Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dinner in the 'Garden'

Wheeler and Company had a rather premature al fresco dinner in our garden this evening - with the new (to us) sunlight streaming in the downstairs window, our basement patio was flooded warmth and brightness which was too much to resist.  So, ignoring the backdrop of the few pieces of heavy machinery and large mounds of rubble, we had roast chicken served with a salad of broad beans, broccoli and roast red pepper with shards of Oisin Farmhouse organic mature goats cheese (made by Rose and Rochus van der Vaard, Kilmallock, Co. Limerick) ...  it was all really delicious.  The cheese really made the salad and it is worth a mention - I buy this particular cheese almost every Saturday from the Dublin Food Coop in St Andrews Resource Centre on Pearse Street -  it is delicious both in a raw salad or as part of a cheese plate ...

This was the first, but I look forward to many more evenings to come out here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Tart For My Husband

My lovely husband is staying in tonight to babysit, so as a little thank you for letting me have a rare night out(he would say not so rare), I made him a rather messy but delicious apple tart using bramley apples topped with a toasted walnut and pecan crumble.  I think it was messy because he could not wait until it had cooled sufficiently to try it,  and, as a result it ran its sweet cinnamony lava everywhere, but hey who cares, this is not a tart for public display, its one for home alone where you can dip in your fingers, pick the nuts off the top, slurp it up and let the cream ooze down your chin....delicious, he thought so anyway!

You will need:
1 23" blind baked sweet pastry case.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees

For the filling:
8 large bramley cooking apples, peeled and sliced
juice and grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
100g caster sugar
2 tsps ground cinnamon
50g unsalted butter
2 tblsps cornflour

For the crumble topping:
75g granulated sugar
75g soft brown sugar
45g plain white flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
40g toasted walnuts
40g toasted pecans
50g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed

Make the Filling:
Peel, core and slice the apples and toss them in the lemon juice to prevent them from going brown.  Sprinkle over the sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest.
Melt the 50g butter in a large saucepan, add the apples and cook them for approx. 125 minutes until they turn to mush.  If there are a few lumps left, don't worry too much about them.  Keep stirring to prevent sticking and until all the juices have evaporated and the fruit is slightly dry.  Stir the corn flour into a very small amount of water, (4 tblsps), just enough to dissolve it and add this to the apples.  Cook for a further few minutes and then taste.  If you think that you would like more sugar, add it at this stage but, bear in mind that the crumble topping is sweet in itself and the contrast between this and a slightly tart apple is, in my mind, better. 

Make the crumble:
Spread the nuts evenly on a heat-proof plate and place them under the grill to toast and brown slightly.  To remove the skin from the walnuts, roll them in a clean tea towel, rubbing them slightly.  Chop or break the nuts up into small pieces.
Place the chilled cubes of butter into a bowl and add the flour.  Work it with your fingers so that it is the texture of fine breadcrumbs.  Add the sugars, cinnamon and nuts.  Chill again until required.

I had already made my pastry case in advance and frozen it, so I placed the fully defrosted case it into the hot oven for five minutes, took it out and brushed the inside of it with an egg yolk and water mix (1 egg yolk/2 tblsps cold water).  This will seal the case and prevent the filling from making the base soggy.

Pour the entire apple mixture into the base, leaving a little room for it to bubble to the top.  Sprinkle over the crumble and bake for about 15 minutes until it is golden.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream ....

Its late ...
I am home now finishing this post and I am glad to see that there is some left for me ...  its waiting quietly in the kitchen for coffee time tomorrow.  I will tell you about my dinner in Rustic Stone tomorrow, I simply do not have the energy now ...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mediterranean Vegetable Gratin

I love the simplicity of this dish.  It is a dish for summer, to serve alone for lunch or perhaps with some marinated lamb chops for dinner.
I like the combination of colours and flavours tightly packed together, the bright colours of the green and red studded with little glistening olives....perfect for enjoying on a sunny evening, with a blanket around your shoulders and glass of cold Gruner Veltliner.

