Monday, January 31, 2011

A ten minute uber-healthy fish supper

I picked up some really nice Savoy spinach and fennel bulbs from the Ballyroan farm stall at the Super Natural Food Market in St Andrews Resource Centre on Pearse Street on Saturday.  I thought that my late arrival at 3.35pm would yield absolutely nothing but I was lucky, they had a few bags of great looking spinach left, fennel and some really good oranges.  The oranges didn't last a day in our house with them being the current favourite snack of choice, but the spinach and fennel were just there waiting for me this evening.  I also bought two John Dory fillets from the Donegal Seafood man at the entrance.  He was doing a roaring trade as I was leaving and it is great to see.  It cost me 6 euro for 2 good sized fillets and as you will see in a minute, they were delicious.

I had foregone my run in favour of a lazy bath tonight as the entire household had been woken at 5am by the three year old and quite frankly, even after the weekend doing precious little, I felt exhausted.  So relaxing bath, children in bed, husband burning the midnight oil in the office, I decided to cook the fish.  I now feel great!

This has to be one of the most speedy meals ever to arrive on my table, I think it took all of 10 minutes.  Who need Jamie Oliver's 30 minute meals?  This is carb-free, filling and delicious and I feel smug about it being so healthy!

You will need per person:

1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, cut in two and finely shredded
1 John Dory fillet, skin on

2 tblsps groundnut oil
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
1 small red chilli, finely shredded
8-10 Savoy spinach leaves or 15 of the flat-leaved variety (although I would recommend not using the flat leaved variety and perhaps opting for 4 large Savoy cabbage leaves as the texture is better with the fish and fennel), washed well and all dirt removed, finely shredded

Put a large pan of water, which will take a steamer, on to boil.

Shred all the vegetables, fennel, garlic, chilli and spinach and have them to hand.

Place the steamer over the boiling water and place the shredded fennel on the bottom of the steamer.  Then carefully lay the fish fillet on top.  Place the lid on and turn your attention to the spinach.

In a cold frying pan, pour in the oil and the garlic slices.  Turn the heat on high and gently fry the garlic.  By putting garlic into cold oil, you will impart more flavour from the garlic and will reduce the risk of burning it.  After about 2 minutes when the garlic is sizzling nicely, add the chilli and then a minute or so later add the spinach.  Stir fry the spinach, tossing it gently in the chilli and oil until it is just about wilting.  I like to eat it like this rather than in a mush.

Place the spinach into a warmed serving plate and turn your attention to the fish.  It should be cooked at this point, just flaking and translucent.  Place the fennel shreds on top of the spinach and gently place the fish on top of the fennel.  Serve and enjoy. 

Now how will I manage to keep the banana bread for the mornings breakfast!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A breakfast to get up early for!

I will just give you a recipe tonight as its getting late and I am devoting my attention to another pear tart which is currently in the oven!

We have been enjoying our homemade granola this week for breakfasts - it is so good that I suspect the mice have been helping themselves to a midnight snack!

You will need airtight storage equivalent to a 1.5L kilner jar

250g large format rolled oats
75g blanched almonds
75g hazelnuts
75g pecan nuts
50g sunflower seeds
50g dessicated coconut
75g butter
75ml runny honey
1 tsp vanilla essence

Chop all nuts roughly into pieces and add to the oats.  Melt the butter and honey in a saucepan and add the vanilla essence. Pour the liquid over the oats and nuts and mix thoroughly until everything is well coated.
Spread the mixture thinly out over a large baking tray and place in the oven.  Remove every five minutes and stir the mixture around, leaving it spread evenly on the tray before replacing in the oven.  Repeat 5 times until the oats and nuts are toasted and a warm golden colour.
Remove from the oven and leave on the tray until the granola is completely cold, stirring occasionally.
If you store it in a jar when it is still warm it will go soggy!

Those Apricots!

It seems like I have been poaching or stewing both pears and apricots almost every night for a week. 

