Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cabbage and Wind

Its bad enough when the country's economic news is depressing to the extreme, but coupled with a weather assault like this mornings, which would 'skin ye' as they might say in the north, it makes for doom and gloom like nothing else.

It is cold, wet and down right miserable here and with tomorrow being just a day shy of the first of April, things will have to change or I am out of here!

So, just as I thought that we might be done with warm dinners and maybe edging our way towards springtime salads and dare I say it, possibly lighting the barbecue, what happens, well the snow, rain and biting wind start again with what seems like more ferocity than we can actually remember.

This recipe, although I am not sure I can call it that, is a prayer to spring, begging for its fresh, green return - immediately.

Cabbage is one of those vegetables which I am sure I absolutely despised as a child, so much so, that my mother did not cook it very often for us and it was relegated, probably in my memory only, into one of those things which were nearly, but not worse than, boiled mince (ie. minced beef boiled with no seasoning) or semolina with tinned prunes.

I think that cabbage gets bad press generally due to the fact that boiling it makes it tender and releases sugars and therefore an aroma. However, boiling it to death, which seemed to happen a lot in many a convent and convalescent kitchen across Ireland, lead to the characteristic 'cabbage' aroma and the well known adage that it causes flatulence. As I found out, this is not the case.

This evening, I simply peeled away the firm thick curly leaves from the outside of a beautiful savoy cabbage, and continued to do so all the way in, until the leaves become flimsy, have less body and, therefore, bite.

Rinse off any grit which might be trapped in the little craters and place them in a steamer and steam for 5-6 minutes.
I could eat these on their own with a large knob of butter and some sea salt flakes. Sweet, slightly crunchy and delicious - so not really a recipe, steaming vegetables is more of an easy skill.

This evening I served the cabbage with my dauphinoise potato master recipe to which I added, sliced smoked garlic and sauteed smoked pancetta. A real winter warmer for an Irish spring!

I am going to sign off now as the lights are flickering and I might need to locate a torch ... lets hope my cabbage prayer works!

Monday, March 29, 2010

moroccan birthday brunch

I am exhausted today and have not posted for a few days as I feel like I have been cooking, or at least thinking about food since Friday....we had a birthday brunch in wheeler& co this weekend catering for 12 adults, 9 children and a few hungry stragglers....a bit of hard work but lots of fun at the same time....
On the menu was....

Lamb meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce

Carolines Sweet Potato curry

Saffron Rice

Tunisian Orange Cake
For the lamb meat balls to feed about 12 you will need:

3 lbs minced lamb

2 onions finely chopped
1 large bunch flat leaved parsley
1-2 tsp chilli powder, depending on how spicy you want them, I used 1 as the sauce is also spicy
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
sunflower oil for frying
salt and pepper

for the spicy sauce:
3 red onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 lbs de-seeded, de-skinned, chopped tomatoes
2 small birds-eye chillis, with seeds, finely chopped
2 tsp sugar
large bunch coriander, chopped
large bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
a few tblsps olive oil

For the brunch on Sunday, I made both tomato sauce and the meatballs on Saturday afternoon. This is a very easy dish if you have a little time on both days to prepare and cook.

Firstly make the spicy tomato sauce.
Heat the olive oil in the pan and fry the onions until soft and then add the garlic. Add the tomatoes, chilli, a pinch of salt and the sugar. Mix everything well and simmer until the sauce is thick and soft.
On Saturday, I placed this in the fridge.

Next the messy job - the meatballs.
Mix the minced lamb, onion, parsley, spices, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly using your hands. This is strangely satisfying! Then take a little meat mixture and roll it into small balls, a little smaller than the size of a golf ball and set them aside on a plate. The recipe amounts provide about 3-4 meatballs each, so in total about 36-48 meat balls, really depending on the size.

