Braised red cabbage in a pressure cooker

Christmas dinner preparations continue full tilt. Two capons are already deboned, stuffed and sown up for this killer once-a-year triumph of a recipe. Jars and jars of onions and cabbage and apple sauce and chestnuts glisten on the countertop. A huge tray of pommes dauphinois promises to send everyone into a creamy stupor. Tomorrow we roast the birds and we´re all set.

Here´s the recipe for the red cabbage. It´s a very easy braise, and looks beautiful, and in a pressure cooker takes just a few minutes.

Shred a head of red cabbage, and throw it into the pressure cooker. Add a couple of handfuls of raisins, two big apples (we use reinetas because that´s the universal cooking apple in Spain, but any will do, really), a chopped onion, two spoonfuls of Sherry vinegar and salt and pepper. Now do a leap of faith and close the lid of the pressure cooker. The cabbage will provide all the liquid needed, trust me.

Once the pressure´s up, count 6 minutes and voilá you´re done.

I make this all winter and fall long, to go with sausages or baked potatoes. If you´re feeling very Nordic and have access to them, a few caraway seeds will not go amiss.


Sweet Pearl Onions

We´re 22 for Christmas this year, so it´s best to organize and make as much as possible ahead. First on the list, the red cabbage with apples and the sweet onions. We make them and seal them into jars, so they can be kept in a cupboard and not take up room in our bulging freezer.
The sweet onions are great any time of the year, of course, and they go well with everything, so it´s a recipe worth keeping in mind.

You´ll need 600 gr. of frozen pearl onions (or normal sliced onions, or small onions or shallots that you peel yourself).
Melt 70 gr. butter and 30 gr. oil in the Thermomix for a couple of minutes in Varoma, then add the frozen onions and program 30 minutes more, in Varoma. Once they´re done, add a stock cube and 70 gr. caramel, and leave them for 10 minutes at 100ºC. Check for salt, add pepper and there you have it, an elegant little side dish.

If you make them in a normal pot, just sautee the onions until soft in butter and oil, add caramel and the stock cube, etc. It´s pretty straightforward, but you´ll have to use your judgement because the size of the pan changes everything.

And if you want to keep them around for a bit, just put them in a jar, cover it well and leave it in a bain marie for half an hour or so, until there´s no air inside and the lid doesn´t yield.



Risotto, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

I've discovered that the best proportiion for making risotto in a pressure cooker is one-two. Double the liquid to rice is perfect, and easy to remember. Five minutes is all it needs under pressure. I make two cups of rive for three, and it's just enough. Leftovers are always well received by two-year-old Pía.



Fairy, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

It's not just cooking that has to be done...



Pizza, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

Homemade pizza, icy beer. The oven heats up the kitchen, perfect with the snow all around.


Tomato and egg Soup

Tom&egg Soup, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

Fridge raiding night; jamón, omelette and artichokes for J, salmon bits for Pía, an egg poached in tomato soup for me.

Like a strange marriage between a can of Campbell's and sopa castellana.



Pantry, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

in response to Sang, here's a bit of my pantry. I have so many things it's ridiculous, but I really do use most of the ingredients, although some impulse buys tend to linger. Melon seeds from an African spice shop? Really?
One thing I stongly recommend is putting everything possible in glass jars. Any empty jam, mayo, peanut butter or honey jar will do. it feels so much better to take your raisins or pine nuts or pimentón out of a glass jar than out of a crinkly packet that spills everything it has failed to keep fresh.



Congee, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

Friendly,warming food. And in the pressure cooker, relatively quick. For the babies, with egg stirred in, and a splash of soy sauce for the toddler, too. For the adults, sesame oil, soy sauce, hot sauce, fish sauce, peanuts, spring onions and stirfried mushrooms. Everybody wins.


Miso soup

Untitled #85, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

Might very possibly save your life on a snowy day.

Life is too crazy to keep posting in the usual way, so I´ve decided that at least until the holidays are over, I´m going to change things a little around here. Instead of a weekly, if that, post with a recipe, I´ll post more often, just drawings done on the iPad and uploaded via Flickr. That way I still get to have fun, and don´t feel I´m neglecting any of you dear readers. I hope you enjoy these little digital doodles. Here´s my inspiration.



Untitled #81, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

Lots of it these days. All it takes is a sachet of powdered gelatin and good fresh juice from a carton. With custard or thick yogurt it becomes ridiculously comforting and luxurious.


Cookbook love, and five minute roast potatoes (really!)

Illustrating cookbooks is one of my favourite types of work. As is working for friends. When a friend writes a cookbook it´s a wonderful double whammy that makes it the best possible job.
This is "Nami-Nami kokaraamat", or The Nami-nami cookbook, written by Pille, blogger extraordinaire, dear friend and embassador of all things to do with Estonian food.
I haven´t checked out the recipes because the text is in Estonian, so all I can vouch for is one of them, which you can find here.

The recipe I´m sharing to day comes from this video , where Jamie Oliver mentions, in passing, a method for roasting new potatoes in the microwave for four minutes before grilling them for another couple of minutes with olive oil and herbs.
I tried it this morning, heating the grill (broiler over the Atlantic) while the potatoes were in the microwave.
People, this is a keeper. They were great, crunchy crispy outside, soft inside and truly quick. Wonderful. I can´t wait to try it with other vegetables.


Momofuku eggs

You know how it is with restaurant cookbooks; they are irritating, they use the editorial we like it was the royal we, and patronize you right left and centre, insisting it´s no use to do anything unless you have the exact impossible ingredient.
However, they can be fun to read, and of course there are a few that actually work as cookbooks, like Moro, or The Zuni Café Cookbook.

Momofuku reads more like a tall tale from your brother´s stoner college roommate. It doesn´t set out to be very useful, and makes no apologies for being restaurant food, but somehow it´s full of good ideas, like these eggs.
They´re just poached eggs, cooked in not very hot water for a very long time, which might not seem like a big deal, or even very user friendly, but the fact that you can prepare as many as you want, all at once, and keep them to hand until you need them (within reason, of course) makes it very special. It´s perfect when you have a crazy week and you want to prepare as much ahead as possible. Or for a dinner or a brunch, or any time when you need a lot of poached eggs all at once.
You´d better check out this post for the full instructions.