Half 8 ripe apricots and remove the stones.
Place in a saucepan with about 125g golden caster sugar, 50ml water and 1 split vanilla pod.  Place over a low heat and dissolve the sugar then increase to medium and cook for approximately 15 minutes.  They will be ready when they are soft and the skins start to come away.  Cool and place in a glass jar for all manner of ice cream desserts, yoghurt breakfasts or late night snacks.

We ate the apricots all week for breakfast with our home-made granola and Glenisk vanilla yoghurt. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It was all about me tonight

This evening, with the baby bears tucked up in bed and papa bear  mid-flight from Bonn to Dublin, I cooked myself a delicious dinner and savoured every bite of it in delightful solitude.  I normally do not like eating alone, preferring to discuss snippets of the day and let the time pass, linked by a series contented silences which demand no need to be filled. 
Tonight however, was a rare treat, I ate alone with the rain slanting across each black window - it was all about the food and nothing about the day.

Baked field mushrooms with garlic and parsley served with crispy pork escalopes for one.

I could not resist the mushrooms in the vegetable shop yesterday, wide-eyed with velvety brown gills, meaty yet timid and vulnerable.
I baked them in a simple fashion, removing the stalk and replacing it with a knob of butter, a clump of fresh parsley, a dribble of red wine and topped with a handful of fresh bread crumbs.  Baked for about 25 minutes at 170 degrees.

I soaked the flattened pork fillet in buttermilk and garlic for about 4 hours (the remainder will remain overnight until tomorrow).  I then coated it in a mix of dried and fresh breadcrumbs, cayenne pepper, Parmesan cheese, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Fried for approximately 3 minutes each side I served it along side the baked mushrooms which I topped, for sheer indulgence, with a knob of gorgonzola.


I meticulously gathered and mopped up everything on the plate, leaving no evidence of food.  The few dishes are done, our political embarrassment is over for another day and bed seems like a very good idea.  I will see you for breakfast in the morning.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Pear Tart for A Model-maker and a Florist

WheelerandCompany have had a busy weekend ferrying children to birthday parties, catching up on an enormous amount of laundry and cooking for friends ... the cumulative effect being that its nice to work hard and then you feel like you really deserve to enjoy the down time.

I have on occasion had the annoying problem of planning and cooking for a dinner party, putting together a starter, main course and dessert which I think all which flow seamlessly into one another, then sitting down to dinner and thinking, I really do not want to eat this and wondering who the hell else does!
However I have since decided that it is simply best to cook what you want to actually eat yourself.  If you are the one who will spend several hours in the kitchen preparing the meal for a dozen others, then make sure that when you sit down, you are actually sitting down to eat something that you like - let your mood dictate the menu, thus having a stress free night to enjoy.  I did exactly that last night.

After a long week of treat-deprivation and abstinence, I really felt in need for a pudding of indulgence, a pudding of delicacy and one happy in its own being.  And so it was to be, pears and chocolate, a well known marriage made in pudding heaven. 
There is something incongruous yet beautiful about dark, bitter dense chocolate and the light, soft grainy pears - perhaps it is my fondness of the agra-dolce for something that is more contrast than harmony, but I would say that an appropriate retort upon tasting this tart is simply "wow!".

So as an excuse to eat almost a whole pear tart, we invited some wonderfully inspiring and energetic crusaders of the modern world round for dinner.  I am envious of their young looks, grey-free hair and upbeat attitude towards life - it left me inspired and hopeful for the future of this country that such people do exist!  This pear tart is dedicated to them.

For a delicious pear and chocolate tart for 6-8, you will need:

1 sweet crust pastry base baked blind from this place.
Brush egg yolk over the hot base to seal it and prevent any filling making it soggy.  Also this time I used one full egg beaten in the pastry and it was absolutely delicious, golden, buttery and crumbly.

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees:

Firstly poach about 4 pears in syrup until soft to the tip of a knife:

4 peeled pears
125g caster sugar

500ml water
1/2 vanilla pod, split in two
1/2 tsp ground ginger (optional)
1 pinch saffron strands (optional)

For the chocolate-almond paste:

125g soft butter
125g caster sugar
125g ground almonds
2 eggs, beaten
100g bar of good quality dark chocolate

Cream the butter and sugar until light and creamy.  Add the almonds and the egg a little at a time and mix slowly.  Melt the chocolate and pour slowly into the almond, sugar butter mix.  Try not to eat it all at this stage!