You will need, for two as a main course:

450g ripe tomatoes
300g small firm courgette
300g waxy potatoes, peeled
2 large onions
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
100g pitted black olives
2 sprigs thyme, leaves only
6 tblsps vegetable stock
6 tblsps extra virgin olive oil

1 medium sized gratin dish, lightly oiled
Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees

Slice the tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes onions and garlic cloves to approximately the same thickness.
Then in rotation, place each vegetable vertically across the gratin dish, so courgette, tomato, potato, onion, courgette and so on....
When you have tightly packed the dish, slide in the chopped garlic slices into some of the little gaps left.
Wash and dry the thyme leaves and sprinkle them over the top.

Drizzle over the olive oil and add the vegetable stock.
Place in the oven for 45mins-55mins, testing towards the end of cooking to see that the potatoes have cooked through.

Serve and enjoy.

Monday, August 23, 2010

French Vanilla Shortbread

It was just one of those Irish days....a dark, grey, unmerciful downpour one minute and bright glorious sunshine the next, continuing intermittently for the entire day.  I love days like this as they provide the perfect excuse not to leave the house at all and to hunker indoors with a steaming cup of tea and brewing up a half-notion of creating something wonderful in the kitchen for a few hours. There was nothing else for it but to delve deep into the cookery book shelf and see what was to be found.  And what a little treasure I did find.  My cookery book from when I was a child.  My mother gave my brother and I a different one each (I hope he still has his) and leafing through the pages was like being 7 years old again.  I must have read and re-read and made every recipe in this book when I was a child as reading them all again today, I knew every groovy seventies recipe by heart.

Today called for a tea-time treat, although not an old fashioned one from my seventies childhood like coconut cones, castle puddings or flapjacks.  As nostalgic as the book made me, there was not one thing that I actually fancied eating!
Today was a day for something simple yet a little more sophisticated, so the boys and I made vanilla shortbread.  I have several shortbread recipes, snipped and clipped from various sources, but this one by  Nigella is faultless in its ease of execution - it needs no alteration and absolutely anyone can make it.  It is also delicious and so much better than anything you will buy in the shops.

You will need:

200g plain flour
100g icing sugar
100g cornflour
200g soft unsalted butter
seeds from 1 vanilla pod
vanilla caster sugar for decoration

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
You will need 1 flat baking sheet or Swiss roll tin.

This beautiful bunch of vanilla pods was a present from my mother from France this summer and I have been looking for any excuse to use it.  I love the soft, waxy feel of it and the smell when you split them open is unforgettable.
To extract the vanilla seeds, split one vanilla pod in two and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a knife.

Using either hand held beaters, mixer or food processor, combine the butter and the vanilla and beat until it is creamy and very soft.  Then sieve the flour, cornflour and icing sugar, combining them together in a large bowl.  Gradually add the flour/cornflour/icing sugar mix to the vanilla butter and mix until a soft pliable dough has formed into a ball in the mixer.

Simply turn it out onto a flat baking sheet and press or roll out the dough to about 3-5mm thick, ensuring that it is an even thickness throughout.  Simply mark even lines in the dough, outlining the shortbread fingers.  Take a fork and prick each finger as you like.

Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
Note I placed mine in at 200 degrees for about 18 minutes and they were ready although, as I said last week, I think my oven thermostat is running a few degrees higher than it should be.

Take them out of the oven and cut each shortbread finger through with a sharp knife and leave to cool for ten minutes before attempting to remove them from the sheet.  Then gently move each biscuit with a palette knife onto a wire rack and sprinkle with vanilla caster sugar (you can use the seedless vanilla pod to flavour your sugar-just place in a jar with caster sugar, shake and leave for half an hour.  The flavour will intensify with duration).  Dust off the loose sugar and serve.  These make a great gift also but ensure that they are completely cold before storing them in a tin.