When you have balled all of the meat mixture, heat a thin layer of sunflower oil in the bottom of a wide frying pan and brown each meat ball on all sides. If you just manage to brown it on two sides, then that's ok also, but if they are browned on all sides they will keep their shape when in the tagine or casserole.
At this point on Saturday I placed these in an earthen-ware dish, covered tightly with cling film and place them in the bottom of the fridge.
I added chopped parsley and coriander to the tomato sauce in my large le creusset casserole dish, placed the meat balls in on top and simmered until the lamb had cooked through - this took about 25minutes. It was then ready to serve.
This can be eaten on its own with some greek yoghurt or even some eggs placed on top of the meatballs and cooked until the whites are set and the yolks are still slightly runny.

We ate this with saffron rice and plain basmati rice. The saffron rice, for 6 people, required 2 tsps saffron strands, crushed with the back of a teaspoon, 5 cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks and about 1litre of chicken stock made with cubes. Put this all into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Add 500g of basmati rice which has been rinsed in cold water. Bring the rice to the boil and reduce to a simmer. The rice is cooked when little holes form on the top. This can be put into a pyrex dish and kept in the oven for about 30 minutes before serving. I have eaten this also served with chopped roasted pistachio nuts which is also really good.
I was minus camers at this point so have no photos of the finished product...just some fat bellys which I am sure you do not want to look at!

Tunisian Orange Cake
This Tunisian Orange Cake is a Sophie Grigson recipe which is in Darina Allens 'ballymaloe cookery course' book and I make one at least once a month...it is really moist and a morning-must with a cup of strong black coffee...you will need the following to fill one 8" circular tin, which should be buttered and lined with a round of greaseproof paper:
100g Ground Almonds
200g caster sugar
50 White breadcrumbs
200 mls Sunflower oil
1.5 tsp baking powder
4 large eggs
zest of 1 large unwaxed orange, finely grated
zest of half an unwaxed lemon, finely grated
For the drizzle:
the juice of the above 1 orange
the juice of the above half lemon
75g sugar
6 cloves
1 cinnamon stick, broken in two halfs
So, easy peasy, in a large bowl mix the breadcrumbs, ground almonds, sugar and baking powder. Whisk the oil with the eggs in another bowl and then pour into the dry ingredients. Add in the zests and pour into the prepared cake tin.
Note for all of those readers used to baking cakes, the ritual of pre-heat the oven, prepare greased vessels etc., has changed. This cake is perfect for those who forget to preheat the oven as this cake goes into a cold oven!
So put the cake into the cold oven and set the heat to 180 degrees.
Bake for between 45-60 minutes until the cake is a lovely golden brown - if you stick in a cocktail stick and it comes out clean...its ready.
While it is cooking, prepare the citrus drizzle by putting all the juices, sugar and cinnamon into a saucepan and simmer for 30 mins.
Turn out onto a wire rack and flip so the top of the cake is visible.
Take your cocktail stick and prick the cake face all over.
Spoon on the syrup until it has all been absorbed into the cake and place the cloves and cinnamon stick on top for decoration.

oh and I cannot forget to mention the a Choo-choo train birthday cake... cake tin can be borrowed if anyone is interested!

Friday, March 26, 2010

20 minute supper for 2

I have been really busy this week with one thing and another so this dish is a life saver for those in the same boat - it tastes clean, fresh with a slight kick and is on the plate in about 15 minutes...
You will need:

150g Spaghetti/linguine or as much a you need
2 cloves garlic (I used spring garlic)
1 red chilli (more if you like it hotter)
1 bunch basil and 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Pinch of salt
Parmesan to serve

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Put in a large pinch of salt and a drop of olive oil (this prevents the water from boiling over).
Place enough spaghetti/linguine into the saucepan and give it a good swirl around.
Place the sliced garlic cloves into a pestle and mortar with a pinch of salt and grind into a thickish paste. Add the olive oil and mix it around.
Chop the fresh herbs finely and the chilli.

Drain the spaghetti when it is al dente and put it back into the saucepan. Pour over the garlic oil, and stir through the chopped herbs and chilli to ensure even coverage.
Season to taste and serve with some finely grated parmesan.

