Thursday, May 13, 2010

the bags are packed

Its late, the bags are packed, the goodbyes have been said, the children asleep, my fridge seems weirdly cavernous for something so small - my kitchen is devoid of perishables, all things fresh have been donated and given a new home. 
I will be out of touch for a few days until I get a connection from Berlin to the outside world....I will miss you but I am sure to be brimful of news on my return.

Oh yeah and check these trees out, I am putting them here as my last fond memory of the Docklands, I passed them today on my bike ... they were the tree of choice of bridge architect, Santiago Calatrava, these are planted on the south campshire just west of the new Samuel Beckett bridge ... I think these are kind of cool, if a little odd, they resemble something out of a wacky Dr Zeuss book!
Goodbye Dublin for now

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

a non-kitchen day

I can say that it does not happen very often that I do not have a day where I do not set foot into my kitchen.  Today was one of those days ... except that I think, in my sleepy haze, I made the boys their porridge this morning, but that doesn't really count!  Point being I did not cook a thing today.

It has been a little manic here at wheelerandcompany to say the least with a large number of things to be done in preparation for our departure, lunches with friends included.

So today, I had very close to the perfect burger at Dillinger's in Ranelagh.
A few points on the surroundings though.
A retro feel to the place was welcome but the decibel reading I am sure was way over what was comfortable.  This is a particular annoyance of mine - as an architect I know that it cannot be so entirely difficult to achieve but that a restaurant cannot get the acoustic balance correct ... I mean you come to a restaurant not exclusively for food, but to meet, converse and reacquaint yourself with people who you haven't seen in a while - talking being the most popular form of communication.  So why is this fundamental issue of acoustics so overlooked almost everywhere? 

Anyway I am not really grumbling about the place - it has this retro, New York bistro bustle about it which adds to its charm.
To make up for all the shouting I had to do, I had an almost perfect burger, which I can say completely shut me up! 
The char grilled stripes on the succulent, well-cooked, perfectly flavoured meat came with full garnish of lettuce, pickle, cheese, bacon and tomato all snuggled into a soft sesame bun.  This is giving Herb Street burger a good run for its money, although I still think that Herb Streets pips it at the post by a margin due to the fact that I can eat a Herb Street burger in my hands without sacrificing the bun.  It does take a slow twenty minutes to delicately manoeuvre the burger and bun into bite-position.  Dillinger's burger, if you like to be polite in company, does require a knife and fork.

Nevertheless, a very worthwhile burger and at 14.50, not bad considering I barely ate for the rest of the day!

By the looks of the menu they have a nice selection of vegetarian and seafood dishes.  It's on my list of places to explore further. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

an egg-courgette-pepper supper

With the impending long trip to Berlin approaching rapidly (ash cloud permitting), I am trying to decide what to pack ... just looking at my trusty culinary friends on the bookshelf is making me homesick already.  There is no conceivable way that I can take them all, but I what if I need one? Perhaps it is time to cut the ties of reliance to cookery books and go solo, god knows I have enough knowledge by now, but those pages speckled with juices and crusty bits are going to be sorely missed.
I am also forcing myself to steer clear of all food shops and make an attempt to concoct dinner from what is left in the fridge.  This is not proving too difficult so far as I have in my possession about a pound of delicious ripe tomatoes, two courgettes, two peppers, some Parmesan, a dozen eggs, and some streaky smoked well as several half eaten jars of mustard, German senf for Weisswurst, branston pickle and hp sauce to name but a few essential condiments.
So tonight as the courgettes are hatching a plan to go soft and sad tomorrow, I will foil their plans and make courgette and mixed pepper omelette.  
I have to register right here and now that eggs are my favourite food above all others, they are so diverse and provide a hearty base to all things wonderful ... omelettes, french toast, scotch eggs, eggs benedict, soft boiled on left-over fried potatoes ... I feel secure in my kitchen if it is home to a few organic free range eggs, the possibilities are endless and no-one will go hungry.

For a delicious courgette omelette for one, you will need:

2 medium eggs
1/2 small firm courgette
1/4 red pepper, finely sliced
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1 knob of butter
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, finely grated
In a small non stick frying pan, melt the butter and add the courgette slices.  Cook until the start to turn golden, turn them over and do the same on the other side.  With a slotted spoon, remove the courgette and place them on a piece of kitchen paper to remove any excess fat.  Add the pepper slices and spring onion and saute these until they soften.  Remove and set alongside the courgette.

Beat the two eggs in a bowl adding a little salt and pepper.
Add another small knob of butter to the pan and pour in the egg.  Pull a little of it away from the base of the pan so that it clumps together in the middle and the liquid replaces the circular shape of the omelette.  When all the egg has almost cooked, add the courgette, the peppers and sprinkle over the Parmesan.  You can either finish it off on the grill or leave it on the hob for a few minutes.

