Tuesday, November 30, 2010


WheelerandCompany have been in receipt of a large amount of delicious Christmas cookies from our German friends over the last few weeks.  Last weekend we received four packets of various types of Lebkuchen and today a neat parcel of quince and apple sweets and some delicious traditional hand-made biscuits and also our first Christmas cards!  What a treat to nibble with our hot chocolate and krauter tee after school on a dark and wintry Irish afternoon.

Lebkuchen, if you are not familiar with them, are a traditional German chewy, gingery, spiced soft biscuit with a range of coverings such as a thin white icing or a thick dark chocolate.  Recipes often include honey and spices such as cloves, aniseed, coriander, allspice, ginger, cardamom and nuts including almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts and candied peel.  They are usually placed on a disk of rice paper/wafer. 

There are regional variations throughout Germany, my favourite being the N├╝rnberger Lebkuchen although the Aachner Printen are also excellent.
You can buy them in a simple packet at the Christmas markets or in an ornate tin (mine plays music and the children love it!).

Last year I vowed that I would try my own and I tried twice without much success.  They were much too hard and were more like your average British ginger nut biscuit that the soft chewy goodness I have come to expect from a traditional German one.
This year I altered my recipe and the cooking time and I must say, they are very very good!

I urge you to try this recipe, it makes about 30 biscuits and is exceptionally easy.  It is also a great edible gift for Christmas.

You will need:

235g plain flour
10g ground almonds
2 tsp ground ginger
1tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)
pinch of ground cloves
pinch grated nutmeg
pinch finely ground black pepper
200ml runny clear honey
85g salted butter
zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

For the icing:
100g icing sugar
1 egg white
1-2 tsp cold water

Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter and honey.
Pour the warm liquid over the dry ingredients and the lemon zest, mixing well until everything is combined.
Leave the mix to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
Line 2 baking trays with greaseproof paper.

When the dough mixture has cooled, start rolling it into small balls about 4cm wide.  Pat them down slightly onto a baking tray.  Place in the oven for 12-15 minutes. 
Note: I used my fan assisted oven and they were ready in 12 minutes.
Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

For the icing, combine the icing sugar, egg white and water in a bowl and beat with a small whisk until you have a  runny icing mix.
Tip each cookie upside down in the icing and ensure that the entire top and sides gets a good coating.
Leave to dry on a wire rack for about 15-20 minutes.

These will keep for about a week in an airtight container.

My German friend passed on some advice to me from her grandmother as to how to get your Lebkuchen chewy - apparently if you store them in an air-tight tin with an apple for three days, they will take on a softer more chewy consistency!
The vultures got mine this afternoon so I will experiment on batch 2!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cheese Fondue on a snowy day

Well what a surprise to wake this morning to the brightness and the silence of a thick coating of snow.  Anyone who has children will know how simply exciting this is and anyone without, I am sure the mere sight takes them back to their own childhoods, cold toes, rosy cheeks and wet woolen gloves!  It brings out the child in everyone.

There is no better dish to create comfort and warmth in a snowy climate than a cheese fondue.
I love it beyond all other mountain food and have the lucky fortune to eat it in Zermatt every year along with goat stew and Vrony salad and the champagne bar ... (siblings, just another 13 weeks).
Our 2011 Wheeler Family trip is booked and Zermatt is patiently waiting for us.  I am having to sell my clothes to be able to afford it but it is worth every expensive Swiss franc of it.

This fondue this evening was absolutely as good a one as I have eaten anywhere and it appeals not only to adults but my children also tried and liked it.

For 2, you will need:

1/2 a baguette or crusty bread
1/2 garlic clove
150ml dry white wine
300g Gruyere
100g Comte
1 tlbsp cornflour
pinch freshly ground nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper

Firstly rub the garlic clove around the fondue pot (coque) or small saucepan that you are using.
Add the wine and bring it to a simmer. 
Add the cheese and stir continuously until the cheese has melted and the cheese is bubbling.
Add the cornflour, the nutmeg and black pepper, stirring all the time until everything has mixed well and the sauce beings to thicken.  Take care not to burn the cheese, so keep it at a low heat.

Eat by dipping bite-size pieces of torn bread into the hot cheese and nibble some cornichons or pickled onions on the side.