Nigella's recipe boasts 33 fingers, but I made more like 24, this obviously depends on thickness and your ability to create a shape that will resist waste - I did have a few funny shapes around the edges, but I like to think of these as testers!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

a summer-coloured fruit cake

Firstly apologies for the lack of post over the last few days but apparently there is a technical problem in Dublin somewhere and my Internet has been cut off, albeit temporarily ...  not convenient to say the least.  I have in the interim been experimenting with various cake recipes.  The cake below is a pure hazelnut cake, but I think that my oven thermostat and the dial are at odds with each other, as the cake was over-cooked on the outside and slightly undercooked on the inside ... I think an oven thermometer is required.

Dodgy ovens and no Internet drove Wheeler and Company to take refuge with my family on the North Antrim coast for a few days and am I glad that I did.  It has been sunshine and fun all the way, I even swam in the sea and survived!  And I can also write my blog this evening, what a novelty.

This is a recipe for a really nice, 'any time of the day' kind of fruit cake and it is especially nice eaten with warm summer fruits.  I made apricots but you could use stewed berries or poached pears.  It also contains my flavour of the month nut, the hazelnut!  I love the colour of the apricots with this as they complement the golden top and sings of summer.

You will need:

250g butter
250g caster sugar
100g plain flour
1 lemon, unwaxed, zest and juice
75g ground hazelnuts
100g unsulphured apricots (dark brown in colour)
4 large free range eggs, lightly beaten

Set the oven at 180 and line the base of a 23" with greaseproof paper

Combine the butter and sugar and beat in the mixer until it is light and creamy. Mix the flour and the hazelnuts. Whizz the dried apricot until they are very finely chopped.
Add the lightly beaten eggs to the butter and sugar gradually with the mixer on a low speed.
Add the zest of the lemon. Turn off the mixer and add about a quarter of the flour/hazelnut mix.
Mix slowly until it is incorporated. Repeat the process adding another quarter of the flour/hazelnut, turning the mixer off while you do so. Lastly add the lemon juice and the apricots and mix slowly for a few minutes until combined.

Spoon the mix into the cake tin and bake in the oven for about 35 minutes until the top is a rich brown and the cake feels firm to the touch. If you stick in a skewer, it should come out clean.

I served this with morning coffee, each slice covered with warm apricots stewed in butter, honey, vanilla and thyme. This would also be good with poached pears or summer berries and cream.  You can substitute the hazelnuts with almonds and if you have no unsulphured apricots, you can use the brighter orange sulphured variety.

As I mentioned the weather has been lovely enough to barbeque - a spatchcock chicken, absolutely delicious.  As the chicken was very large, I started it off in the oven for about an hour and then finished it off on the barbeque for about 20 minutes.....not true barbequing but absolutely delicious, the perfect end to the day.  With long shadows and a slight chill in the air, the view is amazing here on a nice day ... I cannot think of a nicer place to be!

Back to Dublin tomorrow and a short holiday to Berlin next week (sans enfants) ... back soon!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Wheeler and Company have just returned from a very nice weekend in Cork ... see above, would you believe that it's Ireland, well it is !!
Not only did we sustain a full day at the beach wearing little more than bathing clothes, but we actually swam in the tropical-looking waters and survived.  It was invigorating and a very good reminder that our country is as good as all those places that we travel to and come back wishing we lived some place else.  It is exactly what I needed to re-inspire me and make me proud and content to live in Ireland.

Here is a really simple and neat trick that I picked up in Germany to improve your meal times in Ireland.  This is a really versatile butter which you can make in advance and is perfect for anything from summer barbeques to winter steaks.  My lovely friend Barbara, who effortlessly manages to feed and delight everyone in her Berlin garden with no stress and a large smile, made this for us.  I miss her a lot.

Bring a large lump of butter to room temperature, about 150g.
Finely chop 1 large bunch of flat leaf parsley, 1 bunch of chives and 2 garlic cloves.
Place the garlic with a large pinch of sea salt in a mortar and pound it to a pulp using the pestle.
In a bowl, place the butter, herbs and garlic and mash energetically with a fork.
Note that you can also add dill, chervil, tarragon if you have them fresh from the garden.

