I´m in Madrid. That should explain everything. I come back home and it´s all a non-stop whirl of seeing friends and family, hopping in and out of bars and museums and little shops, and more bars and a few galleries. And also cramming in a few meetings with clients, and taking the kids to the circus and the merry-go-round. A bit of sleep, now and then, when I can. No blogging. And now we´re off to Lisbon.

So I thought that instead of a recipe, I´ll post a few addresses of favourite places.

Above is a drawing of some of the pinchos served in Cuenllas, a very good (and expensive) bar in c/Ferraz where my father takes me for champagne and canapés. Go for the bone marrow, the anchovies and the butifarra.

In c/Ponzano, Fide and El Doble, for the best cañas and seafood. Ask for the shrimp in Fide and the mojama in El Doble.

For coffee with a view, the coffee shop in El Corté Inglés at Callao.

Don´t miss the exhibition at the Juan March right now, Alexandr Deineka.

Great churros are to be had in the morning in c/Santa Engracia, cafetería Forum.

Gin&Tonics that will floor a grenadier in c/Apodaca, the bar just opposite nº6.

More to follow when we´re back from Portugal.


Red cabbage with sausages

I wrote this post last year, braised sweet and sour red cabbage.

For some unfathomable reason, I only eat red cabbage on special occasions. This must be remedied inmediately, because it´s very easy and really great.

Especially since I have discovered a great variation: braised red cabbage and sausages. Braised together, that is. How can that not be great?

The recipe is simplicity itself. While slicing the cabbage and onion and apple you let the sausages brown in the pressure cooker. I´m usually too lazy to brown, but in this instance it´s pretty painless. By the time everything is prepped, the bangers are golden and smelling a treat.

Proceed with the recipe and in ten minutes or so (because, unlike some sneaky pressure cooker doyennes, I count the time it takes for the pot to come up to pressure) you have a warming, wonderful dish.

If you´re a pressure cooker geek, then you can use your other one to make smashed potatoes. Serve with sweet mustard, rye bread, and beer and thank heavens it´s so cold.


Brightened up bubble and squeak

Tell anyone in Spain that you live in Scotland and you will instantly hear two things: "lucky you, all that scenery" and "poor you, that horrible food".

Wrong , and wrong.

Mountains don´t really do it for me, and lakes and moors are only useful for a picnic, which, since it´s usually wet and windy, they aren´t.

British food, on the other hand, is lovely, and is just what you need for British weather, which is, well, awful, really. Tact is all very well but what can you say?

So anyway, they have this thing called bubble and squeak, which is a hash of the cabbage and potatoes left over from a Sunday lunch, usually livened up by a fried egg. It is awesome.

But, through one of those fridge foraging flukes, I have come up with a version that is just as good, but feels lighter, newer, and is very pretty on the plate: sweet potatoes and broccoli. Gurgle and squeal? Screechy and foam?

Never mind. Here´s how it goes.

You will need some cooked sweet potatoes. This is an irritating start to a recipe, I know, but there you are. I usually roast them in peeled wedges, but they can be microwaved in four or five minutes.

Once you have those, you make some pan steamed broccoli (again, yes, I know. This is a core lobstersquad recipe). A few cumin seeds and perhaps some mustard seeds will go very well, and chilieas, if that is your thing. When the broccoli is almost done, add a bit more oil and the cooked sweet potatoes, and, after swirling it around the pan, leave it alone: the idea is to let it catch a little, caramelize and get a crust.

The broccoli will probably cook a little more than is fashionable, but this is not a problem in this dish.

It is colourful and very good with almost anything.


Peanut butter and caramel popcorn

I read this recipe inThe Kitchn, and it scared me by the copious amounts of peanut butter and sugar and honey. But the idea of peanut butter popcorn danced in my head all day until there was nothing to do but get into the kitchen and adapt.

In the interests of research I have popped many bowls of popcorn, and remain unconvinced about the best microwave method. So far a big paper bag with plastic clips, or a bowl topped with clingfilm have worked best, but stovetop remains supreme.

My children are very small, though, so microwave it is. Likewise, I make the sauce on my own, well away from little critters who might jump up and down excitedly and burn themselves with caramel.

I leave them to pop the corn and feel proud of themselves.

Once you have the sauce you simply pop the corn whichever way you like, and pour the sauce over. This is more than enough for two 1/4 cup kernel batches of popcorn, but that´s because I like to taste the popcorn more than the sauce, which to me is a bonus treat more than an overall cover.