As a variation, you could gently stir fry some prawns in the garlic oil and add this to the dish with a few de-skinned, de-seeded and chopped fresh tomatoes. Yum!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Goodbye my angel barrista

Carly Simon sang about clouds in her coffee as an obscure metaphor for all that is confusing about life and love.
Well, this morning, there were no metaphoric clouds in my coffee, instead some nasty grey ones
swirling around the small coffeeangel mobile unit on a damp Sir John Rogerson's Quay.
It is a sad, grey day for all the regulars as today is Sam’s last day.
Sam, our chatty barrista, who ensured that the coffee van vibrated on the quayside like an après-ski bar, provided a warm and welcoming haven serving some much-needed excellent coffee and a blast in the ear from Lady Gaga.

Coffee Angel serve the best coffee in Dublin and everything about them, including the beautifully designed cups and functional compact mobile units, appeals to the coffee-appreciating designer in me. At €2.10 for a regular cappucino, it is money well spent.
They will continue to serve me excellent coffee from their little retro van but I will miss my morning chat with Sam!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

roasted fennel, tomatoes and prosciutto wrapped chicken

I know it is late and I should just do the dishes and go to bed like a normal person but I have to write before the taste in my mouth disappears and I am left trying to remember what it is like.
This is a delicious easy meal for one, two or even ten, which is ready in about 40 minutes and was made up this evening principally of vegetables which were looking lonely added to an about-to-go-out-of-date chicken breast....the result was a juicy piece of chicken on a plate of healthy vegetables bursting with flavour. This could easily be prepared on a large roasting dish and simply multiplied by the number of diners who require something good to eat.

For one, you will need:
1 organic/free range chicken breast
3 slices of prosciutto/parma ham/pancetta
10 pitted, black olives, the winkled ones
1 fennel bulb
3 tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
1 small glass of white wine

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees.

Trim the hairy, fine leaves from the fennel, finely chop them and place them in a small oven-proof dish. Quarter the fennel bulb and place in a small saucepan of boiling, salted water for ten minutes.
Take the fennel out of the water with a slotted spoon and place in the oven-proof dish. In the fennel water, place the tomatoes which you have pricked with the tip of a knife. Leave these for about five minutes until it loos as thought he skins are peeling back. Again remove with the slotted spoon and when they have cooled enough to handle, slide the skins if with your thumbs.
Quarter the tomatoes and add to the fennel.
Add the finely chopped garlic and olive oil. With your hands, gently turn the vegetables, coating them in olive oil and then spread them evenly on the bottom of the oven-proof dish. Pour in 1 glass of white wine.

Take the chicken breast and wrap in the prosciutto and place it on top of the vegetables. This will protect the exterior of the chicken from the dry heat of the oven and gives a good flavour to the juices below.

Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, slice the chicken breast into thickish slices, serve and enjoy!

oh yeah ... and for supper I had a glass of warm milk and this amazing nougat from
Pandora Bell...its called 'Honey Nougat with Hazelnuts in a Chocolate Coating' ... you should try it, its sublime.

I am off to bed now feeling content and happy again for another day, oh and those dishes can wait!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Classic Carrot Cake

Adapted from various sources including Orangette and Rachel Allen
The troops and I made this cake this evening for my friend John's birthday...we hope he likes it, he had better!
You will need:
475g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
3 tsp baking soda
1 tsp fine salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
2 tsp ground ginger
360g light brown sugar
240 mls sunflower oil
4 large eggs
300g carrots, peeled and finely grated
3 eating apples, stewed to make a puree
240g walnuts, pecans or mixed nuts (I used walnuts)

For the topping:
225g mascarpone cheese(this is approx. one tub, take straight from the fridge)
55g unsalted butter
300g icing sugar
3tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees

Grease and line 2 x 9" round cake tins and line their bottoms with greaseproof paper and grease the paper again. Butter is fine for greasing.

In a large, clean bowl add the sieved flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Which this well to ensure all the dry ingredients are mixed together.
Stew the apples slowly in a little water with the lid on to make a thin unsweetened apple puree.