Virginia´s Cafe

My favourite place in Aberdeen is an Italian café very near us. It´s a tiny place, on a corner in Rosemount Avenue, our main street, and is always warm and bustling. Go in on a cold and windy standard issue Aberdeen day, and you´ll be instantly transported somewhere far far away.
Virginia´s is like something out of a sitcom, and everybody inside straight out of central casting. It´s run by an Italian family who look just like you would expect, glossy and dark and beautiful and fast-talking and funny. Customers run in and out, take away tempting looking sandwiches, all wrapped up, or sit and chat, almost always in bubbly Italian.
It´s like a Madrid bar, except that there´s no cigarette smoke and the tv isn´t blaring (you really can´t have everything ).
The menu begins with a nod to the Scottish breakfast, but soon goes for the serious stuff; paninis, antipasti, pasta.
My favourite, so far, is the "delizioso", a small ciabatta, warm from the press, filled with dolcelatte blue cheese, walnuts, ruccola and speck.
Ideally this should be followed by a cup of coffee and a portion of tiramisù, home made and very very good. Sadly I can never have more than a spoonful, because by the time I´ve swallowed the first, Pía has hoovered up the rest.

Virginia´s 231 Rosemount Place 01224 644432


Make your own requesón

On Monday morning I spotted a bottle of goat´s milk in the discounted section of my supermarket.
I know what you´re thinking: "call child protection services before this crazy woman poisons her family".
But consider. This was very good organic goat´s milk, at 35 pence the litre, on the day before the sell by date, and if I didn´t take it home it would be trown away, which is wrong for so many reasons.
I would to use it to make requesón, which is a way of preserving milk, see? It makes perfect sense, really, because it´s the most delicate, creamy requesón you´ll ever have, and you just can´t buy it, not where I live, anyway.

I won´t write down the recipe because it´s dead simple. Follow the rules as laid down by the great Russ Parsons.

My observations:

If youl use goat´s milk instead of cow´s, the curds will be finer, and look like they haven´t sepparated. Just strain them very carefully and prepare to be amazed.

If you´re thinking of using semi skimmed milk, don´t. I found a bottle of Yeo Valley Organic semi skimmed yesterday, also discounted, and it was ok but nowhere nearly as good as a full milk version would have been.

From now on, I´ll be on the prowl for cheap milk, because it takes five seconds to make and is a very versatile ingredient, altough I mostly smear it on toast and top with honey, it´s so good simply like that.


Pressure cooker poached chicken

I´ve written before about poached chicken, and I stand by my earlier post. Yes, poached chicken sounds bland and boring, and well, nobody´s saying that it´s a hot ticket or an exotic wild thing. It´s a blank slate of sorts, and nobody will object to having some around the house. And although the method in the other post is perfectly fine, poaching a whole chicken in a pressure cooker makes much more sense.

You know all those tempting dishes they suggest you make with leftover chicken, but you can never make because you only have enough for a stingy sandwich? Well, the answer to that is cook a whole bird to treat as leftovers. A 1.5 kg standard bird stretches very far indeed when portioned out like this, and is a great return on investment.

So, take your pressure cooker and your bird. Salt it well, put it in the pot, cover it with water, and add whatever aromatics you´re in the mood for. I usually use onion, celery carrot and ginger, although bay leaves are more the thing. Whatever. Now lock it , bring it up to pressure and give it 15 minutes.

Note: this is how I used to make it, but now I´m in a so-tender-it-falls-apart kind of chicken place, so I give it 30 minutes for a whole bird and 20 for chicken parts. In any case, if after 15 minutes it´s raw or pink, return it to the pot; raw or undercooked chicken is dangerous and does´t taste good.

Open it, take the chicken out and put it to rest in a bowl (it´s a brothy mess).
Now you have to pick the meat, and it´s hot, so either wait or brave it out.
Once the meat is all in a nice bowl, put the bones back in the pot and give them 15 minutes more. This is of course not strictly necessary but will give you much better stock.

And there you are. A whole lot of chicken meat, a lot of broth, and the possibility to look at all those recipes for pies and sandwiches and pasties and noodles and salads and soups.


Buying locally

And by that I mean my local supermarket, not the green fields of the apple-cheeked farmer.

Every two or three weeks I go to a big Sainsbury´s and fill a cart to teetering point with everything from nappies to canned tomatoes to barley cous cous and white miso and tubs of ice cream.

But I have a fridge the size of a Kelly bag, and can´t stock up on a lot of fresh produce, so every other day sees me trudging up to the Co-op for milk, or eggs, or salad or bread.

The Co-op is small and more expensive, but it´s right here.

And that´s how I´ve devised the new market-driven cuisine for the suburban north pole housewife. You can´t do that thing of "choose what looks good", because everything looks the same. The bright lights and the plastic in a supermarket make it almost impossible to tell. Instead, I buy almost everything that has a "reduced to clear" sticker.

This may seem extreme, but isn´t, really.

I find that fruit becomes edible about three or four days after its sell by date. Salad may be a little wonky and so I might avoid it, but root vegetables, cabbage, broccoli and tomatoes,? Perfectly fine, thank you.

My haul yesterday: a bag of watercress, two boxes of huge mushrooms, a bag of "british stew vegetables", two basil plants, a packet of courgettes and a bag of apples.

The basil was quickly whizzed into a pesto and frozen in little cubes. Half the watercress was put into some dumplings that disintegrated into a pot of chicken soup but were still delicious. The apples became applesauce for Pepe. The stew vegetables I guess will go into a stew at some point, but they´ll keep for a few days. The mushrooms I will bake with garlic butter, and the courgettes will probably end up in a pisto of some sort.

That´s not a bad lot. Complemented with the freezer and the store cupboard, I could feed us all through the week without leaving the house.

Except that I´m running out of milk already.


Skink, or beef shin, or osso bucco, in the pressure cooker

Skink is what they call beef shin here. It´s the cheapest cut at my local butcher´s, and a very good one, too, beefy and strong and just the thing for a stew with a lot of sauce. Even better, you get to scoop out the marrow from the bones, and better still, I brook no argument; in this house, the marrow is for me, la mamma.

Most recipes will tell you to brown then braise for a long time, and of course you should do that in the best of all possible worlds. But life is too short to brown beef, and a pressure cooker will ensure you can have the meat on the table in not very long. Leave the other stuff to the overachievers and the proffesionals.