You choose how you like it best.

To make the pb caramel:

Put 1/3 cup of sugar in a pan with a couple of spoonfuls of water. I use brown sugar but caster is fine.

Stir it over a medium fire until you have caramel, which is when it bubbles like a witch´s brew and smells like heaven.

Add 1/3 cup of peanut butter (smooth, without sugar) and stir until it´s dissolved.

If the sauce looks too thick add some water until it´s how you like it.

The good news is that it keeps in a jar just so, and that it´s just as wonderful over ice cream, or fruit, or pancakes, or, you get the picture. I dare say this isn´t even very good news.

Also, it´s vegan, so go ahead and pour it over banana ice cream when you entertain people of that persuasion.


Gather your parsnips while ye may

Autum hits you fully in the face when the clocks go forward.
It´s a nasty, cruel joke, and if you´re as close to the North Pole as we are then it´s no joke at all.

Scottish winter has very little to recommend it, but, just to show what a bright little ray of Southern sunshine I am, I will focus on one (small) consolation: parsnips.

This lowly root vegetable was happily looked over once the potato came to stay, centuries ago, and in Spain we fell for spuds so hard that parsnips are only given to horses. A big pity, because they are very good. You can make Jane Grigson´s famous curried parsnip soup, or you can use some in your mashed potato, but to me where they shine is in the roasting pan.

Because of their shape, they are perfect for roasting. If you cut a parsnip in four lengthwise you end up with three textures. Coated in a very little oil, dusted with salt and roasted for about half an hour in a very hot oven, the thin tip almost chars, the middle bit is chewy, and the thick base fluffy. This is the best of all worlds.

The great thing is that you can also roast potato or sweet potato wedges, carrots or pumpkin. And nobody says you should keep chicken parts or sausages out of the oven.

And you´ll have heated up the kitchen so beautifully that you won´t even notice, behind misted up windows, that it´s been dark for hours.

(The drawing has nothing to do with anything, but I feel there aren´t enough images of Soviet space dogs in our every day life).


Pressure cooked kale

Kale, that strange vegetable; spinach on steroids, chewy chard, bitter cabbage…healthy, virtuous, austere, dark. A hard sell, paired as it often is with mentions of brown rice and winter soups.

Not that I knew, because we don´t have kale in Spain, as far as I can tell. I can sometimes find it in supermarkets in Aberdeen, and when I do, I bring home whole armfuls.

I usually gave it the pan-steam treatment, and it worked well, but because it´s a sturdy old thing and needs longer cooking than other greens, now I use the pressure cooker.

Method A is the ultra-organized, grown-up thing which I use for cooking my supermarket sweep in one go. I can fit three 400 gr. bunches in my 6 litre cooker. Cut out the rib, rip the leaves, wash them, throw them into the pressure cooker with a cup of water and give it five minutes under high pressure.

Let them cool and then freeze part, put part away in the fridge, and perhaps have the rest right away.

Method B is for a single bunch, and works just as well with any green, but you will have to adjust the cooking time.

Heat oil, add a crushed garlic clove and some cumin seeds, and as soon as the garlic dances, throw in a can of chickpeas or beans of your choice, liquid and all. Add the cleaned kale, salt, and give it five minutes under pressure.

Open the cooker and tweak it for salt. A lump of butter and a squeeze of lemon will be very welcome. Serve with bread and a bottle of hot, olive oil, a bowl of yogurt or ricotta, and mind you soak up the pot likker.

Needless to say, bacon, sausage, chorizo, etc, will all go very well indeed with this, so go ahead and add them at the beginning.

If you want it more soupy then simply add more water or broth.

Once you have your steamed metod A kale done, you can simply add it to anything you like, on the spur of the moment. It can be sauteed with a bit of garlic, pine nuts and raisins added at the end, perhaps a dash of pimentón. This is great on polenta, with a poached egg on top, but it´s pretty great in pasta, on pizzas and inside pies, in soups, or bean dishes, etc etc.

If imagination fails, you can always go for the brown rice, of course.


Even easier home made yogurt

Since moving to Scotland, I have two new habits. One is Yeo Valley Organic plain yogurt. The other is the charity shop down the road. The yogurt at least is shared by my children, but I am alone when it comes to buying every dogeared cookbook and enamel bowl in sight.

