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Zwartbles Ireland

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County Kilkenny is a magical place.

I say this with the risk of being disowned by my own county, Tipperary. We’re right next door, you see, and are; therefore, rivals in most areas of life. Actually, just hurling. But it’s an intense rivalry, taken very seriously by most. So you see, I don’t want anyone to think I support Kilkenny when it comes to hurling. But I do think Kilkenny is one of the most beautiful counties in Ireland and its namesake city is one of my favourite places to eat, shop and get into mischief (see my Love Letter to Kilkenny for more gushing).

Did you know Circle of Friends was filmed in Kilkenny? Inistioge, near Thomastown, to be exact. The lush, green landscape is what I always had in my mind when I was younger and dreamed of visiting Ireland (who knew I’d be living here just a few years later!).

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I had never heard of Zwartbles sheep before moving to Ireland, but soon after I arrived I started following Farmer Suzanna on Twitter and became quite enamored by the look of them. Suzanna farms Zwartbles and Clun sheep; both rare and interesting breeds. The Cluns look other-worldly with their slight figures and pixie faces. The Zwartbles are large (as far as sheep go) and striking with dark bodies and white faces.

I got the chance to visit Suzanna’s farm, located outside Thomastown, Kilkenny, with a group of bloggers a few weeks ago. We had been invited to Kilkenny for the Savour Kilkenny Festival of Food and a trip to Suzanna’s farm was a last-minute treat. It was actually extremely last minute – it was dark outside by the time we left! We had a fabulous time wandering around her farm, eating her home-grown grapes, petting her flock (Zwartbles are very friendly sheep!) and picking her pears and apples to take home.

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Suzanna treats her animals like family. One thing you immediately understand upon visiting is how happy her animals are; how well-loved and cared for. We were gifted with some Zwartbles lamb and a recipe for lamb stew as we left. I made the stew a day or two later and was surprised (pleasantly) with the flavour of the lamb. It wasn’t overpowering – it was mellow and sweet, and went so very well with the apples and pears from her orchard. Irish terroir at its best.

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Aside from using her sheep for lamb, Suzanna also uses Zwartbles wool to make rugs, yarn and blankets. She sells them on her website: Zwartbles Ireland.

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I honestly can’t get over how friendly these sheep are. The sheep I’ve previously come across have always run away from me. These sheep not only ran to us, they frolicked. They kicked up their hooves and hopped, skipped and jumped over to greet us (well, mostly Suzanna, but we were in the vicinity!). They are beyond cute. Kilkenny is a little bit more awesome by having them.

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Oh, I almost forgot to add: Suzanna also employs a cat shepherd on her farm. Seriously. A cat who shepherds the sheep. He’s very badass (and soooooooo cute!). You can follow his adventures on Twitter.

*I was a guest of Green and Vibrant on this trip to visit Suzanna and her Zwartbles, but I was not asked to write this post or given any incentive to do so. I just really enjoyed my visit and wanted to share it with you all.

Best Ever Carrot Cake

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I usually hate calling recipes “the best ever” or “perfect”, but in this case it’s true – this is, really, the only carrot cake recipe you’ll ever need. It’s uber-light, soft and not too sweet. It’s got layers of flavour without being too busy – no need for raisins or coconut or nuts. You can make it with things you already have in your pantry or fridge. In other words, it’s a very low-maintenance cake that tastes very high-maintenance.

I’ve been using this recipe for ages. I don’t think I have it written down anywhere. The reason I made it today is in honour of my beautiful niece and god-daughter, who lives in British Columbia, Canada (pretty much halfway around the world) and is turning ONE tomorrow.

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I wish I would be there to give her a big birthday hug and hand her her birthday gift in person. I wish she and Maeve could spend the afternoon playing together and getting into mischief. But, unfortunately, my brothers and I have all chosen to live in very-far-apart places! In any case, we will have a mini-celebration here in Ireland and give her lots of hugs the next time we see her.

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When we were all home in Cape Breton last August, I made this cake for my niece and nephew’s double christening. It went down a treat. Then, my sister-in-law asked for the recipe so she could make it for my niece’s birthday celebration. I actually had to think about it as, like I said, I don’t really have it written down anywhere. I gave her this recipe and then made it myself, just to make sure I got the measurements right. Now I’m sharing it with you, you lucky people.

This cake can be doubled and served as a big slab cake with traditional cream cheese frosting for a gathering or celebration, but’s its equally enjoyable in bundt form for a simple Sunday dessert. I topped mine with a whipped mascarpone and honey glaze before burning, not one, but TWO trays of walnuts. They were going to be crumbled over top.

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The joys of country living mean I can’t just run to the shop for more walnuts, but I will tell you that the cake is lovely as is. I hope the cake my niece eats tonight is just as tasty (her mom is a pretty excellent cook, so I’m sure it will be).