I suggest you follow the method for your favourite beef stew, or this recipe, only do it in the pressure cooker and give it 35 minutes under pressure, then let it come down naturally before you unlock the lid.

Two pieces of about half a kilo each should serve four, provided you serve this on top of some starchy stuff that mops up the wonderful sauce. Just remember to cut the sides so the meat doesn´t curl up.

If you have any left over, here are some ideas.


A longer review of Nigella Lawson´s "Kitchen"

In a world where food is more than just food, and people watch cooking shows before ordering takeout, the kitchen is the scene for the new moral battle, and food writers more often than not come across as a little preachy. There´s the fire and brimstone brigade, who see hell in a grain of wheat, eternity in a goji berry. Or the new Puritans, who will have you Grow Your Own, lest the carbon footprint turn the food to ashes in your mouth.

Wether the concern is ecological or medical, there´s a whole lot of tut tutting going on, and in all this Nigella preetends to be the seductive temptress, but don't be fooled; she's not the Venus in Tannhäuser, but the whole singing and dancing chorus of nuns from "The sound of music". With her, it's all about Love. The hills are alive, the supermarkets chock full of delectable ingredients, all year round, and if your eggs are organic so much the better, but don't knock the marshmallows or the green food colouring. Just cook the food, enjoy it, move on.Bless her.

I´ve tried two recipes from the new book already. At first I wasn´t very convinced. It seemed to me that she´d done a sort of How to Eat for dummies, but now I´m won over. Yes, a lot of the recipes are versions of older ones in other of her books, but that makes a lot of sense. People change, lifestyles change, you don´t do things the same way all the time. And if you may find it hard to beleive that the 1999 Nigella, working at a newspaper and with two small children, found time to make stock from scratch, while the 2010 celebrity, surrounded by assistants, insists on ready made, well, who cares? The important thing is that the recipes are pared down and easier, but still real food, and still delicious.

Here are the duck legs I made yesterday. They were crisp and tender and flavourful, but the star were the potatoes. Brimming with duck fat and shatteringly crunchy, they are by far the best roast potatoes anybody´s ever had. If you´ve had better, I envy you. Or rather, I don´t, because you can´t have long to live. But hey, the obesity epidemic owes little to duck legs, so go ahead and try them.

Roast duck legs and potatoes

Preheat the oven to 200ºC

Salt and put the duck legs, skin side down, on a roasting tin or a skillet that can go in the oven, and that will fit them and a couple of cut up potatoes.

Let them brown slowly. This is so the duck begins to release fat, which is important for the potatoes. Don´t skip this step.

While this happens, cut up two biggish potatoes into chunks, but don´t peel.

Now take the duck legs out of the pan/tray and chuck the potatoes in. Turn them so they´re slicked in the fat, but don´t worry too much as there´s plenty more where that came from. Salt.

Nigella adds thyme but I didn´t have any.

Now put the duck on top, put the tray in the oven and leave it there for two hours.

If you remember, shake it a bit from time to time.

Its´done when the duck is crunchy and brown and the potatoes are crisp and deep burnished bronze.

I served it with salad, but of course peas, and apple sauce would be very very good here.


Miso mushrooms

Dear readers,
Please don´t think that when I don´t go into detail over recipes I´m being purposely obscure or irritating. I just don´t want to be boring overexplaining things, but I can see that sometimes I cross the line.
So here is the miso trick for button mushrooms, as Pille asks. Pille is something of a mushroom guru for me, therefore her wish is my command.

Of course wild mushrooms are the Ferraris of mushroom world, and truffles the Rolls Royce, and in a perfect world we´d all gather them in sweet little baskets while our children cavorted adorably in matching gingham. However, for basic elemental meals, the button mushroom, the humble champiñón that obligingly grows on demmand is a beautiful thing. They´re easy to find, pretty quick to clean, specially if you buy the kind with the muddy bit of the stem already cut off, and they are a joy to slice.
The few minutes it takes to slice a bowl of white mushrooms are happy happy minutes for me, truly.

Mushrooms are naturally high in umami, that savoury kick of flavour, but you can up the ante by adding dried wild mushrooms that you have previously soaked. Or, for a less luxurious but still impressive addition, a good spoonful of miso.

So anyway, just put a biggish saute pan, nonstick for choice, over the fire and coat it with olive oil. Now smash a couple of garlic cloves or chop them finely and put them in the oil. Meanwhile, chop the mushrooms. By the time the garlic starts dancing in the pan you´ll have a few already chopped, so put them in and go on chopping. If you´re using the dried porcini add them now.
The pan will be very crowded when you have them all in, but just shake it a bit, salt the mushrooms and see how they go. I´m usually doing something else while this happens; boiling pasta, or putting the rice cooker on, or watching Pía warily as she plays with the iPad while finding something for Pepe to break his teeth on (he likes silicone spatulas).
They´ll release a lot of water, but just shake the pan a bit every now and then. Now is when you add a splash of sherry and a good spoonful of miso. Break it up as well as you can. It helps that there´s liquid around, so you can dissolve it well.

When they´re drying up you want to watch them; they´ll turn golden, so wait for that and shake the pan so they´re all crusty and wonderful. Just watch it so they don´t burn.

Grind black pepper over them and if you have it, and chopped parsley always looks good.
There, that´s it. I could have just said "add a tablespoonful of miso when you sautee mushrooms" but this leaves no room for doubt, I hope.



Well, at last. I don´t know what´s worse, packing or unpacking. But things seem to be more or less back to normal, and since it´s full blown autum here in Scotland, on Monday I was lucky to be given some more chanterelles, so here´s the answer to a reader who asked what I did with them (sorry to do it so late).
With wild mushrooms all I do is wipe them and sautee them in a thin film of olive oil over fierce heat.
I always hear that you should not wash them, and that you should on no account crowd the pan. But you know what? I find that mushrooms are pretty forgiving. Sure, when you put too many in the pan they steam, and give off a lot of water, but if you keep them in there and turn them from time to time that water evaporates and leaves you with crusty golden mushrooms, so you´re ok, really.
Once they´re I have them on toast, or over a salad, or with a poached egg, or with all of the above. That´s perfect, I think.

