Lemon cupcakes

(This post is for my mountaneering friend Simón, who requested the recipe several times in between mouthfuls of cupcake. Hence the non-lemon related drawing.)
Forgive the hubris, but I am proud, proud as in before-a-fall; downright smug, in fact. I can´t help it. These cupcakes are so damn delicious, and I practically invented them!
Ok, invent is a bit of a stretch. But I threw around the ingredients in a way that contradicts that often heard sage advice: "improvise all you like, but never improvise when baking."

I don´t, normally. Part of the pleasure of baking is carefully wheighing out stuff, measuring out the cups, folding just-so, and putting a wet sludge in the oven secure in the knowledge that it will be cake, as promised, in a little while.

But this was Friday morning. I´m always restless on Friday mornings, and don´t really like to work, as there´s little point in handing in stuff that won´t be looked at til Monday, anyway.
But I couldn´t leave the house, as I was waiting for a client to pick up a drawing, and I was prowling like only a caged illustrator can: from the depths of the big armchair by the window. What to do? My mind hit on the last post of my pal Guru, and I thought, aha, cupcakes!

I had fired up the oven and printed out a couple of recipes and tied the apron and warmed the fridge-cold eggs in warm water when I began to realize I didn´t have all the ingredients I needed. Options:
A- dash to the shop and get the required butter and muffin cases
B- brazen it out

You know it´s always going to be B, right?
So anyway, what I did was mix the two muffin recipes in Guru´s blog, more or less. One called for eggs and butter, the other for yogurt. I compromised with less eggs, and since I only had 75 gr. of butter, and had no yogurt, but instead a carton of milk had gone sour, that went in too.
The resulting mix looked curdled and less than fascinating, and I wasn´t sure how the teflon in my Ikea muffin tin would shape up with no liners, but everything was more than fine.
The cupcakes came out whole and golden, with no damage from being naked. The crumb was moist and very flavourful, chock full of lemony egg flavour. A bit coarse, with thickish crumbs that clumped in beautiful small lumps on breaking. Since I still had time on my hands, and icing sugar left over from the biscuit adventures, and lemons from my Absalom days, I iced them.
They looked very pretty, were wolfed down by my near and dear after lunch, and when I made them again on Sunday to clinch the recipe, they received rave reviews, so:

Lemon Cupcakes

The measures are in cups, but for Spanish eyes, half a cup is 125 ml, or the size of a normal yogurt.

1 and 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 caster sugar
1/2 cup natural yogurt
1/2 teaspoonful baking powder
pinch of salt
zest and juice of one big lemon
2 eggs
75 gr. butter, melted or really really soft

Preheat oven to 180ºC and put muffin cases in tin (12)

Measure out the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in one bowl.
In a bigger one, mix the butter, eggs, yogurt and lemon.
Tip the dry stuff into the big bowl and mix, with a very light hand. Better have lumps than overbeat.

Spoon the mixture into the cups, and good luck to you if you think you can do it without spilling stuff between the paper and the tin. Don´t go above two thirds, although you won´t, if you´re dividing evenly.

Bake for 20 or so until golden and puffed up.

Ice, if you like, and if not, not.


Lovely bones; marrow and parsley salad.