The small print :
I have to say that this comes with a health warning and should be eaten as part of a balanced healthy diet.
(In fact it should not be consumed after any less than 5 hours hard downhill skiing, 3 hours cross country or a mountain marathon!), you decide whether you deserve it!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Carlow Apple and Francis Street Mincemeat Crumble

Its late as usual but I have to write about our delicious supper of Carlow Apple and Francis Street Mincemeat crumble ... a delicious gift of parts, easily assembled and warmly received.
With special thanks on Thanksgiving.

Just perfect after a hard days work firefighting, air sea rescue and saving the world!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ein stuck kuchen bitte!

WheelerandCompany have been entertaining our delightful German friends for a the last five days and, as a result, I have had not one minute to spare to write a new blog entry. 
I feel as though I have been on holiday, visiting all the highlights that our beautiful country has to offer.  However Ireland looks to the rest of Europe at the minute, we must remember how special our geographical landscape is.  I was reminded of this over the past few days - to hear someone talk about our country with wonder and awe, and in amazement and delight about its beauty, is warming and pride in our country is good for the soul - we must be proud of such a wonderful place, it is like no other.

We have been cooking Irish pork with stuffed squash, a monkfish risotto and a delicious warm courgette salad with feta cheese.  I also made this colourful plum tart which was really quite delicious, sticky, rich and jammy.  The almonds in the mix make it richer and more moist and perfect for soaking up the sweet juices from the stewed plums.  You could use pears, apricots, nectarines or even cherries in the fruit layer here and you can just double the amount of flour and make a pure flour mix without adding any ground almonds.
It went down very well (and very quickly)!

The toffee-fruit bit:
8 not too ripe plums, halved and stones removed
45g butter
135g light brown sugar
75ml water
The cake bit:
150g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
1 tsp good quality vanilla extract
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
100g plain flour (or 210g flour if not using almonds)
100g ground almonds
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
125ml full fat milk

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees / gas mark 4.
Grease a 22" spring-form tin.
Arrange the plums, cut side down in the bottom of the cake tin.

In a small heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the sugar in the water, bring it to the boil and boil until it turns to caramel.  The liquid will thicken and turn a golden colour - this will take about 8-10 minutes.  Take care not to let it burn, so watch it all the time.  When it starts to turn to caramel, take it immediately off the heat and add the butter, mixing well until the butter had combined and the final result is a smooth toffee sauce.

Pour this onto the top of the fruit and set aside.

For the batter, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Sift together the flour and baking powder and stir in the almonds (if using).
Add the eggs in small batches to the butter and sugar, beating well after each. 
Add the vanilla extract.
Spoon in the flour and almond mix, beating well, alternating a large spoon of the flour mix with a glug of milk.  Beat well between additions and ensure that everything is well incorporated.

Pour the cake on top of the fruit and bake in the oven for between 45 minutes to an hour. 
Mine usually takes about 50 minutes - stick a skewer into the middle and if it comes out clean, its cooked.

Using a knife, run around the edge of the tin to ensure that the cake is not stuck.  Turn it out, fruit-side upwards and replace any fruit which may remain in the tin.
Eat and enjoy.

This cake is delicious warm or cold and will keep well for a few days if it lasts that long!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Spiced Cauliflower Lunch

Cauliflower is great at this time of year, just when its starting to get cold.  I always think of it as a bit of a forgotten vegetable which is only ever smothered in cheese sauce or over boiled and bitter. 
It is delicious in a salad, raw or lightly blanched florets or simply tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted in the oven.  It is very versatile and also very healthy, being a good source of fibre and vitamin B. 

I served this alone for lunch today for two and it was a welcome change to a bowl of soup or a sandwich.  It was also very cheap to make and healthy.  I think you could also add sweet potato or maybe squash.

You will need, serving 2 as main course or 4 as a side:

1 head of cauliflower, broken into florets and washed
2 tblsps olive oil
1 knob of butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 red pepper, de-seeded and chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp onion seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
8 small dried curry leaves
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tin pre-cooked chick peas
50ml fresh cream or some natural yoghurt

In a large pan of boiling salted water blanch the cauliflower florets for 5 minutes.
Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.
In a large deep casserole dish or lidded frying pan, melt the butter and olive oil and add the garlic, onion and chilli.  Cook for 5 minutes until the onion is tender.
Crush the spices gently with a pestle and mortar and then add them to the onions, garlic and chilli and cook for a further 2 minutes to let the flavours release. 
Add the cauliflower and chick peas.  Cover and cook for a few minutes until everything is hot through.
Add the spinach leaves and cook, stirring a little until the spinach is wilted.