With the more usually despised button mushrooms I do exactly the same, except that I give them a little help in the way of dried porcini (soaked)or a spoonful of miso, some garlic and parsley and pepper, a dash of sherry, and if they still seem to be a little wan, a good dollop of butter or cream.
These are great with pretty much anything, from pasta to quesadillas to polenta to buttery long grain rice to scrambled eggs, and they keep very well in the fridge for a couple of days, so you can make a big batch and them pull them out as needed.


On holiday

Dear readers,
I´m still in Spain, enjoying the tail end of the gazpacho season, being spoilt with jabugo breakfasts and catching up with friends and family while my babies are off my hands. So it´s kind of busy, and I can´t really do a proper post. But let me say, before I forget, again, that changing the look of my blog so it shows the followers has been on my list of to do things for ages, and that I will do it one day, hopefully. For now, all I can say is a great "thank you", and I wish I could give you all a big hug, and I will someday get it together and brave the "change template" button.


Cleaning out the fridge

Jueves,antes De Volar, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

We're going home tomorrow, and before you can see those red tail lights heading for Spain, the fridge needs to be emptied. which means indulgence; blueberries with custard, risotto with lots of leeks and chicken, s frittata tonight with all the scraps of cheese and spring onions. and those beautiful chanterelles a friend has just given me.
And a picnic for tomorrow, to sustain us through the long hours of travelling with two babies.
but for now, all is calm; they're both asleep and I can enjoy my mint tea and the Times' Thursday food supplement.


Storing potatoes

Now, I don´t know if this is going to sound like I´m the biggest idiot, but anyway.

I never got why potatoes were always referred to as a "store cupboard ingredient", because my potatoes always seemed to sprout within seconds of my bringing them home. So I´d only ever buy a few, and then only with some specific dish in mind.

But now I know better. I found out reading this book "Just like mother used to make", and it´s not that great, really, a sort of poor man´s "The Prawn Cocktail Years", which is fantastic, but still, it opened my eyes. The chapter on potatoes begins by saying that supermarkets sell potatoes washed and bagged in plastic, and store them under bright lights, and that potatoes are only happy when covered in mud and in the dark.

And then I banged my head on the wall. I mean, really, of course! What an idiot! Those winter storage things you hear about, and basements, and everything! Duh. I must have read this a million times and it hasn´t percolated my thick head, or else I haven´t, which would be strange.

So I took the opportunity of buying a great big 5 kg sack of potatoes for next to nothing at the very enticing and friendly farm shop called The Store, and putting them away in a cardboard box on the stairs leading down to our garden.

Now I´m not only happy in the knowledge that my potato needs are being met, but also dangerously vindicated in my impulsive purchase of books I don´t need even remotely, but can´t resist, because, really, how can I, when they cost the same as a capuccino and a croissant at the Coffee House?

I could forgo the croissant, of course, but who am I kidding?

Let me remind you of a fantastic way to cook potatoes, and let me add that you can also slip a few frozen fish fingers in there, which make for a very good sandwich with some tricked out mayo and a few salad leaves or pickles.



It´s out! Another big whopping fat book from Nigella Lawson. Mind you, though it looks as fat as How to Eat it ain´t, because there´s a full spread picture for every recipe, plus the inevitable shots of Nigella looking buxom and ever so slightly  demented. But that´s ok. I don´t mind. I love Nigella, she´s my favourite writer, and I know I´m going to have the best time reading again about risotto and bread pudding and soup. There´s probably not much new in there, but that´s just as it should be; it´s wonderful home food, what she does best.


Pressure cooker tag, and a potato and mussel stew

A reader reminded me to put a sidebar with pressure cooker recipes on the side, so I have.

Also, to recommend a pressure cooker. I can only do that with the one I have, which is the only one I´ve ever used. It´s not a very informed opinion, but for what it´s worth, I think the WMF Perfect is the bee´s knees. I have the 6,5 litre model and pine for a 3 litre one too. I can´t quite justify that, as it´s an expensive piece of crockery, but it´s so useful and so great that I might someday. The big model is great for soups and stocks and beans, since you can´t fill it up to the brim, but for rice, or a flan, it might me more comfortable to use a pot that´s not so heavy.

So there.

As for a recipe, here´s one for a simple mussel and potato stew. It takes about fifteen minutes total time to put together, which is pretty impressive for something so satisfying. The beauty of it is that the rythms are perfectly synched. One thing leads to another so there´s no waiting around, just some mindless chopping and debearding and then a beautiful dinner.

Dice an onion and sautee it in the pressure cooker, with a smashed garlic clove. Meanwhile, peel and break a few potatoes into rough chunks. Add as spoonful of tomato puree and a splash of white wine (have a glass, do, and if you don´t have wine, do it with beer, or cider), and then the potatoes. Now add water to just cover, salt sparingly, lock it, bring it up to pressure and when it´s up, count five minutes.

In this time, about seven minutes, you can clean a kilo of mussels. When the five minutes are up, bring the pressure down with cold water and throw the mussels into the pot. Cover but don´t lock and give it a couple of minutes, until the mussels are open.

You can scatter some parsley on top, or better still, coriander for a Portuguese touch. I don´t know why but this dish looks Portuguese to me. 


Omelette Elizabeth Bennet

This is just a silly way to justify making the drawing above. There´s the famous omelette Arnold Bennet, a grand thing involving bechamel and hollandaise sauce, and smoked fish that must be poached. And then there´s a pared-down version in the book Cupobard Love, which the author calls Omelette Gordon Bennet .

And then there´s the even lazier way, which is really more of a frittata but none the worse for that; an omelette of smoked fish, dotted with cream and sprinkled with parmesan, then briefly grilled. It emerges puffed and pretty, and is just the thing for a quick lunch, with buttered brown bread and some salad.

I used smoked mackerel because it´s my new favourite thing, but salmon or trout would do just as well, and look even more girly and sweetly pink.



We´ve had lots of visitors, which accounts for not having done any of the serious things, like work, or changing the curtains, or learning how to use the power drill. Not even the frivolous, like blogging, could compete with trips to the sand dunes, complete with seals, and all the fish and chips.
One thing we´ve learnt is that taking a toddler and a baby out for lunch means that by the time dessert should roll around, they need to move on. So we leave before, take them home, put them away in their cradles, and try to snatch some sleep ourselves. And only after all that do we go for the sweets. Ice cream, out of a freezer bulging with the local delicacy, tubs of Mackie´s Chocolate, Honeycomb, Raspberry Swirl, Mint Chocolate Chip and Cream of Scotland. There are ten other flavours to try, so we have to be dilligent and get through that stash before I can fill up the freezer again.