A few weeks ago I paid the princely sum of GBP 2 for an old fashioned Thermos, the kind with glass inside and a cork stopper. It is gorgeous, huge and impractical, and I love it.

I had assumed it would just sit grandly in my cupboard, useless and remote, but actually, it´s the perfect tool to make yogurt.

Before, I used a glass jar inside a pot of hot water inside a jumper that spent the night next to a heater. Which means that I didn´t really use that method much, and certainly not when I fell into the clutches of the Yeo Valley stuff.

But now? I simply heat milk, dip my finger in it, count, and if I can hold it for ten seconds but no more, then I pour it into the thermos. Adding half a cup of yogurt is all that remains to be done. You can add some powdered milk, they say, to make it set even better, but frankly, that´s a step too far.

Leave it inside the thermos for eight hours or so, and there you have it: yogurt.

The only problem? It´s so fresh that it tastes almost too real, cheesy and wild. My children refuse it point blank, so I´m alone in this addiction too.


The Boy Scout´s dinner.

I have the reputation of squirrelling away food, and I guess it´s true. There´s nothing I like better than knowing that my bases are covered in case of almost any culinary emergency. This leads to groaning pantry shelves and a freezer that is sometimes hard to negotiate. Also, I have been known to hold on to things for so long that by the time we eat them the expiry dates are archaeological.

But anyway, it really is so worth it when, for example, you are returning from a weekend away, and need a warm, homely, comforting meal but you don´t really want to cook.

Here´s what we had yesterday, after two days of dragging two little children around Edinburgh:

Tomato soup, from the freezer.

Toasted cheese sandwiches, with onion jam from the fridge.

Salad with this vinaigrette, also in the fridge.

Be Prepared, is all I´m saying.


Pasta with broccoli, anchovies and pine nuts.

I made this pasta when I was in Spain last. We´d had a long meeting, were hungry and, as Monday is not a good day for bars and restaurants, decided to go to my friend P´s house. "We can have pasta", she said, "although there´s nothing in the cupboard". Aglio olio, I thought, happily, for I love me a good aglio olio.

Turns out that P´s "nothing" is a broad, sweeping comment. There was oil and garlic, of course, but also broccoli. And a further rummage around netted anchovies, almonds and raisins.

Almost all the ingredients of one of the first dishes I ever learnt how to make, from a Sardinian flatmate in my university days.

Happily for my slapdash blogging methods, it is a sister recipe to this one of a few weeks back for pan steamed broccoli, so kindly read that over first if you need to.

While the pasta (long, ideally, but anything goes) boils, you cook the broccoli, with crushed garlic and a tin of anchovies, and add the raisins towards the end. The original calls for capers but I hardly every remember them.

If you can be bothered, toast pine nuts, or almonds, as it was what we had, in a separate pan. Get someone else to lay the table, not forgetting a bottle of oil, a pepper mill and some parmesan and the grater.

When the pasta is al dente, grab it with tongs or strain it, but make sure there´s some water, which will help to make a sauce. Put it in the frying pan with the broccoli, toss it well, then put it in a bowl.

My secret touch is a lump of butter tossed at the end, when the pasta and broccoli meet. It is not essential but helps it out no end.

Scatter the pine nuts or almonds over and eat away.

This is as popular with starving students as with startup app developers.


Saveur´s great and global

I´m deep in holiday mode, which is to say, checking my email only now and then, ignoring the Web and Twitter, and catching up with friends and family and tapas bars.
But I did check Twitter for a second yesterday, and found out from dear Lydia about this Saveur article: 55 Great Global Food Blogs. Lobstersquad is one of them, the only one from Spain, no less.
Very exciting, very cool, I´m so happy.
No time to post recipes, but may I remind you of one from long ago, slow roast tomatoes? If you´re in a place, like Madrid, where it is possible to come back from the market with arms groaning under the weight of ripe beautiful tomatoes bought for a few coins, you have to make it.


Fast focaccia

Flatbreads are great to cook, easy and fast. You don´t have to wait for the oven to heat up, so it´s very convenient to take a couple of balls of dough that you have in the fridge, let them rest and then cook them on a hot frying pan.

The only problem is that you have to do them one by one, and that is not always an option. As for waiting for the oven to come up to 250ºC, only for fifteen minutes? In Scotland, maybe, but anywhere that´s hot that´s suicidal.

