Monday, July 26, 2010

Tomato and Red Pepper Risotto


As I said yesterday, I would post up my tomato and red pepper risotto recipe, so here it is.
This is simple, nutritious and tastes great served as a starter for a weekend meal for friends or as a wet Wednesday night comforting supper to heal, restore and haul you through the rest of the week.

I also believe wholly in the fact that it is a great vehicle for hiding vegetables for children.  Just about everyone I know with children has a problem at some stage or another with trying to get them to eat some kind of vegetable.  My boys love this risotto, tonight we ate it with a side of buttered green beans, but you could also add a finely chopped courgette to the risotto towards the end of cooking or some frozen peas or cooked chopped carrots are always an option for children.


For the stock, you will need:

500g of very ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped into quarters
1 large red pepper, de-seeded and chopped
1 small red onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
2 sticks of celery (if you have it)
a sprig of thyme and some fresh basil leaves
salt and pepper

Place all of the above (excluding the salt and pepper) into a large saucepan and add about 1 litre of water.
Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer for about an hour.  You can make this in advance like I did and leave it in the fridge for 24 hours.

After and hour, strain through a sieve, retaining the soup in a saucepan. Add salt and pepper at this point to taste.
It will then be re-heated and added gradually to the risotto.


For the risotto, you will need:
300g risotto rice, arborio or carnaroli
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 lump of Parmesan cheese
2 tblsps olive oil
1 knob butter
1 large glass of dry white wine

In a wide shallow pan, heat the olive oil and butter. 
Add the finely chopped red onion and fry until the onion is soft and has caramelised slightly.  Add the chopped garlic and cook for a few more minutes. 
Add the risotto rice, either arborio or carnaroli, and stir well to ensure that the grains are coated evenly in the oniony oil.  Pour in the white wine and let it bubble for a few minutes to remove the alcohol. 
Meanwhile, on a neighbouring ring, heat the tomato stock.  When it has just reached boiling point, turn the heat down and leave it simmering nearby.  Using a ladle or a cup, pour the stock over the rice initially until it is just about covered.  Simmer slowly, gradually replacing the stock which has been absorbed.  Try not to stir it too much and this will break up the grains of rice towards the end of cooking, just keep it moving enough to distribute the liquid and prevent it from sticking to the bottom if (you are not paying enough attention and) it gets too dry.

After about 20-25 minutes of gradually adding stock, the grains of rice should still have a little bite in them, taste and see if you like the texture.  It should not be too soft, rather al dente.  Turn off the heat and add a generous handful of grated Parmesan cheese.  Gently fold this into the risotto until it is absorbed and the risotto has taken on a silky texture.

Serve with some more grated Parmesan.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Caponata alla Sicilliana



I am not sure what to say here....well I feel rather strange being back both in my apartment and also here after having spent a full week in the children's ward of Westend Klinik in Berlin with my little son who contracted some kind of nasty virus which emulated the platelets in his blood with the resulting anti-viral produced by him then destroying all his platelets and hence his blood would not clot, gruesome, frightening and I hope the last time I will encounter something like it - a potentially dangerous situation, although thanks to the rather amazing German health system a better experience than in Ireland I would imagine ... private room, private nurse, bottled mineral water... all good.  He is still not out of the woods yet but is thankfully back in his own bed and I can maybe cook and eat something none-mushy and normal.

So apologies for the lack of blog, but obviously getting children back to good health is the main priority.

So I have been enjoying my return to the kitchen and in a kind of celebratory way, have made a chocolate loaf, Caponata, a delicious tomato risotto.... nothing beats home cooking, and thankfully with the cooler temperatures, appetites have picked up again and I hear the pitter patter of tiny feet and the chorus of ...'mama what's for tea'!

This Caponata is for the adults, at least my boys did not eat it, the tomato risotto is definitely for the children and I will post up the recipe tomorrow.