One of the signature dishes of Madrid is cocido. It´s one of those balls-to-the-wall porcine fests, chock full of every conceivable bit of it, and complemented with chick peas, potatoes, cabbage, and tomato sauce for good measure.
Everyone has their favourite bit. Some prefer the chorizo, others the morcilla. The cabbage is usually given a wide berth, and the boiler chicken considered a little dull, but everybody loves the broth, infused with all the flavour that can possibly go into soup, and of course the garbanzos are always a hit. In our house, the ugly fight breaks out over the marrow bone.
There are many bits of everything else, but only one marrow bone, two at most, and my mother (and her mother before her) always collars it, so that I was quite old when I tried the delights of marrow for myself, and then away from home. And when I did, I loved it, but wondered if I´d have to be a proper motherly matron before being allowed to stake out the marrow in every cocido.
It turns out that no, it´s ok, non-matriachs. Marrow can be roasted and eaten just like that, without all the cocido complications.
Though it´s not that easy to get many marrow bones, it can be done. Butchers in Spain give them away, and tend to hoard them and give just one each to each cocido maker. It works out pretty well for them, as they sell chorizo, morcilla, tocino (lard), shin of beef and maybe even the boiler chicken too, and then look courtly and generous, in a Sweeney Toddish way, by giving away one single bone.
But if you go at the beginning of the week, at a quiet time far from the weekend cocido madness, you might be lucky and wheedle four or five good pieces from the middle of the bone.

The thing to do then is, of course, call your mother and offer to serve up a mini troglodite fat-fest.
All you need is to fire up the oven, wait for it to be hot, put the bones in a dish and wait til they´re cooked. I´ve read that the minute the fat starts running out you should stop, but I´ve always found bloody bits inside the bone, which is gross. Leave them there half an hour at least, and wait til it´s all white.
During that half hour, take a bunch of parsley and pick out the leaves. Chop them roughly, and put them in a bowl with some thinly sliced fresh red onion and a handful of capers. Dress with fruity olive oil and lemon, no salt. Toast bread, a ciabatta-ish one for preference.

Serve the bones with the toast, the salad and a little bowl of Maldon salt. Proceed to scoop out the jellified, quivery fatty inside, spread it on the toast, sprinkle with salt and top with the salad.

It´s a wonderful starter, and practically free, given that both the bones and the parsely will have cost exactly nothing.
And on the plus side, you get to give the picked out bones to your dogs, who will be very happy indeed. A win-win dish for lean January when everybody´s skint.


Oatmeal raisin cookies

Look, I know we´re all supposed to be cutting down on the calories and the high jinks and generally behaving like Trappist monks during recession. But come on. It´s only January. January is bleak, there´s nothing to look forward to, and, let´s face it, bikini issues are still a long way away. Will it kill you to have a bag of cookies in the freezer, and have the occasional one with a cup of tea? I don´t think so, so here goes.

You know that episode of Friends where Phoebe gives Rachel an oatmeal-raisin cookie, and Rachel moans, and says "omigod, these are the best oatmeal-raisin cookies ever!", and Phoebe says "yeah, I don´t make them very often, it wouldn´t be fair to other cookies"? Well, ever since I saw that, and it was years and years ago, it´s been floating around in my brain. I wanted to make oatmeal raisin cookies. There´s no such thing in Spain, so it´d have to be home made.

But what with one thing and another, mainly being side-tracked onto cupcakes by Sex and the City, I never got round to doing much about it.
Until this summer I found myself with a copy of Joy of cooking, plenty of time, and a friendly oven, and so a craze was born.

These really are the best oatmeal-raisin cookies ever, and contenders for the title of best cookies ever. Sure, they´re not showstoppers like other cookies, but they have a sneaky, quiet charm that finds me hankering for one at odd hours. They are very chewy, but very crisp on the edges, and stay that way even after a couple of days, after being defrosted, after being knocked about in a lunchbox all morning.
I love them just as they are, and of course cold milk is a perfect match, but so far the most exciting way I´ve had them is with cheese, gallego for choice.
And if you have an apple afterwards, it will be so brimming with health that you won´t even feel the tiniest pang of guilt.

Oatmeal raisin drop cookies, adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Preheat the oven to 180ºC

Cream 100 gr. butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup white or vanilla sugar.
(Thermomix users, beware that I´ve broken two butterflies already. Start with soft butter)
Add one egg and a bit of flour so it doesn´t curdle. One teaspoonful of milk, and when it´s nice and fluffy, 1 cup flour (minus what you added to the egg), previously mixed with a half teaspoonful of salt and 1/2 a teaspoonful of baking powder.
Now pour that out onto a big bowl (I´m assuming you used a mixer for this) and mix in 1 cup rolled oats and 1/2 cup of raisins.

