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.