Yesterday I was in a hurry, and tried making a focaccia under the grill/broiler. Bread recipes are annoyingly uptight and controlling, but over time I´ve come to rely on instinct more and more. Particulary with flatbreads, because, come on; they are the staple food nomads, and many other people who don´t have the sophisticated ecquipment we´re used to. I bet improvisation has been ok many times.

It worked perfectly fine. I stretched the oiled dough out a little thinner than usual, just one centimetre, and I had it about 10 cm from the flame. Once one side was golden, I flipped it and waited for it to do the same, and there it was: focaccia, crusty and crisp and in every way delectable.

You can see my bread recipe here, and a post about flatbreads here.


Untitled #122, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

Thinking of making chocolate mousse. I think Twitter is cramping my literary style...


Cheese and apple toast

I think often think back to when my kids ate everything, and I was pleased. Their father was ecstatic. So much so that he gloated, and was heard boasting that Pía preferred broccoli to French toast. And so of course, smugness brought us down. I warned him, but to no avail. Now they eat nothing.

That is, they eat pasta and toast, and fish fingers, and eggs, and bananas and sometimes tinned peaches. And blueberries and mango (expensive little critters). Nutella and ice cream, need I mention. Pizza, sometimes. Chicken, in some incarnations.

At nursery they eat a whole lot of other stuff, but at home, that´s it.

So I´m very happy to have found that they like this cheese and apple on toast, which I like to call (forgive me) Newton´s rabbit, it being like Welsh rabbit but having apples, and so, you know.
I took the idea from The River Cottage Baby and Toddler book, an infuriating volume chock full of dishes my children would run a mile from.

However, this they like, and it´s easy and actually delicious, which makes it an excellent bet for sudden adult hunger pangs on a near empty fridge, or for bulking up a meagre bowl of soup.

Just grate an apple, some cheese of the Cheddar or Manchego type, cover a slice of toast, grill/broil it until brown and crunchy and that´s it.


The ultimate chorizo sandwich

A chorizo sandwich, as sold in every bar and corner shop across Spain, is nothing more than chorizo slices, sandwiched between bread. The quality of the chorizo and the bread, and the generosity of the perpetrator are the only factors that change.

So it´s not a very good sandwich, really. One dimensional, at best. Inedible, at worst.

Unless you take a little bit of care, and then it is pretty darn tasty.

You need a baguette, a ciabatta or a small loaf of good bread.

You need some proper ibérico chorizo, sliced thin. And it has to be eating chorizo, not cooking chorizo.

Then, taking inspiration from the Majorcan way with sobrasada, you need hot mango sauce, or, failing that, apricot jam mixed with chili sauce.

Heat the oven to 180ºC. Spread the cut baguette with the sauce, layer a fair amount of chorizo slices (be generous. think about your arteries some other day). Close it, wrap it in foil, squash it a little and put it in the oven.

Take it out when the outside is very crunchy, 15 or 20minues. The orange fat will have oozed from the sausage, mingled with the hot, sweet sauce, and soaked the bread.

So far, so heavenly.

But to take it up a notch, serve alongside "ensalada de matanza". This means "pig-killing salad" and is a Spanish slaw, served in Escolástica´s village at matanza time.

Slice some cabbage as thin as you can, and dress very simply with olive oil, salt, Sherry vinegar, a dash of powdered cumin and crushed raw garlic. Not too much of any.

This will provide crunch and freshness, and make the chorizo sandwich into a balanced meal. Or almost.


Ying Yang

Hello everyone. This is one of those here and there, "just to say hi" posts.
First, please notice that discreet but effective little button that says "follow me on Twitter". Nice, innit?
Then, are you totally bowled away by the beauty of the image above? Thought so. I am going to make a batch of screenprints with it tomorrow, so if anyone wants to have it for themselves, stay tuned.
Also, just discovered this blog I´m loving already, A cookbook a month. Just the thing for cookbook obsessives like me.
Over the next week I plan to post a few good recipes I´ve been making a lot lately: Newton´s rabbit, matanza salad, the ultimate chorizo sandwich and something else I´m forgetting. Tall order, let´s see if I can make it.


Kid´s apps, kitchen apps?