Using the beaters, beat the sugar and oil until it is well mixed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well in between. Add the apple puree to the mixture.
Then beat in the flour mix a little at a time.
You will have to stop the process every so often to scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure that you have an even mix. When all the ingredients have been fully incorporated, stir in gently the walnuts/mixed nuts and the carrots.

Divide the batter equally between the cake tins, leaving a few centimetres at the top to allow it room to rise.

Place the tins in the oven and bake for 30 minutes - you will know it is done if you insert a knife and it comes out clean.

When you feel that they are ready, take them out of the oven and leave them on a heat proof surface for 10-15 minutes until they are just cool enough to handle. Turn each tin upside down onto a wire cooling rack and gently peel off the greaseproof paper.

Now make the topping:

In the mixing bowl, beat the butter and the cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add the icing sugar and beat on a low speed until its all mixed through. Then add the vanilla essence and lemon juice, tasting as you go. Keep beating on a high speed until all the lumps are removed. Do not be afraid, nothing will happen to this - you will not end up with butter!

When the sponges are completely cold, place on on a cake stand and spread the icing over the top with a knife.
The above recipe will give you two sponges which you can, if you like, layer on top of one another using a layer of icing in the middle to glue them together. Then spread the topping all over the sponge so that no sponge is visible.

You can decorate as you please, maybe with chopped nuts or halved walnuts.

I have not iced my cake yet and will do it tomorrow so at the minute the sponge can be wrapped tightly in cling film and kept in a cool, dry cupboard for a few days before icing. Once iced, keep refrigerated, if it lasts that long!

Happy Birthday John!

Monday, March 22, 2010


After my delightful delivery of organic fruit and vegetables from the organic supermarket on Friday I have been trying to work my way through all of it to ensure that nothing is wasted.
To get right down to business I used a lovely medium sized cauliflower head, earthy carrots, medium dry potatoes and some green beans to make an extra veggie aloo gobi.
You will need:
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 medium cauliflower head, in small florets
a handful of green beans, trimmed and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and cubed
2 tsp sunflower oil
1 tsp cumin seeds, whole
1 tsp cumin seeds, ground to a fine powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
salt to taste
coriander leaves, chopped, to serve on top

I used a large shallow frying pan with a lid for this dish. A large casserole dish will also work - the lid is necessary to trap the steam which will cook the vegetables without the need for a lot of liquid. The vegetables should be steamed rather than boiled.

In the pan heat the oil and add the cumin seeds and heat until they begin to pop a little and release their pungent smell. The add the chopped onion and soften for a few minutes.
Add the rest of the spices and cook for a few minutes until the onions are well coated in spices.
Add the cauliflower and potatoes and a generous sprinkling of salt.

Stir around and bring the vegetables to a low even heat throughout. Put on the lid and let the vegetables sweat in their own juices. If you find that the mix is a little dry, then add a small cup of water to ensure that the vegetables steam. Keep stirring every 2-3 minutes to make sure it does not stick to the bottom.

I cook this slowly and it takes a good 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your florets and the potato cubes, but when both are tender to the point of a knife, then you are ready to serve.
This delicious vegetarian dish was served this evening with naan bread and some natural yoghurt.

I also made some lemon oil which is a refreshing kick if a little is added to the top.

Crush 1 clove of garlic and blend to a paste in a pestle and mortar with some rock salt. Add about 4 tblsps of olive oil, 1-2 tblsps of freshly squeezed lemon juice and salt and pepper to you own taste and whisk together vigorously.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

the winding stair to a sunny sunday evening

I did not post a blog yesterday mainly because we had a day out with cork grannie in Greystones, Co. Wicklow and there was a disappointing game of rugby to be watched and a rather uplifting dinner to be had - in all, a busy weekend.

Renovations are imminent in the household, they have been for about five years, but it seems like this summer is the summer and things are going to happen (I will not be holding my breath)
Excitingly this means planning a new kitchen, well almost - the old kitchen will be recycled in its entirety and it will be brought into the new millennium by adding a dish washer - the excitement of it all ... what will I do without my daily hypno-therapy of hot water, fairy liquid and my rubber gloves! More on the renovations will come later.

