplings. When the water returns to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer gently for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, and repeat with remaining dumplings.
Coat the bottom of the frying pan with oil and place over medium heat until hot. Fry dumplings until they are golden on each side.
Make the dipping sauce Heat the sesame oil in a saucepan until it smokes. Add the scallions, then the brown rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. Mix well, then take off heat and pour into bowl for dipping.
Scullery Notes: Salting and squeezing the water out of the cabbage is essential. It prevents dumplings from being waterlogged and soggy. 

*The term Faerie is derived from the Gaelic word “Fé erie”, meaning the enchantment of the Fées, while Fé is derived from Fay, which is itself derived from Fatae, or the Fates. The term originally applied to supernatural women who directed the lives of men and attended births. Now it has come to mean any supernatural creature tied to the earth, except monsters and ghosts. In Ireland, the Faeries are called the Aes Sídhe, pronounced eye-shwee) Sídhe are also the name for the earthen mounds and hills that dot the Irish landscape. Irish mythology, legends, and folklore claim the Faeries live under these mounds, so the term sídhe has come to mean Faerie in general, but it more properly refers to the palaces, courts, halls, and residences of the Faeries. However they are known by a wide variety of euphemisms, including “the Fair Folk”, “the Good Neighbors”, “the Little Folk”, “the Little Darlings”, and “the People of Peace”.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell. Styling by Sonia Chaverri Mulford 2015.

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Banoffee Crepe Cake

09 Feb 2016

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I am delighted to announce the five recipients of my upcoming book, The Farmette Cookbook, Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm: Debra Dorn, Jen Kohan, Martha Bernie, Emily Grace & Sally Savage. Thank you all for your lovely comfort food comments, I had so much fun reading them all! I may be doing another giveaway in March, so stay tuned.

I have also updated my events page with some upcoming book & workshop dates, so please do have a look, we hope to see you around. I will be adding Ireland and UK book event dates very soon, promise!

Now, allow me to introduce this decadent Banoffee crepe cake. Absolutely overly indulgent, somewhat time consuming to prepare, and yet, oh SO necessary on Pancake Tuesday, an Irish holiday for which I am eternally grateful. A celebration that never fails to warm my heart and tickle my tastebuds. This recipe makes the perfect pan(cake) to be enjoyed with family and friends gathered around our table. I hope you enjoy it too.

Banoffee Crepe Cake
Serves 10
Makes about 20 crepes (depending on thickness and diameter)
1 cup plain all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
6 eggs
3/4 litre/21 fl ozs milk
Butter for frying
350ml/12 ozs caramel, toffee, or milk jam
1 tablespoons rum (optional)
300ml/10 fl ozs. heavy dairy cream
½ tsp vanilla extract
3 ripe bananas, sliced into coins
For the crepes:
Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a large bowl with a spout whisk the eggs and milk together until combined. Make a well in the center of the flour and salt mixture and gradually whisk the egg and milk mixture into the flour until thoroughly mixed.
Heat a frying pan on low to medium heat and add a little butter to the pan. Pour a ladle full of batter to cover the bottom of the pan. Don’t get anxious if there are holes or your crepes aren’t perfect-they stack on top of each other. When one crepe side is cooked, gently flip it over. Stack the crepes on top of each other. Cover and cool completely.
Whip the cream and vanilla until stiff peaks form and set aside.
Loosen the caramel with the rum or with a little of the cream if it is too stiff until it is a spreadable consistency.
Assembly:
Spread one crepe with the caramel and then place another on top and place banana slices on top, place another crepe on top and spread that with the whipped cream, and keep alternating until you are on your last crepe.
Scullery notes: you can make the crepes up to two days in advance, or you can buy pre-made crepes if you are short on time.

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Slan Abhaile,
Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2016. 

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I know, I know, it’s January and according to every well-meaning food magazine I am supposed to be in full throttle detox-n-dry damnation mode. But, despite my best intentions to become a “new me,” I seem to keep turning up in the kitchen on tippy toes peering into a piping hot oven to supervise blistering dishes of creamy cinnamon and cardamom-scented baked rice pudding. I simply can’t look away from that bubbling picture of gooey goodness; I’m like a school marm with beady eyes on a busy playground, like a magpie on a blackthorn branch ready to swoop down on it’s delicious prey. About every second day, I inevitably find myself hunkered down at my writing desk savouring spoonfuls of irresistibly milky rice pudding by the bellyful.

Someone call Slimming World, I might need an intervention.

In the meantime, I shall choose to view this habit as a sort of restorative treatment, a body wrap of warming and protective wholesome comfort food in preparation for my big year ahead. It’s all about the FOMO on rice pudding. (because you never know when this dairy delight will be extinct) and the YOLO relating to rice pudding (it is actually sort of dangerous.)

The BIG year that I am banging on about would be the year that my first book (aka second baby) is due to hit stores around the world (GULP!) this spring. March 8th to be exact. And, honestly, despite all the minutes, hours, days and years that have gone into bringing this lovechild to life, it still feels like some sort of apparition to me. I suppose until I am actually holding the bouncing hardcover book baby in my hands, I can continue to live my rice pudding dreams. Right?