Spread the paste evenly across the pastry base.
Take each pear and slice finely, ensuring that all core is removed.  Place one pear into each quarter of the tart, fanning out the slices and pushing it into the chocolate mixture.
Sprinkle with finely slices almonds and place in the oven for at least 35 minutes - it took mine 45 mins.

One tip is to try to get the pear spread evenly across the chocolate filling as the areas where the pear is too thick will not cook as quickly as an area with little pear - do not worry too much how it looks as it will be covered by sliced almonds anyway.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Mama, I am Vegetarian"

I logged on tonight in dread of seeing the date of my last post - Saturday!! Where did the week go?  You are all such a presence in my life that I feel so bad for not posting, but I can seriously say that someone stole at least 48 hours without me even noticing! I have heard it happens regularly to people, so beware.

Anyway I am not really complaining as busy people are happy people I hope and I certainly have been busy working and enjoying the crisp cold January weather in the afternoons with the children. 
I think the highlight for me of this past week was to catch the final day of the Michael Warren exhibition entitled Unbroken Line in Visual, Carlow. 

My four year announced recently that he was now vegetarian.  He seems quite passionate after having watched five minutes (when he was supposed to be sleeping) of Gordon Ramsey investigating illegal shark deaths in the production of shark-fin soup. 
I did point out to him that at the minute the only vegetables he will eat without bribery is potaotes and that as a result of only eating potatoes, he will probably not grow up as he expects, never mind the boring prospect of eating potaotes every day.  He then retorted that he would take vitamins so I was not to worry!

So this week I have been on a mission and have been cooking and eating vegetables of all shapes and sizes, like they are going out of fashion - slow cooked fennel with Parmesan, Jerusalem artichoke, turnip and potato gratin, carrot and red pepper soup ... it has been a week of cleansing, exercise and trying to get children to eat vegetables.  When I have this one mastered I will let you know, but for now potaotes are definately on the kiddies menu!

Stove-top fennel with Parmesan

Place about 50g of butter into a saucepan and melt. Add fennel quarters and brown both sides of the quarters. Add enough water to come up half way on the fennel pieces and place a lid on,. Cook very slowly for about 20 minutes until they are just nearly tender to the tip of a knife. Turn up the heat and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Let the liquid boil rapidly until the liquid is greatly reduced and sprinkle over a generous handful of Parmesan. Serve almost immediately as the Parmesan is just starting to melt.

Jerusalem artichoke, turnip and potato gratin
Peel and slice finely two potatoes, five Jerusalem artichokes, one small white turnip and three garlic cloves.
Place one layer of potato into an oven proof dish and sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic slices and dot with butter.  Add a layer of turnip and repeat the seasoning and butter and then a layer of Jerusalem artichoke, followed by seasoning and butter.  Repeat until the ingredients are used up.  Somewhere add in some thyme leaves if you have some.  Pour in about 50ml double cream and 50ml milk.
Bake in the oven for 45 minutes at 180 degrees, covering with tinfoil if the top layer browns too much.

Roast Red Pepper, Carrot and Cinnamon Soup
These quantities are very approximate and you if you wanted to make the real mccoy, the first Avoca recipe book has the recipe apparently.  I ate this at a friends house several weeks ago and I have made it twice myself since.  It is delicious, warming and will put a smile on anyone who is hungry.

Roast approximately 2 red peppers and 6 carrots, chopped roughly tossed in olive oil and placed in the oven at 200 degrees until the edges of the pepper start to go black, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile sautee 1 onion, chopped, in butter in a large deep pan for 15-20 minutes until it is translucent and sweet.  Add the roasted vegetables and stir in 2 tblsps of ground cinnamon.  Stir together and add about 400ml chicken stock and 1 lime, skin and pith removed.  Taste and add more cinnamon if you like.  Cook on a simmer until all the vegetables are tender.  Blend to a fine smooth soup, adding more stock (if required) until you reach the desired consistency.  Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche stirred through.