Anyway as part of the renovations we went to Greystones to check out some wood burning stoves and the like - all very interesting until I spotted the aga at almost 7,000 euro - what a bargain!
Anyway to cut a long begging-chant-to-no-avail short, we all needed lunch and headed to A.Caviston, on the main street in Greystones. A sunny outside table beckoned and 'the hairy one' headed into choose for everyone. After a minor disaster which involved 'the hairy one' coming out with a tray full of food and 'the smallest one' knocking over the entire food-laden table...and after we ordered and were served a second time, we eventually sat down to a very tasty, healthy reasonably priced (36 euro for 5 substantial lunches), calm lunch. A.Caviston also has wonderful fish, cheese and meat counters and it is beside the ubiquitous Happy Pear organic market - a foodie paradise in the heart of the village.

After a brisk walk on the beach it was back to town and home for the evening and by a miracle of a happy husband and a visiting grannie, I managed to, not only get out to watch the match in a pub, with adults and without my children, I also managed to go out for dinner in a really good restaurant - I do love the hairy one a lot for this, he's great!

We booked a table for four at The Winding Stair just over the Halfpenny bridge in Dubin city centre and what a nice time we had...Kerry prawns on toast with garlic, lemon and mixed leaves...hot dressed crab with toasted soda...Kilkeel hake fillet with lemon and parsely mash, cockles and mussels and Dublin Bay prawn bisque....do I need to say any more, amazing and well worth a visit!

So anyway after a weekend of consumption I decided this evening to make gratin dauphinoise as it is really simple, light and tasty but gives a warm glow and is my perfect Sunday evening treat.

This is mostly served as a side dish to a main course, but I really like it on its own for when you don't want a lot to eat but are in the mood for something that tastes really good....

For two people, you will need:

4 large potatoes, waxy-ish, peeled
1 garlic clove, smoked if you have it
1 egg
300ml of cream or a combination of milk and cream - the healthier option
freshly ground nutmeg
1 large knob of butter
parsley for serving

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees.

In a shallow oven-proof dish rub butter and garlic around the base of the dish.
Finely slice the potatoes and layer them flat on the base of the dish to cover it. Grate a small amount of nutmeg onto the top of the first layer. Add another layer of potatoes and again sprinkle a little nutmeg to the top of the layer. Do this for about 2 layers and no more as the nutmeg can be a little over-powering.
Layer the rest of the potatoes.
In a jug, mix the egg with a little milk and a pinch of salt.
Heat the 300ml of milk in a saucepan until warm and add this to the egg mix.
Pour the egg/milk/cream mix onto the potatoes until the potatoes are just but not quite covered.

Put it in the oven for approx. 45 minutes or until the potatoes are tender to a knife tip. You may want to protect the top of the potatoes with a piece of foil towards the end of cooking to prevent them burning.
Season if necessary, top with parsley and serve. Yummm.....

Note in the photograph it looks a bit eggy - I used two eggs in this recipe which was a bit much so I would advise using one per 300ml of liquid required. I also served this with a few shavings of comte because it was in the fridge ... gruyere would also be fine. You can also add diced bacon, sauteed mushrooms and onion to this dish and although you are moving away from true dauphinoise, it also makes a super sunday supper.

Friday, March 19, 2010

cork grannie's casserole

Cork grannie, as she is fondly known, arrived this evening for the weekend.
Grannies come in all different shapes and sizes and as all good grannies should be, this one is country-born and bred, shes warm and cuddly and enjoys simple home cooked food.
We love her ... she loves us ... and both we and she loved this chicken casserole......its another one pot wonder but tastes really good, especially followed by a game of monopoly!

Tonight this recipe served 3 adults, 2 children with a portion left over...so long as you have a decent amount of chicken per person - (maybe, without insulting anyone, 1 breast for ladies and 1 breast + 1 leg for men) , it does not really matter about the remainder of the quantities.