Caponata is traditionally a Sicilian side dish or appetiser which can be eaten warm or cold, with fish, bread or even on pasta.  It is incredibly versatile and for me it is colourful and is the real taste of summer.
Our local Russian shop which is open on Sunday (clearly to serve those just out of hospital) was bursting to the brim with aubergine (egg plant), celery and deliciously ripe tomatoes, any fruit you can imagine and even some milk from Poland.

For a Caponata which was a substantial side dish for two I used:

1 aubergine, cut into small cubes
1 large red pepper, de-seeded and cubed
1 large red onion, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely slices
4 large, very ripe tomatoes, de-skinned and de-seeded
100g pitted black olives
75g capers, rinsed and drained
2 tblsps balsamic vinegar
1 pinch sugar
6 tblsps extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a wide, shallow pan heat the olive oil and add the aubergines, red pepper and red onion.  Sautee the vegetables on a high heat for about 5 or 6 minutes.  Add the chopped de-skinned, de-seeded tomatoes, garlic, olives, capers and taste for seasoning.  Add a little salt if you think it needs it and some black pepper.  Taste and add the balsamic vinegar.  Cook on a medium heat for a further 8-10 minutes until all the vegetables are soft but not mushy.


Turn off the heat and let it sit for ten minutes before serving.  Traditionally a Mediterranean fisherman's salad, this was sent out as a packed lunch with some bread and some local wine. 
It is delicious served slightly warm with some crusty bread rubbed with a garlic clove.  It would also be a good served with a simple, pan-fried white fish and boiled new potatoes, and we also ate it as a side dish to some schnitzel this weekend which was great.

A truly versatile vegetable dish for all occasions. 
Its good to be back to the land of the living.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A special trip to Leipzig zoo


With the temperatures here reaching 39 degrees at mid-day, the sun is a burning white ball in clear blue sky and as a result, the water in the lakes is now a warm 26 degrees.  It is impossible to keep cool and no-one has an appetite for food.  Fruit and fluids seem to be the only popular consumables with the odd eis thrown in for effect!  I have thus no recipe to post again.  It is sort of about food, albeit animal food. 

Rather unwisely in such heat, Wheeler and Company visited Leipzig zoo for a privileged guided tour of the new Gondwanaland project which is under construction and some animal patting and feeding to keep the younger members of our party happy...

Have you ever tickled a rhinoceros behind the ear of fed a giraffe?  I will leave you with a few photographs.

 the giraffes winter and summer menu

large scale food production, thousands of white mice for the birds and snakes

a very rare Asian turtle


a really nice wall from the East-German era


See you in a few days with a recipe, any special requests just email (sorry no white mice recipes!)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Chocolate Bread


I was always torn somewhere between the romantic ideal of either sitting up late at night working at a drawing board by candlelight or getting up at 4 am to douse myself in flour and produce delicious bread for peoples breakfasts.  What a dilemma when it comes to choosing a career!
I choose the former, although now that I think about it, my projects as an architectural student did, at various interjections, resemble cooking - I once made a model from melted sugar and on one occasion in particular I distinctly remember flooding the kitchen of a Capel Street apartment with a watery bath of liquid-plaster cake-mix, the mould having burst at the seams and the contents distributing itself, with immediate and terrifying effect, everywhere.
I do think that I may have had more visible success with my cooking having won over my tutors heart via cooked dinners rather than architecture (he says otherwise but I know it was the food that got him in the end) but that is another story altogether.

He did miss the chocolate bread tonight and I know he would have loved it.

I first made it when I did the Wednesday night professional bread making course in DIT, Kevin Street about 5 years ago.  The course was excellent and taught me everything about bread, yeast, flour types, gluten etc., and I came away on dark Wednesday nights with an armful of 10 different loaves to either eat or distribute among friends or pigeons.  Anyway, we made little chocolate rolls with this recipe but it is basically a brioche recipe with some cocoa powder added.  I have added more sugar than necessary so that the bread is a little sweeter, but you can reduce slightly, but only slightly, as you wish.
There are no eggs and the butter gives a lovely soft chewy crust and crumb.  It also freezes well if you wrap it in cling film when it is stone cold and place in a freezer bag.  It will keep for up to 1 month.