My New Years Resolution is to increase my seasonal vegetable intake and increase the seasonal vegetable intake of my children. 
On that note I will leave you with my son's painting of what looks like it could possibly be an abbatoir!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saffron Poached Pears

There is something wonderfully regal about using saffron - it is expensive, it leaks its amazing colour onto everything in sight once in contact with moisture, it has been used for thousands of years as a dye and colourant for paint and cloth and it has the most wonderful distinct flavour.  I love it above all else in the world of flavourings.
With rice, in cauliflower and potato dishes, those otherwise pale elements are just begging to be coloured in yellow.  For me it transforms a dish into something rare and special.

I poached some rather ordinary Rocha pears this evening in saffron, vanilla, a little ginger and some lemon zest.  They emerged from their hot bath shining, picture perfect and delicious ....

These would make a near-perfect dinner party dessert as they are light, healthy, delicious and look amazing.

For 4 you will need:
4 Rocha pears ( or another firm pear variety), peeled but leaving stalks
125g caster sugar
500ml water
1/2 vanilla pod, split in two
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 pinch saffron strands

Place all the ingredients into a small deep saucepan and bring to the boil.  Turn down and simmer for 35-40 minutes until the pear is soft but still has a bit of a bite to it.  I served these with some of the poaching juice and a creme fraiche/yoghurt mix, roughly measured as 2 parts creme fraiche to 1 part vanilla yoghurt with the added vanilla seeds from the other half of the pod used in the poaching.  It was really good.

 When I make these again for a dinner party, I will core the pear, ensuring not to damage the top stalk, meaning that guests can eat the whole thing without having to cut around the hard core.  They would also taste great with a good quality vanilla or ginger ice cream.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


It was a day for new things in WheelerandCompany.
I am now working mornings as an architect and spending my afternoons as a mother, probably an enviable mix for most mothers, although the pressure is on to prove that it can be done - that a working mother can still complete significant quality tasks of benefit to an employer in such a short time and yet  nurture happy engaged children at the same time.  I worry about the children less and the work more, so lets see!
I also read this rather refreshing article about how Chinese mothers raise their children and wondered if I was doing it all wrong (answer yes), a lot of food for thought!  I am strict but not that strict.

On a lighter, less daunting note, I made a really tasty tagine tonight, as did my brother in London who phoned at 7pm wondering what to cook for dinner.  Recipe relayed, I hope he enjoys his as much as we did ours.  It looks a little messy and was photographed in a hurry by the hungry photographer, but who cares, it did taste that good!

Fes in Morocco is considered the capital of Moroccan cooking and one of the most particular attributes of this style of cooking is that all the ingredients are placed at once into the cooking pot, rather than placing the basic spices in the oil first or browning the skin of the chicken.
As a consequence, this makes the dish really easy in that once all the ingredients are placed in the casserole, it can bubble away at its leisure for one hour, ensuring very tender meat with a lot of condensed flavour, and a rather relaxed chef.

You will need, for 4:

1 large chicken, cut into quarters or a selection of thigh, leg and breast with skin on
4 tblsps sunflower oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 large tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp crushed saffron strands( use the back of a teaspoon)
1/2 a preserved lemon, pulp removed and skin cut into thin strips
2 tblsps honey
a handful of blanched whole almonds, cracked and toasted
sea salt and cracked black pepper

Place all the ingredients, with the exception of the honey and almonds into a large casserole dish which has a lid.  Cover and cook for approximately 1 hour on a very low heat, stirring occasionally to ensure that nothing sticks to the bottom.
Remove the chicken pieces and reduce the sauce for about 10 minutes on a medium heat.  Add the honey and replace the chicken pieces.

Serve with toasted almonds and couscous.

You can add almost anything at the end of the cooking stage, my brother added nectarine chunks in his this evening and reported stellar results, you could add raisins or agen prunes or another similarly sweet fruit or some bright green olives for a salty kick.  This is a robust dish often eaten at lunch times in Morocco and it is worth your while experimenting with various sweet, sour and salty additions until you find a combination that you like. 

While the tagine is gently spluttering away in the background, you can spend some quality time with the kinder, like we did, painting everything in sight for the afternoon!