Pour in the cream and let this heat through.
Serve with some fresh coriander leaves and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Oranges and Lemons

These are both delicious as cake flavouring and a decoration and would add a Christmassy touch to any dessert.  They can be prepared and kept in syrup in the fridge for about a month and I think they would look just lovely on top of my Tunisian Orange Cake.  I really must separate the recipe for this cake from the long post that contains it as it is great, I make this cake all the time, it works really well and it is a winning favourite among guests of all ages.

Take 3 oranges and maybe 1 lemon which will fill a 0.5L preserving jar.
Cut the top and bottom off each and then slice thinly.
Place them in boiling water for about 10 minutes, remove and plunge into cold water. Repeat this process three times as this takes the bitterness out of the skins.
Drain them and set on a sheet of baking parchment.

Boil up a pot of syrup. For each 100ml of water, use 100g of sugar. So if you are filling a 0.5L preserving jar, then use 500ml water and 500g sugar.  Dissolve the sugar in the water and reduce until you have a syrup taking care not to over-boil and produce a toffee.

Dip each piece of orange into the syrup and place on another piece of parchment to dry overnight.
You can either keep the pieces between sheets of parchment paper in an airtight container or preserving jar or do what I did and put them into a sterilised jar with the rest of the syrup. The displacement of the pieces should equal the amount of syrup left - ie. the syrup after reducing might only be about 350-400ml but when you put the orange and lemon pieces into the jar, the liquid should reach the top.

Do not do what I did and run out of sugar, so my jar is currently only filled half the way up but I plan on using these by the end of the week so I don't have to worry about preserving them for any longer.

These make a lovely gift for Christmas or any time as they are much superior to the candied peel that you buy in supermarkets. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Skye Gyngell's Slow-cooked belly of pork

I can hear Prime Time on in the background and it seems that officially our little country is in big trouble, reports and reporters reaching fever pitch on the news and on the radio by tea time this evening.  I wish I was a child and oblivious to it all.
A tried and tested method to enhancing your mood is a slow cooked soft sweet piece of meat and a glass of wine and this was perfect tonight, bordering on sublime. And in the interests of my purse, it was about 8 euro for the piece which fed two too well but would easily have stretched to three.

This is a Skye Gyngell recipe for Slow-cooked belly of Pork from her new book, How I Cook.
I am borderline obsessed with this book as the recipes are just so delicious, simple and inspire me to cook even when I feel a bit fooded-out and fed up with it all.
I used the following ingredients to feed 2:

1kg pork belly with skin on (I bought a piece with no bones)
2 tblsp olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 carrots, peeled and chopped roughly
1 large red onions, peeled and quartered
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled but lightly crushed
5 fresh bay leaves
1 sprig rosemary, needles removed and chopped
250ml dry white wine
4 tblsp red wine vinegar
5 tblsp water

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
Using a sharp knife, score the skin at 2cm intervals with cuts about 5mm deep.  Rub olive oil and salt all over the skin.
Place the belly, skin side up in a roasting tray and roast on the middle oven shelf for 50 minutes.

Lift out the pork and place the pork piece on a board.  Sprinkle the vegetables, garlic and herbs into the base of the roasting tray and add the wine, vinegar and water.  Cover snugly with tin foil.  Replace the pork and place back into the oven immediately turning the heat down to 160 degrees.

Cook for 2 1/4 hours. Check it intermittently stirring the vegetables around a little in case they stick.  I found that towards the end of cooking they did turn quite black, but these are discarded at the end and are only in place to raise the meat off the floor of the roasting pan and to give flavour.

Uncover after the 2 1/4 hours and return to the oven turning the heat up to 200 degrees for 15 minutes in total.

Remove from the oven, leave in a warm place and let the meat rest for 20 minutes before serving.

I served this tonight with baby carrots roasted in the oven for 35 minutes with runny honey, a piece of rosemary, a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper.  I also served some sliced potatoes, baked in the oven with cream, butter and a little garlic - these should take about 45 minutes.  Calorific but wonderful.

It was an inexpensive and utterly soothing supper, perfect for the day that was in it!