This is the perfect bread first thing in the morning toasted with butter and will certainly impress of you are having people round for breakfast, although you may need to warn them that it is not cake!

For one loaf you will need:

15g fresh yeast
55g caster sugar
320ml whole fat milk, luke-warm to the touch
400g all-purpose white flour
40g cocoa powder, unsweetened
40g butter, melted (the French use un-salted in their brioche)
a pinch of salt

Firstly crumble the fresh yeast and the sugar into a large bowl.  Then add the warm milk and set aside for about 10 mins to measure out the rest of your ingredients.
Add the flour, cocoa, a pinch of salt and the melted butter to the milky yeast and stir together initially with a metal spoon until everything is combined.  Then with one hand holding the mixing bowl, use the other to knead the dough together.  Initially this will be a sticky mess and you will think that you have gotten something wrong.  Keep at it and knead together as best you can for approximately 5 minutes.  This kneading or stretching of the dough will develop the gluten and make the dough more elastic.  The more you knead, the dough will put up more resistance.  If you have a dough scraper, a semi-circular semi-flexible piece of rubberised plastic for scraping and cutting dough shapes, this would be handy to scrape any excess dough from the sides of the bowl.  If, like me, you do not, use a bank card or something similar.

So cover the dough with a tea towel and leave in a warm, non-draughty place for 2 hours until the dough has doubled in size.



Next knock the dough back.  This means to knock out the gases which have been released by the yeast and sugar fermenting.  The dough will return to near its original size, knead again for 2 minutes and shape the dough into a buttered and floured 12" loaf tin.
Cover again with the tea towel return it to the warm spot for another 1 hour.
Place in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees for 25 minutes.  If you are a bread baker, you will know the familiar hollow sound which indicated that it is cooked, if not, tap gently with your nails on the top or bottom of the crust.  It should sound slightly hollow but firm.


I ate a slice this evening, on its own with peppermint tea  sitting on the floor, as today is my last day without a sofa - if the German delivery men arrive as they say they will at 7am tomorrow morning, I will have a slightly different view of my world from now on.  The chocolate bread  was so fresh and crumbly it was delicious and was just perfect for my 'goodbye-floor' party.

Monday, July 5, 2010

pork fillet in wine and coriander


I found this little recipe (from Mama) looking lonely and forgotten in my recipe book the other night and I realised that I have not made it since my early student days in Belfast,  a decade ago and a bit more!  I do remember it being really delicious and tonight it did not disappoint.  It is really quick to make and my little boys loved it as the pork is in thin pieces and is very tender.  
My astute four year old did however ask where I had put the outside of the schnitzel! 

I know its not much of a summer recipe, but I did cook it here in Berlin this evening which is an achievement given the 35 degree dead heat which is slowly taking grip of the city and its residents.  I was given the glare of death today by a woman travelling in a cycle lane, for allowing my son to cycle in the cycle lane at child's speed, thus causing her to have to apply her brakes and actually slow down and stop ... she did get the international glare of death back, it being ultimately more deadly than hers, as those who know me will confirm. She had absolutely no argument - I mean what can she say, please keep your children  out  of the communal cycle lane and maybe locked up in the house!  In a spirit of generosity, which took me by surprise, I did not take the altercation any further and I put her bad mood down to the heat, went home, cooked this lovely pork and forgot all about it.


You will need (to serve 4):

1 1/2 lbs/680g of pork fillet, with fat trimmed off and cut into 1.5cm slices
15g butter, a large knob
1 tblsp vegetable oil, I used sunflower
1 large green pepper, seeded and sliced
1 medium sized onion, finely sliced
15g oz plain flour
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 large glass chicken/vegetable stock
1 large glass dry white wine

Place the pork slices between 2 sheets of greaseproof paper and flatten with a rolling pin or meat tenderiser ( I used a wine bottle) until you have flat medallions - as if you are making schnitzel.

Melt the butter and the oil in a wide flat pan and brown the pork pieces slightly for a few minutes.  Add the pepper and the onion and cook on a low heat for 8-10 minutes.



