Sunday, February 20, 2011


We are limping along here at WheelerandCompany, each one of us struck down a few days after the next by a dastardly cold which stays for two days, seems to disappear completely and then returns with full force just to finish us off.

The only good thing to happen in today's wet, cold windy Dublin were these cute little crescents of happiness.  It was like I was preparing for a wedding or a christening, each one glinting and white.
When my coffee shop makes its way out of my dreams and becomes reality, these will be served alongside each coffee.  Small, quiet and melt in the mouth.

This is a recipe taken from Rachel Allen's Bake book.  I don't cook a lot from it but what I have made, usually comes out well.  These are especially good and simple.

You will need:

350g plain flour, sifted - I used Shiptons Mill
2 tsp baking powder
250g softened butter
2 tsp vanilla essence
1 egg, beaten
100g caster sugar (I used golden caster sugar)
50g ground hazelnuts
pinch salt
100g icing sugar

Firstly mix the flour, baking powder, sugar, hazelnuts, vanilla essence, egg and butter in a food mixer or with beaters.  The dough will come together quite quickly but ensure that everything is thoroughly combined.
Wrap the dough in cling film and place in the fridge to cool for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Remove the dough and using a walnut-sized ball, roll it into a little log.  Place on a baking sheet, pulling the two ends together to make a crescent shape.  Slightly flatten each one.  Do not place them too close together as they do expand slightly, despite what Rachel Allen advises.

The mix should give you about 45-50 small cookies.

Place them in the oven, in batches or on several baking sheets for about 10-12 minutes, until they are just starting to turn a pale gold colour.  Remove from the oven and leave them to stand on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire cooling tray.

When the biscuits are just cool with no warmth but not entirely cold, roll them completely in the icing sugar and set on a serving dish.  Repeat until all are cooked and dusted.

I think that these would look lovely served at a Christening or wedding, the pale gold and white colour is beautiful.  They taste especially good with coffee on a wet Sunday when there is nothing to do but stay indoors, read the papers and recuperate.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In the mood for Stew?

Yesterday in a somewhat reluctant (lazy) haze I decided to make a stew.   I was searching for something unctuous, dark and comforting and one which would burp along for quite a few hours and emerge onto the dinner plate with minimal effort.  No less than 24 hours later, I produced this ...

I bought 1lb of stewing steak (against my mothers advice to buy a few large slices of frying steak and cut them up) and loosely followed a Claudia Roden recipe for Greek stifatho.  The name comes from the Italian stufato meaning stewed meat and this is a braised beef and onion stew typical of rustic Greek mountain cooking.

Firstly I peeled two large handfuls of small white pickling onions - you can make this job easier by soaking them in boiling water for a few minutes to loosen the otherwise tight skins.

I put them into a large casserole, with a lid, along with half a bottle of red wine, the diced pieces of meat, 3 cloves, 4 black pepper corns, 1/2 tsp ground all-spice, 3 tlbsps olive oil and 3 tblsps of red-wine vinegar.  I added a little cold water, just enough to cover the ingredients.

I brought it to the boil and removed any scum which appeared, not a lot as it happens.
Then I placed it on my smallest gas ring with a diffuser so that it was cooking at a very low bubble and left it there for 2 or 3 hours.  I didn't need to, bit depending on the tightness of your lid, you mat need to add a little more water, so check it occasionally.

The meat should be tender to the point of falling apart.

This all sounds fine except that it tasted slightly bitter and it took a good 31/2 hours until my meat was remotely soft.  I then added about 8 prunes to the pot towards the end of cooking to sweeten and slightly thicken the juice. 
It did taste good then but I think that the cooking took so long that the anticipation of the meal had gone, completely. I have never felt so removed from anything that I have ever cooked.  I stopped short of putting it in the bin, I mean there was nothing in the world wrong with it, I just didn't want to eat it.  Plain and simple.

I am not sure what this says about me - I never know until the last minute what I am really in the mood for - now that I think about it, it is evident in the fact that I am always last at the table to order in a restaurant, preferring to hear what everyones individual course combinations are first before committing mine to a hard and fast decision.
Maybe it just says that I am completely whimsical and never satisfied, who knows?

Anyway less of the self-evaluation.  I let it cool and put it in the fridge to wait for my mood change and made a great pasta putanesca.