5 free-range/organic chilcen breasts, on the bone, skin on
3 free range/organic chicken legs, with the skin on
some butter or oil for sauteeing
2 garlic cloves, crushed (I used smoked garlic this evening but plain is fine also)
10 slices of good quality smoked streaky bacon, cut into small pieces
6 large carrots, cut in quarters or 10 small whole carrots
3 medium onions, quartered or 10 small onions whole
500ml chicken stock (homemeade is best but I also use swiss vegetable buillon or an organic chicken stock)
1 small bunch of fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)

Preheat your oven to 180/gas 4 Season well each chicken piece with salt and pepper.
In a frying pan, melt a little butter and a little drop of oil and fry the bacon pieces until they are crispy. Place these in a heavy bottomed casserole with lid.
In the same pan, brown each chicken piece, two or three at a time and transfer them to the casserole. Note dont let the pan burn but bear in mind that too cool a pan will not sautee the chicken and crisp the skin in the desired way. Add the carrots and onions and garlic and sweat the vegetables for a few minutes in juices which remain in the pan. Add the vegetables to the casserole. Place the casserole on the cooker hob and heat gently, adding the 500ml of chicken stock. When the stock is bubbling, put the lid on and place the casserole into the oven for 35-45 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
When the time is up, take it out of the oven and take out each individual chicken piece, placing them into a serving dish. Strain the liquid and add the vegetables to the chicken.
You will be left now with a herby liquid which should have the fat removed. I use a fat-removing jug (unfortunately only for liquids). You can also add ice cubes to the liquid which will cool it down rapidly, with the fat floating to the top which can then be skimmed off.
If you like you can reheat the liquid as it is and pour it over the chicken and serve.
If you would like it a little thicker you can add a roux (melt two large knobs of butter in a small saucepan and add an equal quantity of flour - cook for 2-3 minutes). You have now produced roux which will thicken any sauce. Add to the cooking liquid and heat through. Pour over the chicken and serve.
My mother makes this recipe slightly differently but with equally good effect - she seasons flour at the beginning of the recipe, rolls the chicken pieces in the flour and browns them like this. The flour on the chicken skin then thickens the liquid while cooking. This is a good time saver and saves you straining and decanting etc.
I have also on occasion added mushrooms and also peeled, new potatoes which bulk it up a little bit more, although tonight I boiled some separately and served them.
This looks best served sprinkled with chopped parsley, but we didnt have any!

This was a lovely family tea this evening which everyone, young and old, ate 'rump and stump'.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

a soothing dinner to focus the mind

This recipe is by Jamie Oliver which I cut out of a Sunday magazine about four years ago.
I made it maybe twice, then subsequently lost the recipe and have improvised ever since, without it having any detrimental culinary effects.

It takes about half an hour of prep., and the same again to cook using only one large pan and this recipe fed three very hungry punters this evening with second and third helpings.

You will need:
4 large cod fillets…one for each person plus a bit extra if you're hungry, bones removed
400g ripe red cherry tomatoes , cut in half
Small bunch of basil with extra for decoration
Oregano - better with some fresh leaves or not the end of the world with 1 tsp of dried oregano
About 100g pitted black olives, the plump greasy ones (not the jarred taut ones which taste of battery acid)
1/2 yellow courgette (optional and green is also good)
3 tblsp balsamic vinegar
3 tblsp capers
2 small red onion,finely sliced
2 cloves garlic
2 bulbs of fennel, very finely sliced
2 tblsp olive oil

Firstly prepare the cod fillets (note this is not difficult and I am worried that you will think that is too complicated and not bother - but it is worth the little extra effort)
Put the cod fillets on a plate and sprinkle with sea salt, cover and put in the fridge.
This will remove any excess moisture from the cod and give it a firm texture as cod can be very delicate. This can be prepared either the night before or as little as an hour before service.
When you are ready to cook the cod, brush all the salt off. Bear in mind that the olives and capers are salty and this combination can be too intense - I found this out the hard way the last time by nearly poisoning my diners. I now tend to give the cod a very quick rinse under a cold tap and pat dry. This way will ensure that all excess salt is removed.
Then with a very sharp knife, score the skin in equal cuts.
In a shallow pan, heat 2 tblsp of olive oil and pan fry the cod, skin side down for about 4-5 minutes.
Remove each fillet and set aside. You will be placing each fillet into the sauce face down (skin side up) and you will want one side of it almost cooked through so you do not turn it in the pan.