Kid friendly recipes

In case the previous post sounded a bit breezy and off-the-cuff, let me direct you to the side bar. If you click on the recipe labels you´ll be taken to a selection of recipes. Soups and Comfort food are good places for kid´s food, although I don´t think the gazpachos would be much of a hit. Sweet things, of course, and Spanish food, too, will be full of good things.

You´ll find pancakes, banana bread, tomato soup, melted cheese sandwiches, beef stew and melting roast pork, pizzas and flatbreads, marmitako and macarrones con chorizo, chickpeas with spinach and all sorts of good stuff. Have a browse.


Feeding toddlers

Giving advice about children´s food is as useless as giving advice about unsuitable boyfriends. Just as all unsuitable boyfriends are the same, no two toddlers are alike, and just as your friend will not leave the fascinating cad just because you say so, so your precious darling will not like cabbage with nutella just because your friends´little one does.

Also, embarrassingly, my daughter doesn´t have the dazzling, cute and varied diet. She eats most the same things every week, which is fine, really. Novelty is not the number one priority to a two year old who would only be too pleased to live off ice cream.

No. Pía eats whatever we eat, more or less. Usually her dinner is what we had for lunch, which may be soup, risotto, pasta, beans or lentils. Two nights a week she has eggs, in the form of omelette, and they usually have some steamed broccoli on the side. A good get out of jail free card is a cheese toasted sandwich. And on Friday nights we make pizza, which is a great opportunity to smear everything with flour.

In fact I´d say that cooking for a toddler is the same as cooking for an adult. It´s the logistics that are different. The important thing is not to be caught off guard, and to always have on hand things that can be turned into dinner while they´re in the bath, or even when they´re already in the high chair, wet hair slicked back and smelling of soap. The thinking parent´s best friends are the ziplock bag, the tiny plastic container, and the freezer.

I aim to have a few or all of these stashed away, in kid friendly portions, or in big bags for the plain stuff. They make life a lot easier, and all you have to do is squirrel them away as you make your own stuff, to be prepared like a good Boy Scout.

Many of them are meals in themselves, but many times I use them to help out leftovers from the fridge. A few beans and a couple of broccoli florets, simmered in stock, make a great soup. A bit of ham and a few peas and you´re only minutes away from great fried rice. The beauty of it is that even a couple of spoonfuls of something can be bulked up into a child size portion.

1- rice. white or brown, just make more than you´ll need and put it in a big ziplock bag. When it´s frozen, drop it from shoulder height so the grains sepparate, and there you are, ready to scoop out as much as you need for fried rice, or for soup. This goes also for quinoa, barley or any grain you like.

2- polenta. Let it congeal, slice it into squares and pop them in a bag. When you want to eat them, either thaw a couple of squares in the microwave and dust with parmesan, or else grill/broil them until brown and crunchy. Great with vegetables or any saucy pasta topping prepparation.

3- soup. Pureed or chunky, any kind seems to go down well, and is a great place to throw in a lot of vegetables they might otherwise peer suspiciously at.

4- Stock. So good for you, so delicious, will make everything better. And it´s the best thing when they´re feeling under the weather.

5- tomato sauce, or pisto. Don´t bother with the ice cube thing, it´s better to freeze it in small containers and then pop them out and into a big bag.

6- macaroni cheese. Pía´s favourite, and also a good vehicle for vegetables in the cheesy sauce

7- risotto, either rice or barley.

8- meatballs. Cooked or uncooked, these will pep up mostly anything. Likewise, sausages, which can also be used as quick meatballs by taking off the casings.

9- fishcakes. Fried or baked til crisp, they´re irresistible, and a great way to use up leftover mashed potato.

10- cooked frozen broccoli. Yes, I know the texture isn´t great, but it´s the only way if you´re really pressed for time. Likewise carrots, and peas, of course, but you don´t have to cook those, just blitz them in the microwave as they are.

For the rest, Pía loves a whole lot of things that I didn´t eat until I was much older, but she usually only wants them if they´re on my plate. And sometimes she loves eveyrthing and sometimes she doesn´t, and there are three bowls of porridge days and days when she hardly eats, but I roll with it. There are no rules; just remember, don´t make a big deal about it, don´t be offended if they don´t want it, and try to give them properly delicious things, because they just work better.

I´ll leave you with a recipe, if you can call it that, for a cold smoothie. You need:

11- frozen sliced bananas, which are great to have on hand for this or for banana ice cream, and fresh berries. Or else a fresh banana and frozen berries. To these you add liquid, either milk or juice or a mixture or both, and a spoonful of honey. Blend, serve with a couple of straws, and call it a milkshake. Toddlers are maddenning, but their saving grace is that they are also gullible.


Aubergine dip

It all began with this recipe from the Wednesday Chef. I decided to try making it in the pressure cooker, and then I decided to double the quantities, and the result was a whole lot more  eggplant sauce that I knew what to do with. It was ok, but not stellar, due to my tinkering with the recipe. So here´s what I did, and what I´ll do a lot more, because it´s pretty awsome. I remembered a Persian dish in Stevie Parle´s My kitchen, an equally irritating and charming hodge podge of recipes with very pretty design, and one thing led to the other. 

Toast cumin and sesame seeds together in a dry pan, and when they´re all fragrant and crunchy, spread them out to cool on a cutting board. Mix the aubergine puree with yogurt, salt, pepper and the seeds, and add mint or parsley or both or none. 

Great stuff, to start a meal, to serve alongside a dish of lentils, with flatbreads, or chips,  or anything, really. 


Sally Schneider´s Magic Peppers

I was going to write a long(ish) post about food for toddlers, but I´ve just found out that it´s the custom here to take a cake to nursery on your birthday. In my day in Spain we used to take a bag of sweets, and take care to give the aniseed ones to the mean girls. 

Lord knows what they do now, but in the meantime, I have to go and make a tray of cupcakes for a gaggle of two-year-olds to crush underfoot, so I´ll leave you with a quick recipe, Sally Schneider´s Magic Peppers.

That´s her name for them, and while she may be exaggerating a little, she´s on to something. These are not your usual sort of red peppers slowly roasted into slippery submission. 