Drop the cookies 5 cm apart. If you make them big, they´r divine, if you make them small, they look adorable and crunch even more. Whatever you do, given 10 minutes or so and take them out the minute they´re a pale gold.


Finally, the stuffed bird.

I know I said yesterday that I´d keep my posting to one a week. But that´s starting from next week.
You see, my dear friends, even though I´ve had more than enough of tinsel, coloured lights, mindless cheer and silly presents, the fact remains that here the holidays are still alive and kicking. We still have the last hurdle to get through, Reyes.
I´m a well-known Reyes grouch, as can be seen by last year´s post , but I won´t go into that again.
Instead, I´ll give you the recipe I promised for stuffed capon.
It´s not a suitable recipe for right now, but you can file it away, because it´s good. A beautiful plump bird, stuffed to the brim with meat and other goodies, it´s basically a combo of two favorites; meat loaf and roast chicken.
On the night, we serve it with mashed potatoes, red cabbage, apple sauce, sweet chestnuts and glazed onions. No wonder I can´t leave the sofa for days after, uh?
It also makes divine sandwiches, with chutney and mayo.


The bird can be a small turkey, a big chicken, a capon, a guinea hen, whatever. Just make sure it´s a properly brought up specimen from a good family. And ask for it to be de-boned (also ask for the bones so you can use them another day).

The weight of the bones will give you the quantity of meat for the stuffing. Somewhere around 1,5 kg of pork meat. You can substitute some of that for fresh sausage meat if you prefer.

3 eggs.
3 cookign apples, cut in small chunks.
200 gr. prunes, cut in four
1 cup of almonds, more or less, chopped

Butter for basting (plenty), salt, pepper, nutmeg and brandy.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC

In a big bowl, mix the meat with the almonds, eggs, prunes, apples. If you like, you can throw in some slivers of raw chicken liver, too.
Salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste, and a good glug of brandy.
Squish with your hands until you have an evenly distributed mix.
Proceed to stuff this into the bird, making sure you get meat into every last little nook and cranny.
The bird, which in the beginning looked deflated and very sorry for itself, will begin to look like Popeye on steroids.
Don´t overstuff, though, or it will burst later (not that big a deal).

Now´s the tricky part. Take a tick needle and stout thread, and patch the skin. Apart from the two big cavities, there will be little nicks where the butcher was too zealous. You must sow these carefully, again, to prevent the juices from oozing out.

Slice a couple of onions and lay them on a baking tray. Salt and oil them a little, and manouver the bird on top. By now it will be heavy and unwieldy. Ask for help. Dot it with butter, douse with brandy, and begin to roast.
It will probably need three hours, with occasional topping up of the tray with water and brandy as the sauce dries out, and occasional basting.
If you have a meat thermometer, let it work its magic, but if not, you´ll probably know it´s done when it looks golden, crusty, and has made every last corner of the house smell heavenly.
The gravy can be served as it is, or blended till smooth and light caramel in colour.



Happy New Year.
I´ve been terrible, I know, I´m sorry. The holiday cheer just gets to me. Not in a bad way, but it does pin me to the sofa. There´s no way to work when you know for a fact that every editor and art director is away skiing or shaking the seriffs from the soles of their feet under a palm tree.
The problem with laziness is that it spreads. And before you know it you´ve managed to neglect everything, from cookie baking to present buying to blog updating.
I don´t know if I can get my life on track, but for now, here are a couple of resolutions for the new year:

I´ll tame my ambitions, but be disciplined. From now on I´ll post once a week, but it will be a proper post.

I´ll endeavour to keep some kind of home baked good around at all times cached in the freezer for unexpected visitors or sudden cravings.

I´ll learn to make empanada gallega.