Place the herb-butter onto a piece of cling film and wrap it, pressing it into a sausage shape.
Ensure the cling film is tightly wrapped and place the butter sausage into the fridge to cool for a minimum of 20 minutes or until you need it.

Remove from the fridge and slice the butter into circles, removing the cling film before you serve.  Keep the cling film on while you cut it as this is cleaner and less messy, just remember to remove it!
These delicious disks can adorn a slice of fresh crusty bread, squeezed into cuts in a baguette and warmed in the oven, over some knobbly garden potatoes (see below the delicious nutty baby pink fir apples harvested today from the pot) or as I had it tonight, atop a juicy sirloin steak.

This will keep in the fridge for about 3 days, any longer and the garlic will develop too strong a flavour.
Here's to missing Berlin, but recognising that Ireland is great too!

Friday, August 6, 2010


I am home with a bundle of mixed emotions about being back but I am slowly settling in.  One of the major benefits of being away for more than a few months is that when you come back, you really do see things in a different way.  When you spend every day looking at a skirting board which is falling off or an old set of curtains, you start to filter out these nasty things.  I am back now with a fresh eye and a long list of things to do!

I did however come back to the great surprise that my potato plants did not die while I was away.  Left forgotten, save for the scant attention of intermittent family lodgers, I harvested about a quarter of my crop the minute I got home.  Now they are like little marbles but there is such satisfaction that something actually grew in my seemingly unproductive garden!

I had a request a couple of weeks ago from my friend who had just harvested her potatoes, although given her proximity to green fingers, I cannot believe that hers were as marble-like as mine.  Anyway she requested a recipe for small potatoes!
I made some simple parslied potatoes which you can dress up further to make a simple potato salad or eat warm on their own maybe with little strips of slightly warmed Iberico ham.
Firstly grade your potatoes picking out the small bite-size ones so that they are all roughly the same size.  Peel them (somewhat time consuming when they are so small, but they will absorb more flavour if they are peeled).  Add them to a large saucepan of heavily salted (salty to the taste), boiling water, cook at a simmer for 6-8 minutes (depending on the size), until they are tender to the point of  a knife.
Drain well and set aside to prepare the parsley.

Use fresh flat leafed parsley chopped coarsely.  It is important to chop this up just before you need it as you will loose some of the moistness and aroma if it is left sitting for too long.

Add some good quality extra virgin olive oil and the chopped parsley.  When the potatoes have drained and when the steam has died down, place them gently into the oily parsley and turn gently with a spoon, coating the potatoes.  Then cover with cling film for a few minutes to infuse the potatoes fully with the parsley flavour.

Take off the cling film and let the potatoes cool a little more so that they are just warm.  Gently stir in a few tablespoons of white wine vinegar and a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Toss gently and serve.
There are any number of additions that you can experiment with here or you can simply leave them alone.  I added some fine strips of roasted red pepper and a scant crumbling of feta which was really good.  The potatoes have a slight floury texture to the outside which traps the flavours but they had a firm texture inside which is perfect for salads.

Now it is back to a grey-skied reality after my long and delightful holiday ... the cogs keep turning and life goes slowly on.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Auf wiedersehen Berlin

Right now I should be packing although I seem to be in complete denial of the fact that I will be back in Dublin tomorrow.  I have just spent a very enjoyable evening eating really good pizza with some really good company and quite frankly I do not want to go back.  But needs must and there is a busy time ahead in Dublin. 
I was looking back through some of my photos of my time here and will leave you with a few of my local Karl-August Platz market ...  every Wednesday and Saturday I was there, well almost every.  I think this post is as much for me as you, to remind me of my summer, I will miss its sounds, smells, the good cheese and all the friendly traders with whom I practiced my still-not-very-good German!
Auf wiedersehen Berlin ... at least for now.