Instead, they are cut into four, lengthwise (Spanish readers, cut them into eight; guiri peppers are small), brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with herbs and salt,and a bit of sugar too, for good measure, and blasted for half an hour in a very hot oven, to emerge caramelized, chewy and irresistible. The recipe is nothing much, but the result is well worth the effort. You´ll notice that it´s light, quick, and pretty. I made five peppers for a side dish yesterday, thinking to have about half left over to do something with, a la Sally in her improvisational way, but J and I polished them all off within seconds.


Instant gratification chocolate pudding (the toddler special)

Remember when you were a kid, how long everything took? It used to drive me nuts to be told that we were almost there, or that something was almost done, and then have to wait the ages a half hour seemed. In the case of cooking, it was aggravated by having to wait while something baked, then wait for it to cool. I usually ended up sick from eating warm cookies.

It´s with that in mind that I offer this recipe, perfect for making with children. It takes almost no time to mix, needs only a scale and a bowl and a spoon and you don´t have to turn on the hob or the oven. The cooking time is two minutes, and you can eat it warm.
I don´t claim that it´s the most elegant or stylish concoction, but boy is it fast. It tastes very good, specially when served hot with a scoop of ice cream, and it´s real food; not a rice crispie in sight. You can keep them entertained for a little while, and by the time the sugar rush hits them and they go berserk, it will hit you, too, and leave you with a beatific smile on your face, and the calm of good chocolate.

Chocolate steamed pudding

Makes two generous deep ramekins, or three less bountiful ones (which is fine. remember that ice cream?)

Put 50 gr. of 52% chocolate and 50 gr. butter in a big microwave safe bowl. Give them one minute on half strenght, and then mix well with the wooden spoon. Little fingers willl interfere but let them. Butter and chocolate, what´s wrong with that?
beat in an egg, and add 25 gr. of flour and a pinch of baking powder. Mix well and put the mix into ramekins. Cover them with clingfilm and microwave on high for 60 seconds.
That should have a bit of sauce underneath, but if you prefer to have the thing cooked through so you can turn it out, then give it 90 seconds, and butter the ramekins.
(You might need a test run. Microwaves are notoriusly weird, and different from each other)

See? Easy as anything. And satisfactory. By the time the bowl has been thoroughly licked, it´s cooked. If you need to entertain a toddler who doesn´t understand delayed gratification, this is it.


Four frying pans

Ventana, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

I was just reading a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi that starts off very well, with a chunky tomato sauce in which to poach eggs for a simple dish. All right and tight until the point where he says "take four frying pans..."
Four frying pans? Hello? I take it he might even mean four frying pans of the same size.
Which just goes to say, books by chefs are all very well in their way, but stop somewhere just short of true usefulness.
These guys forget that we don´t have brigades of tomato skinning minions, fridges the size of young barns, access to esoteric produce or stoves with power to brown oxtails in four minutes.
Most of the time I don´t mind; I get that these people are masters of their craft and that's why we read them. But every once in a while I just have to roll my eyes. The book Plenty looks gorgeous, and I bet I'll end up buying it, but for now? No way. Silly man. four frying pans...


What I´m loving right now

I´m sure you´re thinking, what´s the point of complaining about tomatoes in Scotland? How silly do you have to be?

You´re right. This is no vegetable paradise, but there are some amazing things I have here that I´d never find in Spain, like

1-tiny new potatoes. Steamed, roasted or boiled, with butter or oil or salt or herbs or in this very addictive salad, by Yotam Ottolenghi via The Wednesday Chef.

2- spring onions, the real thing, young and tender, perfect for going straight into soups or omelettes or sandwiches or risottos or anything, apart from the super-sauce, of course.

3-cucumbers that look like something you should use to sink a U-boat and yet are delicate and crisp and have none of that indigestible afterlife.

4- raspberries and strawberries. Of course. Perhaps when we have a car we´ll try the pick your own places, but for now, I try to buy these from small local shops. The supermarkets nestle all sorts of berries from Spain!

For the rest, I´ve discovered that when English recipe books say "add six garlic cloves", they´re not crazy, it´s just that here garlic cloves are tiny little runts.

I also have a big love for Yeo organic yogurt, which Pía and I consume by the pint, and for some dangerous little sausage called "cumberland cippolata". The flour is amazing, or else my new oven is, or else I have finally been touched by the fingers of the great baking gods, but the loaves and pizzas I make here are my best yet.

So there you go. Nice stuff, plenty of it. And that´s not even mentioning the smoked fish, which probably deserves a post all its own.


Roast tomatoes (or peppers) with breadcrumbs

I´ve always been of the opinion that tomatoes need nothing more than salt and olive oil, that heating up the house roasting things in summer is madness, and that stuffing things is a waste of time.
However, since moving to Scotland´s Acrtic Circle, I have had to rethink my tomato usage. Heating up the kitchen is not an issue, beleive me, and the tomatoes I find taste a lot better with cooking.

Yesterday I had four tomatoes that needed a bit of help, a hunk of bread that was at the tough/chewy stage, and a cold kitchen. I vaguely remembered a recipe from Canal House Cooking, pasta with roast stuffed tomatoes. So I set to, improvising, because I wasn´t about to bring my gleaming new iPad into a messy kitchen. It worked out great, as my recipe is easier , with less steps and pots to clean, and very very good, if I may say so.
You can serve them as hors d´ouvre, a starter, as a side dish, or with the pasta, and they´re better lukewarm, so it´s a perfect do ahead entertaining dish. Great.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC

Take your old bread, which should be old but not so ancient that it will crumble to fine dust. Put it in a small food processor with a couple of garlic cloves, some parsley leaves, salt, a drizzle of olive oil if you will (and anchovies if you like. I didn´t have any to hand, but they´d fit right in). Now comes the fiddly part: slice the tomatoes in half and scoop the seeds out, and add them to the crumbs.

Pulse. The crumbs should be still recognizable as such, about the size of small lentils, but you will end up with a wet sand sort of looking mess.

Now take your hollowed out tomatoes (or red peppers) and fill them with this mixture. Put them on a baking dish with a little bit of oil under them (no big deal) and roast for 90 minutes or so. You might have to cover them half way through with some foil if they brown too quickly.
They´re done when the tomatoes are very well cooked, with some charred spots, even. The crumbs will be soft and juicy inside, crunchy on top.
Wait until it´s barely warm, it will taste much better.