Serve with some chopped parsley or chives and a glass of cold white wine....a delicious mid-week supper for one.

Now, back to lamenting over those recipe books.....

Monday, May 10, 2010

spatchcock chicken for a summer barbeque, or in the rain, a summer oven

There is nothing I love more than a roast chicken.  The crispy skin and the smell that fills the house could nearly make me cry.  This method is great for cooking chicken during the summer on the barbecue but also if you fancy a change to your regular roast bird - also I love the messing with the marinade as the combinations are endless.  In my house the boys love the brown leg meat and when you butterfly it, you expose all of the thigh to the heat and it is no longer partially tucked under the main body of the bird, thus providing a crispy skin and delicate leg meat - very popular with three year olds.
To spatchcock a bird, anything from quail to poussin or chicken, means to remove the backbone, thus enabling the bird to spread out into a flat, albeit divided piece of meat.  It is perfect for the barbeque as the bird is flat against the heat and thus cooks much better.

Tonight I marinated a medium sized chicken after it had been spatchcocked.  The marinade is not a fixed affair and I added what fresh herbs I had.  It is best marinaded for at least one hour prior to cooking.

For the marinade:

A large bunch of herbs - I used sage, thyme, marjoram, parsley, chives, basil
1 juicy clove of garlic
3 tblsps of olive oil
2 large knobs, approx. 45g butter
juice of half a lemon

In a small blender combine all the ingredients until you have a fine herb butter.  The oil prevents it from burning and the lemon ensures a tender meat.

To spatchcock the bird:

OK, I know this looks terrible but take a good sturdy pair of kitchen (or maybe garden) scissors/shears and cut out the backbone and sternum of one medium/large organic chicken.  You need to cut through the bone to the left and right of the backbone un til it comes away in your hand.  This is much easier than it sounds.  Push it down onto a roasting tin and it will lie flat on a pan almost like it has collapsed and fallen asleep.  It is spread out like a butterfly.

The good thing about this is that if you are pressed for time, a butterflied chicken will cook much faster than a whole chicken.  Smear the butter (retaining some) over the breast/skin side of the bird and set aside to marinade for at least an hour.  When you are ready to cook it, preheat your oven to 200 degrees (or add to  the barbeque) and in a hot pan, brown the skin of the meat of the chicken, place on a roasting tray and put in the the oven. 

Roast in the oven at 200 degrees for about 1 hour.  To check if it ready, investigate a leg to see if the juices run clear and there is no blood.

We ate this with a delicious tomato and mozzarella salad, the taste of pure summer ...  even though it was only 10 degrees, wet and cold today. 
After my first day as a full time mother, I feel a bit like lying down to sleep, a bit  like my spatchcocked bird!,

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Dalkey Island days

The sun shone in Dublin all weekend, although it was a cool 12 degrees, the full strength of our spring sunshine felt wonderful.  Approaching Dalkey Island the sounds of the sun-bathing seals greeted us, the smell of the spring green sea, the seaweed drying in the heat ... it was perfect. Tipping all ten children out of the boat onto the grass to let them run free on the rocky shoreline was the best feeling, just being able to give them that freedom from the city felt good - exploring the crevices, climbing on the coloured rocks, digging for treasure ...  it brought back all those fond memories of my own shore-side upbringing.

We somehow managed to transport a mountain of food, an entire barbecue, a kite, seating, bedding and a lot more onto the island to enjoy a great afternoon of college friends and family fun.
The now infamous scotch eggs got another outing, some went to relieve the hunger pangs on the train to cork, the rest went to Dalkey Island, neither came back.

                                            wrapped scotch eggs to eat on the Cork train

I made a summer salad which was great to transport as it did not wilt and looked very presentable even after a hot half-hour car journey and a cool ten minute boat trip.  I took care not to label it a Greek salad because it is not really a true Greek salad, and given Ireland's current financial relationship with Greece,  I did want people to eat it! 

You will need:

some ripe, colourful tomatoes, sliced
about 6 radishes, sliced finely
12 oily, black Provencale olives, pitted
barrel aged feta
5 spring onions, chopped finely
a handful of mint leaves
3 tblsps extra virgin olive oil

Feta is key to this salad as it adds a lovely dry-ish texture to the tomatoes and the crunch of the radishes, the you get the hit of one of the olives...its great.
This made a side salad for about 8 adults.  Adjust the quantities as you like.

The Feta
I bought the Greek feta from Fallon & Byrne - it is a barrel-aged feta and the production process lasts about two months. It begins with pasteurized milk from local herds of sheep and goats that graze freely on pastures near the dairy. Greek regulations require that feta be at least 70 percent sheep's milk, with the remainder goat's milk. Sheep's milk is richer and more desirable, but sheep are shy producers, so supplementing with goat's milk is allowed.  I do not know the exact percentage of sheep/goats milk in this particular one that I bought but I will find out as it is very tasty and I will buy it again

The Tomatoes

I used a mixture of tomatoes for this, the small cherry tomatoes on the vine, some large beef tomatoes, some green zebras with the little yellow stripes, a few yellow ones and some regular sized on the vine - they were like a strange collection of heirloom tomatoes from a grannies garden, but the variety of colours and shapes look great on a plate.