Stir in the coriander and wait for a few minutes until you can smell the aroma, then add the flour.  Cook for a few minutes ensuring that the flour is well distributed and cooked through.
Gradually add the stock and the white wine, stirring until the juices come to a boil, the sauce thickens and is rich and smooth.  Season with freshly cracked black pepper and a little salt, bearing in mind that the stock may be quite salty if you have used a shop-bought stock cube - tasting is important.
I served this with wholegrain rice but you could also serve with some new potatoes and a green salad.



Now the children have gone to bed, the house is quiet and there is a cool breeze gradually cooling the heat of the day.  My windows are open and I can hear food being served, dishwashers being loaded, the faint hum of conversation... time to rest and recuperate.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

two colourful summer salads



Potato salad with fresh herbs
serves 4, as a side:
500g baby new potatoes, I used Charlotte
1 small bunch spring onions, roots cut off, finely chopped
1 small bunch flat leaved parsley, finely chopped (stalks discarded)
1 small bunch fresh mint, finely chopped (stalks discarded)
chives, dill or any green herb you like could be added

I make a straight forward vinaigrette to add to this:
150ml extra virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove
2 tblsps of lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

First get the potatoes on.  Place them, skin on, in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil.  Boil for about 10-15 minutes (depending on size) until they are tender to the tip of a knife.
At the same time, hard boil two eggs - I usually just put them in the boiling water with the potatoes to cut down on some washing up.  Remove form the water with a slotted spoon after 8-10 minutes and set aside.

Next make the herb vinaigrette.
Crush the garlic clove with a little sea salt in a pestle and mortar until it forms a paste.  Add the mustard and lemon juice and mix thoroughly.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking as you do so, until it is all combined.
Next add the chopped herbs and spring onions to the vinaigrette, mix well and set aside. 

When the potatoes have cooked and cooled slightly, take the skins off.  I do this now out of habit, but you can leave them on if you like.  They should just push off using your thumbs.  Place them in a serving bowl and pour vinaigrette over the potatoes while they are still warm and mix well with a spoon.
Peel the boiled egg and break over the potatoes and mix through also.

Serve as a side dish.  We ate these with weiss wurst which is a type of German white sausage which is added to just-boiling water and heated through,  The skin is then removed.  Traditionally these are eaten before 11am with a sweet mustard and a beer.  I do not heed such traditions, for me they taste great at any time of the day, especially with my potato salad.  



Red fruit salad for breakfast or dessert



It was an absolute necessity to do something with this delicious ripe fruit which I bought from our local market on Wednesday.  They were practically giving the fruit away, I asked for 1 melon and got 2 for the same price.

Anyway with a small punnet of ripe strawberries, some delicious black cherries and a few nectarines, I made a wonderfully colourful fruit salad which would take pride of place as a dessert plate or for a summer morning breakfast.

Half and de-hull (ie. remove the small heart-shaped inner core of the strawberry with a paring knife) a small mound of strawberries.
Half and de-stone a small mound of black cherries, I used the black tartarian variety, the dark ones from skin to stone, and some of the bright red, more tart montmorceny variety.  Use what you like as long as they are ripe.  To de-stone easily, take a sharp paring knife and run it around the circumference cutting through to the stone.  Then prise away one half from the stone and then poke out the stone with the knife.  The riper they are, the easier this will be.
Slice up a some nectarine flesh, skin on, into bite size pieces. 
You could add pomegranate, water melon, gala melon, peach. 
I like anything in this except banana, apple and kiwi - the three fruits which ruin almost any fruit salad for me, not necessarily due to the taste but to the texture, banana being the worst offender.  But hey, if you are going to eat it, add what you like.

Next add the juice of a small orange and a slight sprinkling of caster sugar and toss gently using two spoons, taking care not to bruise the fruit.  The sugar and orange will melt into the juices of the fruits and make a delicious syrup.

Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for a dessert or, as a breakfast, with a sprinkling of crunchy granola and some vanilla yoghurt, or in the mid-afternoon on its own, and eaten alone in the stolen peace and quiet of the day.