The Farmette Cookbook, Recipes and Stories from My Life on an Irish Farm is now available for pre-order here, herehere and via all good book outlets. I will be cordially giving away 5 copies upon publication date, so do leave a comment below describing your favourite comfort food (or drink), and your name will be included in the lucky draw.

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Some of my very favourite food heroes got an early sneak peek of the book, and I am gobsmackingly flattered and humbled to share what they had to say (with a heartfelt thanks again to all!)…

“A joyful celebration of life on an Irish farm.  A super, chic book written with the appreciative eye of an outsider who reminds us of the sheer pleasure of living on a dairy farm. Rearing a few table fowl, planting a vegetable garden and an orchard, rediscovering the satisfaction of using home-grown Irish produce to make truly delicious and creative food for family and friends.”—Darina Allen

The Farmette Cookbook is a lovely combination of personal tale and transportive recipe, and it makes me want to come to Ireland tomorrow. In a world full of culinary flimflammery, Imen McDonnell is the real thing: wonderful storyteller and creator of delicious recipes with a traditional edge, all mouthwateringly evocative of this magical place she now calls home.”—Elissa Altman, author of Poor Man’s Feast

“Imen has beautifully captured the rich heritage of Irish farmhouse cooking and cast a 21st century spell on it!”  —Catherine Fulvio, author and award-winning proprietor of Ballyknocken House & Cookery School

“There is magic in Imen McDonnell’s new book, and in her story. Her dedication to uncovering Ireland’s rich food culture and cultivating her own shines through. You’ll want to dive right in, start cooking, and build your own fairy tale.”—Sarah Copeland, author of Feast & Food Director of Real Simple Magazine.

“Imen takes traditional Irish cooking to the next level with her American curiosity and ingenuity. She weaves big city cravings, like potstickers, tacos, banh mi, harissa, pizza, and more, with traditional comfort food made from scratch. Imen’s brave leap of faith and love is a boon for the rest of us: we now have this charming book full of stories and recipes I can’t wait to make.”—Susan Spungen, food stylist, cookbook author & founding food editor of Martha Stewart Living

“It was Imen’s endearing and touching personal writing on all things Irish that first drew me to her beautiful blog.  Her personal journey into the history of traditional Irish recipes is celebrated throughout this carefully considered cookbook.  Filled with stories of old and inspirations from Ireland’s exciting new cooking scene, Imen is putting Irish Farmhouse Cooking firmly back on the map.”—Donal Skehan, Irish food personality and author of Kitchen Hero 

“If you have not yet visited Ireland and tasted its authentic foods, you’ll want to after reading Imen’s new cookbook. Living on an Irish farm has never looked this attractive. What a charming and delicious book!”—Béatrice Peltre, author of La Tartine Gourmande

“A beautiful story of an American city girl falling in love with a dashing Irish farmer and the food that she began to create once settled in rural Ireland. With recipes for everything from Nettle, Sweet Pea and Turf-Smoked Ham Soup to Irish Stout and Treacle Bread, this evocative cookbook will have you wanting to don your wellies and your best apron to grow, cook, and preserve Imen-style.”—Rachel Allen, Irish food personality, bestselling cookbook author, and teacher at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Here’s a handful of recipes & images that I love….

Boxty ComfortingFishPie haybale mayeveteacake sweetfarmercheesedanish

Farmhouse Rice Pudding
One of my mother-in-law’s favorite desserts was a simple creamy, dreamy rice pudding with a spoonful of orchard jam. It took me a few tries to create my own working recipe, and eventually I realized that a simple, old-fashioned baked version yields the perfect consistency to please everyone on the farm. Still super creamy, but with a golden, carmelized skin on top that everyone fights over, this recipe is easy to knock up and serve any day of the week.

Serves 6

1 3/4 cups (414 ml) Evaporated Milk
2 cups (475 ml) whole milk (raw, if you can get it)
4 oz (110 g) pudding or aborio rice
1/3 cup (40 g) golden granulated or superfine sugar
1 whole nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
2 tablespoons (25 g) butter
1 jar of your favorite jam (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Lightly butter a 9-inch (23-cm) round or similar sized ovenproof baking dish.
Mix together the evaporated milk and whole milk in a bowl. Stir in the cinnamon and cardamom. Put the rice and sugar in the baking dish, pour in the liquid, and stir well. Grate the whole nutmeg over the surface, then dot the butter on top in little pieces.
Bake on the center shelf of the oven for 30 minutes, then slide the shelf out and stir the mixture well. Bake for another 30 minutes, then stir again. Bake for another hour without stirring.
At the end of the cooking time, the rice grains will be swollen, with pools of creamy liquid all around them, and a carmelized coating on top. Allow to cool slightly then. Slather the top with jam, if you like, and serve.
Scullery Notes: If you cover the pudding completely with a layer of jam, it will be freshest if eaten within two days; otherwise, it will last for week in the fridge.

Which foods bring you comfort?

Slan Abhaile,
Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell and Sonia Mulford Chaverri.

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