To assemble:
Slice the larger tomatoes, half the cherry tomatoes and arrange in a bowl.  Mix through the radish slices, the spring onions and the black olives.  Drizzle over the olive oil and toss together with the mint leaves and a little salt and black pepper.

Serve and enjoy.  We ate this today with delicious beef burgers speckled with little chunks of mozzarella, some really sweet king prawns all cooked to perfection on the barbecue, under the not so pale Irish sunshine with the happy sound of children's shrieks and happy laughter ...  a really great day out.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

my new matroyska dolls

When I was ordering the great chinese lanterns online last week I saw these and just couldn't resist them.  I have some traditional painted matroyska dolls but when I saw these in white, the architect-minimalist in me just had to have them ... They are so pretty and useful too - they measure american cup sizes of 1/3 of a cup right up to 1 cup ... I am debating whether to take my weighing scales with me to Berlin, but as these fit into one another and are super compact, perhaps I will convert my recipes for the summer!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Auf Wiedersehen Miss Pecan Pie

There is change in the wind here in Dublin….I have just three days of full time '9-5' work left and it is with great joy and celebration that, for the first time in ten years, I will become a full-time mother and housewife.  My son starts school in September and, although unfortunately we will have to set our wonderful, inventive, patient and kind childminder free, I am looking forward to spending time with my boys, enjoying their day and doing all manner of cool things which they seem do on a daily basis.  Not to mention all the cooking I will be able to do at a more sociable time of the day ... like making fresh morning scones, dinosaur cookies, French toast, all things that just cannot be made at nine o' clock at night – the list is endless and my enthusiasm is greater than ever.

The other very exciting thing that is about to happen is that the boys and I are going to Berlin for the summer – the flights are booked, the list has started…I am really excited about this as my previous trips to Berlin are never longer than four or five days which, quite frankly, is not at all long enough for the type of exploration that such a dynamic and eventful city deserves.  I have not, for example, visited Rogacki on Wilmersdorferstrasse – this is something of a major thing for a foodie like me to miss out on – with over 150 types of cheese, over 200 varieties of cured meat, smoked fish etc... it has been open since 1928 so I imagine it will be there for another few weeks until I get out there.

I am looking forward to Wednesdays and Saturdays at the colourful market in Karl-August Platz, the amazing food floor in KaDeWe, the myriad of bulging Russian shops like the Rossiya fruit shop under the Charlottenburg S-Bahn bridge which has apparently been expanded to include a pelmeni and piroggi bar serving all sorts of wild and wonderful, sweet and savoury dumplings, the Franziskushofladen on Mommsenstrasse,  the great children's play park at SavignyPlatz, and this is just Charlottenburg! I will be trawling through my favourite Berlin info site, BerlinReified, for delightful references and rapturous things to see…
I will of course miss my wonderful husband who will be coming only at weekends initially, but the beauty of this blog is that he will get a glimpse of our day in Berlin!

There is one problem though ... I am only going for a few months so it really is not possible to transport the kitchen sink!  I am currently having to deal with the prospect of not having my closest kitchen friends with me, my Kitchenaid, my deadly knife collection, my prized digital weighing scales...what will I do?  So I cannot promise a lot of accurately weighed home-baking, and as a result I will go into precision-baking overdrive for a few weeks before I go.

Tonight I made a deliciously, not-so-sweet, maple and pecan tart....

For the sweet short crust pastry base, you will need:

200g plain flour, sieved
110 g unsalted butter, straight from the fridge and diced
1 tblsp icing sugar
0.5-1 egg. beaten

To make the base, follow the directions and photos on my previous post for the lovely lemon tart.

For the filling, you will need:
100g light moscovado sugar
110g butter, at room temperature
110g mejool dates, stoned and finely chopped
zest and juice of half an unwaxed lemon
100 mls maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 organic eggs
300g pecan nuts, crush 250g of them in a coarse dry mix, keep the other 50g for decoration

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees and have a piece of greaseproof paper handy.
Place the sugar and butter into a bowl and mix with beaters until they are soft, creamy.  Then add the vanilla extract, lemon zest and juice and the eggs and beat again until everything is well combined.  The mixture might be slightly lumpy but this does not matter.  Add the maple syrup and dates and mix slowly until blended.  Then add about 250g of the ground pecan nuts.

The mixture will now look like a lumpy, cold bowl of porridge.
Pour it into the blind-baked pastry case and decorate until your heart is content with halved pecans - the fun bit!
Put in the oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes.