In a large shallow open pan heat the olive oil and saute the onions, garlic and fennel for about 5-7 minutes until they are slightly soft. Then add the chopped tomatoes and the balsamic vinegar and let the mixture bubble slightly until the tomatoes have softened and the fennel has cooked a little more.Add the black olives and capers and continue to cook slowly for another few minutes.

Take each cod fillet and place, skin side up, into the hot vegetable sauce. Simply let this cook slowly until the fish is cooked through. When done, the fish will be opaque and will flake easily without being dry. This should not take more than 4-5 minutes.
To serve, warm the plates and spoon some of the vegetable sauce onto the plate and carefully place a fillet of cod on each one. Spoon some more tomato and vegetables over the top and sprinkle with torn basil leaves.
This is delicious served with crusty bread which has been sprinkled with olive oil, baked in a hot oven for 5 minute and then, upon oven-exit, rubbed with the cut-face of a clove of garlic.

Tonight, as I knew my diners were hungry, I added a few cooked new potatoes which were left over from my sons tea...this is perhaps not entirely true to the provencale tradition but its good and both seconds and thirds were eaten and the pan scraped. What more could a cook wish for?

... a perfect meal for a summers evening with a glass of wine - can't you tell that after one day of warm weather in Wicklow I am urging the country towards summer via food telepathy!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

al fresco dining in ireland.. in march!

Wheeler&Co was closed today...it is after all a public holiday in Ireland.
The clan set out for Wicklow this morning and arrived to find a garden with the first buds of spring on the branches, a lawn of delicate crocuses and miniature daffodils waking up in a balmy 12 degrees...I can officially say that spring has arrived in Ireland.
Mount Usher Gardens in Ashford, Co. Wicklow cannot be celebrated enough. At all times of the year this garden typifies all that is great about the Irish weather..it wears its seasons on its sleeve without this in-between non-descript weather that we all think that we have - we do have seasons, you just need to know where to find them! At the minute I manage to cultivate no more than a few sprigs of parsley on my rooftop and, as this is in no way a mirror for the seasons, perhaps that's why I am so enraptured by visiting real gardens.
Anyway aside from my failings as a gardener, Mount Usher is pretty fantastic.
An added bonus is that you can eat really well there without breaking the bank, and today it was warm enough to sit on their lawn and have lunch.
The cafe is run by Avoca and I am a good solid supporter of this particular venture. The food is really good, much better than their effort in Powerscourt but I wont get into that now - it will take another bad lunch and an entire post to deal with this mess and the significant stress!
Anyway if you are considering a jaunt to Wicklow, my advice is to drive that extra twenty minutes and go to Mount Usher...better food (did I mention that?) and the garden is organic, wild and beautiful without feeling too tended and precious. Go there soon, it will be worth your while.
As Wheeler& Co had a rare day off there are no recipes but I am planning fish for tomorrow's tea so stay tuned. In the meantime I will leave you with a little taste of springtime from Co. Wicklow.

This beech hedge is something else....horticulturally, aesthetically and of course architecturally!
Oh and there is nothing better than 16 year old scampi!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

post-work, boys tea, pre-dinner snack and the beast

So home from work at 4.45pm.....6pm the children have had their tea of penne with ragu (made just before midnight last night)...both enjoying it enormously due to several hours swimming around clontarf with jojo telling me that when he jumped into the pool, he went under water and touched the bottom before coming back up...he is not yet four years old...but thankfully is in very safe hands on a daily basis.
6.30pm, 'the hairy one' arrives home wanting to know if there is a snack....
Wheeler&Co quickly rustles up Dittys Oatcakes with Monte Enebro goats cheese and maybe if your'e lucky it will be served with a glass of 'whatever is open'.....and there's just enough time to take a photo of 'my favourite cheese of the moment' in all its damp glory before it disappears.