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Happy birthday, beautiful Charlotte!

Best Ever Carrot Cake

Ingredients:

3 eggs, room temperature

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 cups AP flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp mixed spice (nutmeg, allspice, cloves)

2 cups grated carrot

1 can crushed pineapple

For the Glaze:

1 cup mascarpone cheese

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise & seeded

3-4 Tbsp good quality honey

splash of fresh cream or orange juice

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees Celsius, no fan). Grease and flour a bundt or rectangular cake pan. Set aside.
  • In your stand mixer (whisk attachment) or with a hand mixer, whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla together until pale in colour and doubled in volume.
  • While whisking, slowly drizzle in the vegetable oil to make a thick emulsion.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add all at once to wet and mix until just blended.
  • Fold in the carrot and crushed pineapple. Scrape batter into prepared pan.
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  • Cool 15 minutes in the pan, then carefully remove to cool completely on wire rack.
  • Make the glaze: in your stand mixer (paddle attachment) or with your hand mixer, beat the vanilla seeds and mascarpone cheese until light and fluffy. Drizzle in honey, continuing to mix.
  • Add the cream or orange juice. Mix until all is well combined. You want a thick but pour-able glaze.
  • When the cake is cooled, pour the glaze over top. Serve immediately or the next day – it gets better with age. Keep covered and chilled.

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Irish Bakewell Buns

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Growing up in Canada, I’d never really heard of bakewell tarts until a few years ago.

In fact, since I moved to Ireland almost exactly 1.5 years ago, I’ve been introduced to a whole slew of new things (I’m sure you’re shocked to hear that).

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Some things I’ve learned:

1. Sliced Pan = sliced bread

2. Potato chips are crisps. Most of you know that. But did you know crisps can be a sandwich filling? And, in fact, all you would need for this sandwich are crisps, sliced pan and butter? Did you know that was a thing? I didn’t.

3. When someone asks you if you want salad with your sandwich at a cafe and you say yes, you generally get several kinds of mayo-laden potatoes and coleslaws. Gotta say, I don’t always mind. I really like mayo.

4. What we think is breakfast in Canada is a piece of crap on a plate compared to Irish breakfast. Brunch; however, is still better in North America.

5. When an Irish person asks what your favourite food is and you respond with “poutine”, what the Irish person will hear is “poitín”. This is Irish moonshine, and until the misunderstanding is clarified you will be considered an alcoholic (ask my now-sister-in-law).

6. We all know that what Canadians consider cookies are known as biscuits around here. And what we would consider biscuits are actually scones (sorta). But did you know that cupcakes are simply known as buns? I mean, sometimes you’ll see them called cupcakes. But they’re mostly buns.

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Well, this was my first attempt at an Irish bun. The bakewell. You can find these at most bakeries around the country. They consist of shortcrust pastry bottoms, jammy middles and Madeira sponge tops. And, yes, I know what you’re thinking.

“Aren’t bakewells normally made with ground almonds?”

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Yes. Over the past few years I’ve learned what a bakewell tart is, and classically, it’s made with ground almond sponge – not Madeira. But I’ve also learned something else, having lived the past 1.5 years in Ireland:

Who the hell cares?

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It tastes nice both ways. Forget about it and enjoy the flaky bottom, jammy middle and spongy top. You’ll forget about being culinarily politically correct, I promise.

* These buns are normally made with raspberry or strawberry jam, but being the good little Nova Scotian I am, I used wild blueberry (thanks for providing, Bon Maman).

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Irish Bakewell Buns

Ingredients:

Chilled pie dough, ready to roll out

3/4 cup softened butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp good quality vanilla

pinch of sea salt

3 eggs (room temperature)

1 cup AP flour

1 tsp baking powder

3 Tbsp whole milk

3/4 cup jam of any kind – or dulce de leche, or nutella… whatever you want the filling to be

Powdered sugar, for dusting

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 325 degrees (160 degrees Celsius, no fan). Grease a muffin tin and set aside.
  • Roll out your pie dough. Use a circular cookie cutter to cut out the dough. Line the bottoms of the muffin tin with the pie dough and set aside.
  • Using your stand mixer or a hand mixer (paddle attachment), cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla & salt. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Continue beating the mixture until pale, fluffy, light and increased in volume (about five minutes at medium speed).
  • Add the flour and baking powder. Mix slightly. Add the milk. Mix on high for 30 seconds to incorporate everything.
  • Spoon a heaping teaspoon of jam on each pie crust liner, then add two heaping tablespoons of Madeira batter on top of the jam.
  • Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes. They’re ready when a toothpick inserted into the sponge comes out clean.
  • Allow to cool slightly before removing from the pan. Dust with powdered sugar and try to eat the same day.

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