Ginger scallion sauce

Untitled #2, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

Here´s the link for the original article.
You should absolutely make this sauce, because it´s:
a- a great way to deal with ageing ginger and scallions.
b- you can keep it in the fridge for days, so you only have to pull out the processor and do the heat the oil thing once. Not that it´s hard, but I hear you.
c- it´s amazing how a tiny spoonful of this elixir transforms anything into utter bliss. White rice, scrambled eggs, steamed fish, miso soup, plain boiled vegetables. Anything.
Which is great, because sometimes, after the seventeenth consecutive reading of The tiger who came to tea, you´re not really in the mood to make anything complicated, and yet you need a lot of punch.


Green tea

Untitled #2, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

My first iPad drawing, the jug and cup in which I take my favourite mix of green and mint teas after lunch.
This is too much fun.


Rice cooker flan

Since I am, oficially, and until the match is over, trembling like a jelly, or shaking like a flan, here is one, to follow with the wholesome easy pudding theme.
Mind you, when I say a flan, I mean a shortcut flan, of course, not your blissful platonic ideal of a flan, of the sort that quivers gently in a bain marie for an hour after being infused for half. No, my flan is whizzed cold, goes into little ramekins that are covered any old how and put, unceremoniously, in the steamer basket of a rice cooker, which makes it fit neatly into many a midweek dinner preparation.

The recipe:

Take a meassuring jug, pour 333 ml. of milk, add two eggs, a few drops of vanilla extract and two spoonfuls of sugar. Blend it briefly, or just beat it with a fork until it´s all well mixed.
Now you can make caramel and coat four ramekins, which is easy but might be more fiddly than you want. It will still be great without it.
Pour the milk and egg mixture. This quantity makes four stingily filled ramekins, or three full ones. Put them in the steamer basket and cover them with one large piece of foil or clingfilm, tucked under them, or individually, whatever you´re in the mood for.
Put the rice and water in the big bowl, set the steamer rack on top, plug the thing and when you hear the clack sound that indicates the rice is going into "warm" mode, take a look at the custards. If they look like they´re not totally set, leave them a few minutes, but they´re probably done.
Put them in cold water to cool, which they´ll have done by the time you´ve finished your meal.
We had these yesterday with some Scottish strawberries and they were awsome.

(You can also make this in a normal steamer, in which case you can up the quantities to 3 eggs and 500 ml milk, and stack the ramekins. My rice cooker only fits four.)


Psychic Octopus, a feira

It has to be octopus, right? I´ve never cooked a real whole octopus in my life, and I´m not suggesting that you do. If you´re in Spain, or Greece, or somewhere civilized like that, then you can just amble down to the market and buy a couple of tentacles, boiled by your fishmonger. You can then slice at home, to be laid on slices of plain boiled potatoes, sprinkled with pimentón and coarse salt, and drizzled with olive oil. That´s it. Pulpo a la gallega, couldn´t be simpler.If you don´t, and I for one would have to look high and low to find some pulpo right now, then you can boil the potatoes and put some slices of ham on top, before doing the paprika/salt/oil thing.I´m sure Paul would prefer that version.


The easiest home made ice cream.

Now, I don´t know about you, but if there´s one thing guaranteed to cheer me up, it´s the prospect of a home made pudding to end a meal. Normally I have a bowl of yogurt with brown sugar or honey, and very nice it is. But sometimes a little more is called for.
However, with a toddler and a baby (and their father), there´s not always time for the truly exciting stuff that are tarte tatins, cobblers, crumbles, floating islands, chocolate mousse and pies. Also, they are apt to leave a dangerous trail of leftovers.
Plus, I have a sort of puritanical feeling that weekday postres must be wholesome, not wall-to-wall sugar and butter fests. That´s why I make jellies, arroz con leche, flan, or banana ice cream.
The basic method you can see here. It´s perfectly amazing, and very well suited to my life, in which I more often than not I find myself clutching pieces of half eaten banana, courtesy of young Pía. The half bananas, or the about-to-die bananas, go, sliced, into a bag in the freezer, and when they have mounted up I toss them into the Thermomix or the small chopper and whiz.
That´s all it takes: frozen bananas and nothing else. After a few seconds the rubbly looking mess turns into a creamy beautiful ice cream, and that´s when you can customize it.
A spoonful of honey, maple syrup, chopped nuts, chopped chocolate, raspberries, they´re all good. But the best, the unbeleivable best, is Nutella. Add a heaping spoonful for every two bananas or so and pulse it again. The result looks and tastes like chocolate ice cream, with a faint undercurrent of banana, and is so delicious you want to eat bowls and bowls of it. Which, considering that it´s mainly fruit, you should.


World Cup Finals

Who would have thought that I´d live to see Spain in a World Cup Final? And not be there to celebrate!
Anyway, it´s all good, and exciting. Likewise being one of Blogger´s Blogs of note. Hi to all new readers. I promise a well thought out post for tomorrow, with a recipe.


Red lentil and tomato soup

This is one of my favourite soups. I know it doesn´t fit in with the whole summer thing, but what do you know? July in Aberdeen is very much like the most blustery October Madrid can throw at one.
It´s very simple, thick and creamy, a properly bolstering soup that will fill and warm you up without being heavy. And, need I say, in a pressure cooker it takes very little time to cook. So put this one away for autum, and thank me later.

Quantities can vary without spoiling the result, but this is the usual:

Chop an onion and a clove of garlic, add some cumin seeds and leave them to soften while you peel a couple of carrots. Throw them in, coarsely chopped, followed by a half kilo tin of whole plum tomatoes with their juice. Fill the empty can with water, add that, and a cup of red lentils. You might want to throw in a stock cube.
Leave it to simmer until the lentils are cooked, about half an hour, or ten minutes in a pressure cooker.
Puree with a blender and taste. It will probably need salt, a dash of butter, some sherry and certainly the juice of half a lemon. Garam masala is a very good adition, if you have some around.


20 minute 2 hour tomato sauce.