8.30pm and the boys are in bed sleeping off their large tea and tired limbs...tomorrow is st patricks day so a holiday for us in dublin - this is somewhat confusing for all concerned to have a day off mid-week, Wednesday, but I will not complain.

I have just made a kind of muffin sludge with chocloate chunks and a bit of orange peel, all ready to throw into the oven for 20mins in the morning, so that maybe, maybe, I can have a peaceful cup of coffee on the terrace before the challenges of the day hit like a train.
I made some test ones which lasted about five minutes after the hairy one announces that he is glad that i am using the beast...the cheek of it .... this is used more than he will ever know....this is my heavy-weight fighter that no other will beat .... i will have this until I die and will bequeath it to my sons, or possible future daughter - doesnt it look mean!

ok back to the produce...batter and test mini-muffins....i call these mini-muffins as I can find no muffin cases....I suspect that they have been used in some day-time art activity.
I have chopped up a bar of rather nice chocolate for this rather than use chocolate chips...the small dark bitter rabbit dropping-like chocolate drop(ing)s sold in most major supermarkets are rancid, horrible and should not be ingested, no matter what the occasion.
Take mostly the heel of your best sharp and weighty knife and chop your own, diagonally and then diagonally again, et voila chocloate chunks.

Mix up the batter (this will make 12, double for 24!), consisting of:
150g plain flour
75g porridge oats,
200ml milk
2 tsp baking soda,
a pinch salt
175ml sunflower oil
150g brown sugar
one egg
1 tsp vanilla essence
peel of several oranges(maybe 2 large ones)
75g sultanas (optional but they are good)
75g chocolate bits

Combine the flour, porridge oats, sugar, baking soda, egg, milk, sugar and oil in 'the beast' or similar and mix slowly and rythmically for about fifteen minutes. You will have an unattractively thin and lumpy batter but this is the desired result. When you are satisfied that all ingrediants have been combined and are well mixed, fold/stir in slowly the chocolate and the orange peel.
(Ideally!) Put in muffin cases, leaving about 1cm from the rim for the morning glory.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until firm, golden brown and satisfied with themselves.
I am looking forward to coffee in the morning with one of these.....

sweet potato, spinach and chickpea curry for four

My friend Caroline gave me this recipe recently. It makes a really nice vegetarian curry and its great with basmati rice, or simply a good crunchy green salad and some naan bread.

You will need:
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
5 cardamon pods
2 tsp coriander seeds
5 cloves
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 small red onion, finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 small chillis, seeds included, finely sliced
1 cinnamon stick, snapped in two
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tins chopped tomatoes
400g chickpeas (pre-cooked are fine)
250g natural yoghurt

300g spinach

Firstly in a small saucepan, roast all the spices until they begin to pop and you the smell the heady aroma. Let them cool slightly and then with a pestle and mortar crush them into a rough grainy mound(see photo above).
Put the oil in the bottom of a heavy cast-iron casserole dish or heavy bottomed saucepan (one with a lid) and place over a medium heat. Add the sliced onion, chopped chilli and garlic and the cinnamon stick pieces and sauté the onions for about three minutes. Add the ground spices and cook for a further two minutes. Add the diced pieces of sweet potato and sweat for a few minutes. Add the two tins of chopped tomatoes. Place the lid on and let it simmer slowly for about 15-20mins until the sweet potato is cooked through. Then stir in the yoghurt and let it warm through. Finally add the spinach leaves and stir through the hot curry until they have wilted.

Looks a bit messy but tastes great - serve with basmati rice with a side of natural yoghurt.

Tip of the day : The sweet potato in this recipe can be substituted with butternut squash also.