Now, this is a shameless plug, of course, but I hope you´ll forgive me. It´s all true.
When you´re in a hurry to get a meal on the table, you need all the help you can get. That can come from an actual human being who will offer to chop and slice, or empty the dishwasher. Or it can come in the shape of an enthusiastic three year old whose idea of help is to open every jar and sprinkle their contents madly. Or maybe it will be a toddler, going for the cupboards with a glad glint in his eye.
In such cases, what´s more useful, an app by Jamie Oliver, or one that will keep the young varmints quiet for a few minutes while you grill their fish fingers?
Thought so.

Myself, I´m very proud of these apps, created by Terrier Digital, with illustrations by yours truly. We have many more colours coming, and also versions for the iPad. For now, I say, iPhone users with kids, get yourself Animal Colours, take a breather, and, later, enjoy how they pronounce "malayan tapir".


Pan steamed broccoli

I just had some beautiful broccoli for lunch, pan steamed, with a hint of garlic and nothing else. It was soft, melting, but retained a little bite. savory, punchy, and yet it had nothing but sea salt added.
All this happened because I happened to cook it just right. I don´t always get it so perfect, but today I did. I know it was that, because the broccoli itself wasn´t much; your basic supermarket head, somewhat rubbery and beginning to yellow from having been in my fridge a little bit too long.

I just say this to remind everyone not to be too hung up upon the Myth of the Marvelous Ingredient. Sure, the fresher the better, and yes, starting out with marvelous ingredients helps, but...you still have to cook. It´s annoying and patronizing and plain stupid to convince people that unless the produce was harvested within a mile of them by vestal virgins they needen´t even bother to start.
Can you imagine an article on decoration beginning with "unless your bedroom is in a XV century palazzo overlooking the Canal Grande, there´s no point in painting a wall this shade of blue"? Or someone saying "don´t bother to learn to drive if you´re not prepared to get a Ferrari".
Get real.
Cook, even if the vegetables are wilted.

Pan-steamed broccoli
This works with all vegetables, but the time they take to cook will vary. It is a very easy way to cook, and has more flavor than usual, as no nutrients are lost on the way. You also need less fat than with the usual steam-then-sautee method.

Put a non-stick pan that has a lid on the hob, with a bit of oil or butter or both. A very little will do. Put a smashed garlic clove or two in there, let it cook while you prepare the broccoli.
Cut the florets, peel the stalk and dice it. Add to the garlicky fat, swirl, and pour a half cup of water in the pan. Cover, and let steam.
You might need to add water if it dries up, or uncover and turn up the fire if it´s almost cooked and there is a lot still. Either way, keep an eye on it. Five minutes is usually enough.

You can add spices, or anchovies, to the oil with the garlic for a change of flavor.


Soup dips (not what you´re thinking) and chicken fingers

The red lentil soup used to be a huge hit. Bowls and bowls were consumed by toddler and baby, and I took to making big batches and freezing them in single portions. It was so popular that at one point Pía demmanded it every night.
Now, you risk mutiny if it shows up. Pepe hates it too. What happened?

I still tried to serve the last portion last week. It was refused, forcibly. O well. The fish fingers were well received, so all was not lost. But what to do with that small bowl of soup? Reheating again was too sad, eating it cold a tragedy, and yet, to throw food away…no.

I added a squirt of lemon, another of ketchup and another of hot sauce, put it in a pretty bowl, with a bigger one full of tortilla chips beside it, called it a dip, and it was great.

Happy reincarnation story.

The list of foods they eat is short, so any time a novelty is accepted I am over the moon. These chicken fingers of Melissa Clark´s were gobbled up enthusiastically yesterday. Or rather, a hastily improvised version, with pork, no more spice than cumin and garlic, and I cooked them under the broiler instead of heating up the oven. This means it´s a golden recipe; if you can improvise so much and it´s still delicious it´s a weeknight winner.

The drawing is from the website of Au Pair Rescue, an agency just set up by two good friends of mine. Nothing like an extra pair of helping hands for dealing with kids at mealtimes. I´m not saying the chicken fingers aren´t great, but they can never be as great as that.


The 40 second egg

We came back from Spain on Wednesday; a twelve hour trip, all told, with a three year old and a one year old. Luckily they slept on the plane and were quiet in the car, but it never pays to take chances with dinner and so I chose the easiest, fastest option: eggs.

In Scotland you can buy free range eggs at gas stations, which is very handy in these situations. In Spain anyone clueless enough to need stocking up at gas stations is reckoned to be so slack that they´ll to put up with battery farm eggs, so that was lucky.