So to get to the end of the story, I ate it for lunch today and it was out of this world delicious.  The sweetness of the prunes had improved the juices entirely and with the slight spiced taste I served it atop a serving of braised savoy cabbage and sprinkled on some toasted chopped walnuts.  I surprised myself at how good it tasted.  I had planned to sprinkle on some bright white feta to make it palatable, but also to highlight the darkness of the meat.  It was black, tender and a bit like soft turf.  Just delicious and I think I might have it for tea as well.

Some things are really worth waiting for.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The things I love

I am thinking that there are unlimited things to do with courgette.  I cook with them in some form at least twice a week.  They taste so good, I can find no compelling reason not to.  I love courgette.

I also picked up some cute little baby beets in the  organic food market in St Andrews on Saturday.  Beetroot is great as it keeps in the fridge for at least a week, it tastes amazing, it is healthy and it stains your hands completely.  I have loved it ever since my wonderful friend Richard presented to me an iridescent bowl of beetroot risotto, so pink that in fact it was frightening to eat, but tasted sweet and delicious.

I roasted these in the oven tonight for about an hour, peeled them and served them with some slow-cooked courgettes, threw in some stray kalamata olives, crumbled a deliciously contrasting white goats cheese and sprinkled with toasted pine nuts.  All a bit of a mixture of whatever was jumping out at me, but nonetheless healthy, delicious and colourful.  I think that this would be great as a starter to maybe a rich fish pie topped with buttery mashed potato as its a little bit self-righteously healthy. 

Or eat it alone as I did tonight, made happy by the little things in life ...

I am enchanted with some things at the minute ...

                              Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
                              Enwrought with golden and silver light,
                              The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
                              Of night and light and the half-light,
                               I would spread the cloths under your feet:
                               But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
                               I have spread my dreams under your feet;
                              Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
                              Aedh Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven, William Butler Yeats, 1899

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chicken Chicken

My boys love chicken ...  they like to eat 'chicken chicken', 'beef chicken', 'lamb chicken' and, more recently, 'pheasant chicken'.  They seem to have substituted the meat counterpart of anything to be 'chicken'.  All fine by me so long as they like it.  Sudden realisation, maybe it all just tastes like chicken!

Tonight we had 'chicken chicken' with beans which went down a treat.

I make this quite often and have never considered posting it really as a blog, but for some reason it was super tasty tonight and I feel compelled to tell you about it.  It really is such a simple concoction which requires literally no thought, in fact I do not think that it has a hard and fast recipe as it changes depending on the contents of the fridge.

Tonight I used - to serve four with leftovers:

4 chicken breast fillets
2 red/yellow onions
75g smoked pancetta
2 tins plum tomatoes
2 tins cannellini beans
1 bunch fresh herbs - marjoram, thyme, oregano, 1 bay leaf
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Gubbeen fresh chorizo sausages(optional) (cooked and added afterwards for the adults as they are too spicy for the boys)  These are entirely unnecessary as the pancetta adds a lovely mild smoky rich taste to the tomato sauce, the chorizo appeared as I am slightly addicted to it and cannot resist adding it to everything at the minute.

Soften the chopped onion in a little oil and butter in a pan.  Add the pancetta and cook for 4-5 minutes.
Add the tins of chopped tomatoes and the bunch of fresh herbs which you have tied together for easy retrieval.

In a separate pan brown the seasoned chicken fillets and add them to the tomato sauce.
Place in the oven at about 170 degrees for 35 minutes, stirring once during cooking.  About 5 minutes towards the end of cooking, open the tins of cannellini beans and rinse them thoroughly under running water. Add to the casserole, stir and place back in the oven for 5 minutes or so until the (already cooked) beans are heated through.

I cooked the chorizo for not more than 4 minutes in a small pan and then added a small glug of red wine.  I reduced this to a smooth oily sauce and served these little spicy disks atop the casserole, calorifically unnecessary but otherwise yummy!