Have a peek, and, if your pecans are starting, like mine were, to turn a dark shade of black, place the greaseproof paper over the top - this will protect the nuts but cook the rest of the pie.  Cook for a further 10 minutes.

Turn it out onto a wire cooling rack and when cold transfer to a serving dish.  

Cream, eat, enjoy, cry if you like, this is really good and just as I like it, not sickly-sweet and who cares if it is nearly midnight, this is worth it!

Monday, May 3, 2010

green soup for a green face and goodbye to the old house

After a fantastic party on the North Antrim coast which ran into the small hours of this morning, there were a few ropey looking relations tenderly emerging to take in a breath of that healthy fresh air that blows around up there, myself included.
The most I could manage, after my long drive back to Dublin at midday, was to stay indoors feeling slightly sorry for myself, and make some soup as a cure.
For green soup in a green bowl to match a green face, you will need :

1 onion, finely chopped
1 knob of butter and a drop of oil
1 head of broccoli, broken in to florets
3 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
500ml home-made chicken stock (or vegetable bouillon)
2 cloves of garlic
50ml milk
sea salt and freshly milled black pepper to taste
1 green bowl

In a heavy based saucepan, melt the butter and heat the oil.  Add the onions and fry for five minutes until they have caramelised.  Add the garlic and fry for another few minutes.  Then add the potato and broccoli and sweat for a few minutes until it is a beautiful bright green colour.  Add the stock and simmer on a very low heat until the vegetables are cooked tender and no more - care should be taken here not to overcook the broccoli. 

Blend to a fine silky soup adding a little milk to thin it down if necessary.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  This also tastes good with a crumbled blue cheese, maybe Fourme d'Ambert, on top.
You will feel instantly better!

Step 2 in the road to recovery is to eat bacon, a fried egg and some HP sauce.

I have to mention the canapes which were made for the party last night also.  Everyone made something to bring, so we had lots of delicious nibbles.  Note also the book which my mother unearthed from her vintage collection of cook books much to my brothers and my delight - this is a classic if every I saw one!

It was just so great to have all our family and friends together to celebrate the old house before its imminent demolition.  It will be a sad day to see it  go as it has seen the rearing of two families, has witnessed many tears, mostly of laughter and some from sadness,  it has been host to innumerable parties (the Wheelers can certainly not be accused of not knowing how to enjoy themselves), the door was always open day and night ...may its spirit live on!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

hotel new york chocolate pots

We had a sporty, active Saturday with the boys in rainy Dublin today . A trip to the national aquatic centre, a run on the beach, a cycle in the park, a trip to the bookshop, with all activities interspersed with heavy, heavy rain, in fact hail at one point ... our mood however was not dampened ..... to drive away the bad weather and give us a little burst of energy, I made some delicious little chocolate pots which went down so quickly, I barely got a chance to photograph them!

You will need:
85g good quality dark chocolate, I used Green & Blacks 72% cocoa
1 tblsp Green & Blacks drinking chocolate
1/2 tsp ground coffee
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
2 egg whites
1 tblsp golden caster sugar
50g full fat Greek yoghurt

Ok, so my mother made these a few days ago using milk chocolate and they turned out great, so this morning, over coffee on the phone, she called out her recipe. All fine, sounds easy.
After I had made these, and they were busy solidifying in the fridge, I realised, while re-reading my scrawl of the recipe, that I had omitted to add the Greek yoghurt. My son, who was waiting in the wings dreaming of chocolate, volunteered to just try them to see if they were, they were amazing, light, dreamy ... a perfect little cup of chocolaty goodness, no need for Greek yoghurt.
All you have to do is ...

In a small bowl, over a pan of simmering water, place the chocolate pieces and let them melt. Take off the heat and add the drinking chocolate, vanilla extract and the coffee powder. Now, against your natural instincts, add 2 tablespoons of cold water and stir this into the melted liquid.  It will at this point do what you might expect - turn into a pasty, not so nice, thick chocolate sludge.  Place the bowl back over the hot water and ensure that everything is melted.  Now add 2 tablespoons of boiling water and stir like mad until everything is smooth and silky. This will happen, I assure you. Now leave it to cool.
Next, in a large-ish mixing bowl, add the 2 egg whites and the tablespoon of caster sugar. With a balloon whisk, mix until the egg is light and peaky.
Add the cooled chocolate sauce and beat again with the balloon whisk until it is all combined. At this point you could add your Greek yoghurt (maybe next time!).


Spoon into individual ramekins or little espresso cups. Chill for at least two hours.
Just before serving, decorate with fresh raspberries, a little sprig of mint and some icing sugar.

The beauty of these is that they can be made well before a dinner party and are quick, easy and impressive ... also for children, I would recommend using good quality milk chocolate and leaving out the caffeine!