Here´s a speedy version of this tomato sauce. A good, honest, solid, serviceable, auxiliary sauce. Not a "you´ll think you´ve died and gone to heaven in Sicily" sauce. Just a sauce, like the one you wish could be found jarred. It takes about half an hour to make but tastes like it simmered for far longer.
So here it is: Put two kilo tins or four half kilo tins of peeled whole plum tomatoes, with their juice, in a pressure cooker. Add a peeled onion cut in untidy chunks, one or two cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, sugar, and if you have parmesan rind, that, too. A generous glug of olive oil, 1/3 of a cup or so, and that´s it.
Lock the lid, bring it up to pressure and leave it for 2o minutes, or 30 if you like.
Once done, you´ll think "oh, this isn´t working" because you´ll see tomatoes floating in a lot of liquid. But here´s what you do:
Take the liquid and put it in a sepparate container. You´ll get about three cups. This is a strong tomatoey broth that´s perfect for soups (just add a can of chickpeas, some uncooked pasta and frozen spinach and cook until the pasta is done).
The tomatoes and onion and garlic you puree in a blender. They´ll turn a bit orange, but who cares?
You now have about four cups of an excellent sauce to spread on pizza bases, add to chickpeas with spinach, or to Godfather part III sauce.
And please don´t boast about your luscious juicy fresh tomatoes everywhere around now it´s summer. Just don´t, ok?



So here we are in our new home in the very northern city of Aberdeen. Once we install some blackout blinds it will be snug as anything.
At first we lived on sandwiches and scrambled eggs, but we soon graduated to roast chicken, and once the smell of stock drifted to every corner of the house (which I normally hate) it felt much more like home.
I´m still struggling with the shopping, as is only natural, because we´ve just arrived. Everything is very different from what I´m used to. Where before I had no pantry to speak of, and a very good market at my doorstep, now I have huge cupboards shops an uphill 15 minute walk away.
There is a fishmonger who sells mostly very unfamiliar hot- smoked fish (cool), a butcher who looks like he is about to referee the Wimbledon final but who has everything already cut up, so I don´t recognize anything, and nowhere to buy vegetables but a supermarket.
This is confusing, but I love to shop for food so I´ll figure it out. And even though we have a cavernous dishwasher, doing the dishes with that lovely view of our overgrown garden is quite a pleasure.


Sauce Foriana

The cupboards, though a shadow of their former selves, still yield up treasures. A tin of sardines, half a head of garlic, ok then, let´s see what´s left in the pasta drawer: nothing. Only, no, wait, there´s a package of japanese soba noodles. I wonder, will the buckwheat go well with the sardines? Probably. I go to the freezer to get some ice for a glass of water while I cook, and that´s when I see the little packets of nuts. What to do? A sauce foriana of sorts, with less garlic and pumpkin seeds as well as pinenuts, because that´s what I have. Except that my blender is in a box somewhere, so instead of a paste, I make a chopped up mix of nuts and garlic, and very delicious it is, too. Perfect with the robust sardines, and a great match for the noodles. Next time I´ll probably choose normal pasta, or perhaps whole wheat, but for tonight I couldn´t be happier with my meal.

You can find the recipe for sauce foriana here. It´s one of those oh-oh-oh why haven´t I been making this every week of my life things. It´s supposed to be tossed with pasta, but have a jar in the fridge and you´ll find yourself putting it iinto all sorts of things, like steamed broccoli, focaccia or creamy soups.


Empty upboard soup

Moving is no fun when you´re as disorganized as I am. It´s tough to face the fact that for years you have been keeping dozens of dried felt tip pens, that the stacks of drawings lurking in corners reach your knees, and that at some point there will have to be a cull of stuffed toys.
Then there´s the kitchen. I don´t buy any food, and I am determined to get to the bottom of the cupboards. They´re still stuffed with all sorts of useless things like bags of spelt and weird beans, which makes it all the more frustrating when you try to cook something.
Luckily, empty is never quite empty. On Friday night I was able to make a more than presentable soup out of some not very promising ingredients: a forgotten, dried up knob of ginger, a shallot I had overlooked, some rather frostbitten potstickers lurking in the freezer, a sachet of miso soup, and to pull it all together soy sauce, Tabasco and a dash of sherry.
Much, much better than the sum of its parts, as soup always is.



Ask me: "Have you been enjoying the lovely spring weather, the flowering trees and sidewalk cafés?"
I´ll have to answer that, no, I haven´t, because we´ve been packing up a lot of stuff, and if there´s one thing I hate is having to choose among my things. And having chosen, watch the most favorite drive off in a van.
The food is still great, though. Chicharro teriyaki, five minute risottos, fudgy sauce for ice cream and lots of these mojitos. Try them; they´re easy to make, store well and go down a storm.


Pressure cooker polenta

Polenta, polenta, polenta. It used to be that I didn´t see the point of polenta, not at all. All that effort for something so bland, why?

But somehow reading about polenta always made me hungry, and I always have a bag of cornmeal to make the underside of my bread crunchy, so it was only a matter of time before I made it. I just didn´t want to stir for hours, so I turned to my gadgetry.

The Thermomix makes a good polenta, no question. Just use the proportion of any recipe you like, put the butterfly thingy in and set it for 45 minutes. But be warned that cleaning it out is a right bore.

The rice cooker is also great, and easy to clean. Put 1 meassure of cornmeal and 4 of water and you´re good to go.

The pressure cooker is, naturally, the fastest.

All three methods make falling off a log look very complicated, so take your pick. For me, because I´m still in the honeymoon phase and because I´m apt to improvise dinner, the best is the pressure cooker, but all three work perfectly.

Once the polenta is done you can bask in the warm glow of one of the most comfortable comfort foods there are, but before sitting down to eat, remember to pour out what´s left in the pot into a shallow tin or tray so that it can cool and set, and have that the following day in it´s crisp incarnation. It freezes perfectly, and is great food to have on hand for feeding a toddler.

Pressure cooker polenta

(serves 4, with leftovers)

Bring 2 litres of salted water to a boil in the open pressure cooker. Sprinkle 400 gr. of the cornmeal and stir well. Cover, bring up to pressure and cook for 15 minutes. Bring the pressure down quickly, and have a look. It´s a slightly grainy porridge, soft and wonderful, but if you like to have it creamier still add some water and leave it a while longer in the open cooker, stirring well.

Spoon in some butter and black pepper and serve it as a pillow to tomato sauce, or garlicky greens, or a poached egg, or what you will.