Serve otherwise with a spoonful of creme fraiche, a sprinkling of chopped parsley, Parmesan shavings and some crusty bread

Check out what is happening in the garden - these arrogant little shoots are appearing, everywhere!
It's official, Spring is here.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Warm salad of roast pheasant with savoy spinach, tomato, orange and chilli

I have been quiet here for exactly a week.
I am not sure what the problem is, or if there is a problem, I just feel somehow uninspired in the kitchen.  Its not that I have not been cooking, I made delicious pizza with the boys mid-week, with leftovers for the hungry architects,  but somehow something feels awry.  Perhaps its the weather,  it is tedious, full of howling, frightening, dangerous wind and warm heavy rain.  I go for a run across the beach and the wind is so strong in one direction that I can barely take an intake of breath without it being torn from me.  I am stubborn and must get to the end, knowing that the payback is that I will be pushed gently all the way home.
Although the kitchen to me is the most warm and welcoming place where I am most comfortable, it seems a little alien at the minute.

Tonight was really no different except that I said to hell with the run and the rain and we went to our local pub, The Oarsman, with the boys for a pint after work. 
I always feel a little awkward taking them into the pub near our inner city home.  They are children and pubs are the curse to many a household here.  But we had a surprisingly adult chat about school and friends with our four year old and it was all very mature.  Time goes past so quickly that we miss these little moments.  The pizza we made this week was the second pizza he had eaten in his life. I distinctly remember when he was a baby just wishing that we could all go out to eat and enjoy a meal together without there being puree or chips present, not that pizza is any better, but I love the act of sharing food. 
Last Sunday we went to Da Vincenzo on the easterly outskirts of Ranelagh village.  It brought a tear to my eye as it was the little restaurant that M and I ate in after long Sunday walks in Wicklow, pre-babies and pre-marriage.  We have not been back since we moved into our house in 2002, nearly nine years ago.  Da Vincenzo remains the same, not one thing has changed.  It seems impervious to the economic climate, food trends and all things fashionable.  I love it for this.  The pizza is really good, the best I have tasted in Dublin to date and it was the first time J, aged four and a half ate a whole pizza.  It is now my current favourite restaurant, and interestingly run by a well educated Egyptian who feels passionately about the many injustices suffered in his country to date. 

On a totally different train of thought, today's dinner was inspired  as a revolt against the grey weather and the sad election posters.

It did involve Pheasant, but this is by no means the main ingredient - it tasted great but could easily be left out or substituted with leftover duck or chicken. 
Now I must initially state that I did not cook this but it is pure Glenariff pheasant caught in season by Jamie Haughey on the brays overlooking the Bay and it tasted great.  Apparently Eddie brought home so much pheasant that he was subsequently banned (sensibly so) from bringing home any more as these birds need hanging, plucking, cleaning and cooking.  A lot of work, so my mother took over the task.  She, with (a lot of) help from my dad (I have to mention my dad who almost started his own blog on how to pluck and clean a pheasant) plucked, cleaned and roasted these birds in the oven and I got three little parcels of pheasant leg and breast meat, with juices to die for, delivered to my door in Dublin on Friday.  What a treat.  So here I will only suggest to you what to do with cooked pheasant meat, but you will have to ask my dad how to get there! 

Warm salad of roast pheasant with savoy spinach, tomato, orange and chilli  

You will need:

some roast pheasant leg and breast
4 small bunches of savoy spinach
1 small pumpkin
1 navel orange
10 baby plum tomatoes
8 stoneless kalamata olives
2 garlic cloves
1 small red chilli
2 tblsps olive oil

Place the tomatoes, a tblsp of olive oil, 1 garlic clove and 1 whole red chilli into an oven proof dish and roast at 170 degrees for about 25 minutes.  Toss in the kalamata olives at the end to warm.

Meanwhile, half and quarter the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds.  Toss the pieces in olive oil and roast for 40 minutes, also 170 degrees.

When the tomatoes have roasted to to a delicious chunky slightly spicy sauce, remove the chilli and set aside.  Remove the flesh from the pumpkin and set aside also.

Cut the skin off a navel orange and slice finely into segments removing any pith.

Take out the pheasant which has been heating in the oven and keep all these ingredients to hand.

Place a tablespoon of olive oil in a cold pan and add 1 finely sliced garlic clove.  Bring the heat up to a sizzle and add the washed spinach and any water which is clinging to it.  Cook for no more than 3 minutes until the spinach is just starting to breakdown but not as long as it would take for it to become soft.  I like bite and texture from this curly spinach.

Place the spinach in a serving plate, add pieces of pheasant, pumpkin and orange and spoon over the hot tomato and olives.

Serve just warm like this and enjoy.