Pía likes a soft boiled egg with her face painted on, but Pepe takes his scrambled, and for him I use the express microwave method. Adults can wait the full three minutes it takes to scramble a couple of eggs, but one year olds must be appeased FAST.

So: take a microwave safe mug. Crack an egg into it, grate some cheese and beat it. Give it 30 seconds, take it out, beat it again and give it another 10. Voilà, scrambled eggs. Not the creamiest, of course, but more than ok for the little banshee banging his fists on the highchair.



Away, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

We're going home tomorrow, to the land of tapas and sunny beaches. No wifi, so no email, no tweets and no blogging.
Had one of those strange fridge clearing dinners: toast with avocado and sardines, home made jelly and custard. A tiffin box is packed with breakfast burritos for tomorrow. There are bananas and biscuits for the children. All this sounds so organized that clearly I must be forgetting something crucial.
Have a good week, dear readers. Back all to soon, sadly.


Anchovy pizza

Summer=hot=kitchen off limits. Or something to that effect, no? I seem to remember having lived like that, once, before moving to the northernmost reaches of human habitation.

Ordering pizza in summer makes sense, not just because you don´t want to go into the kitchen but also because you have a higher chance of it arriving still hot.

Just be smart and order the margherita, then trick it out yourself. Our favorite lately is this simple and this good:

Crush a garlic clove, mix it with the olive oil from a tin of anchovies, add chopped parsley and cracked pepper (no salt). Drizzle this over the pizza, lay the anchovies on it.
Now, for the most important step: put the pizza on a wooden tray, or board. Give everyone tea towels if you don´t have cloth napkins. Serve with ice cold beer or good wine, and you´ll be laughing.


Chickpea and stuffed pasta salad

A great salad, easily made from ingredients from the pantry, and long lasting fridge goodies. You can see my own (far from perfect, of course) pantry in Lydia´s blog, which features a section called "Other people´s pantries".

This has become my get out of jail free card. Whenever I have to make a meal for the four of us in five minutes, counting from putting my key in the door to sitting down at the table, this is it.
I know purists scoff at supermarket fresh pasta, and yes, I know it´s nowhere nearly as good as home made fresh pasta, and lacks the toothy character of good dried pasta. But that doesn´t matter here; what matters is speed. Provided you boil the water in an electric kettle, the dish is done in three minutes flat. You have time to lay the table, but only just.

The only non-negotiable ingredients are a packet of stuffed fresh pasta, whatever you like, and a tin of chickpeas. One packet is too mean, but two means waiting a long time for the water to come to the boil, and anyway the mixture of grain and bean is a winner.

While the pasta boils, open the tin, drain it, put it in a big bowl and begin the dressing. By far the easiest and tastiest is pesto, which you should always try to have on hand, as it´s a lifesaver. If you don´t, mix garlic, oil and whatever herb you have. Cooked broccoli or spinach, or jarred sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, olives...all these things would not be out of place, but be restrained. People tend to let their imaginations run away with them in pasta salads, and anyway you only have literally two minutes to do this.

Drain the pasta, toss, serve with more olive oil and a hunk of parmesan to grate at table.

I works well with beans, too, can be made ahead and doesn´t suffer much in transport, which screams "picnic".


Broccoli cheese sauce

My mother, of course, knows best. And she told me, loud and clear, "don´t have children". But I did.

And now I have to feed them, which I never thought would be too hard. Ha.

I know the first rule is "don´t take it personally", and I try not to. And they look pretty robust, so I´m not worried. It´s just annoying that they refuse meatballs and pizza, with scorn I used to reserve for liver or limp cabbage.

But anyway, this sauce passed muster yesterday, so I´m sticking with it for a while. My ennervating kids don´t mind the taste of broccoli, but at some point a colour bar was raised, and they look on anything green with straight out loathing. Luckily, broccoli stalks are white, and so, here goes:

Sneaky broccoli cheese sauce for toddlers

Steam a couple of head of broccoli; the florets like that, the stalks peeled and diced roughly.

Once tender, blend the stalks with some cheese until you have a cheesy, whiteish, surprisingly tasty sauce.

Pour over pasta, hope for the best.


Spanish Rice, pressure cooked

Mystery solved. Laura of Hip pressure cooking asked me for a recipe for Spanish rice, and I was flummoxed. There´s no such thing as Spanish rice in Spain, I said, and gave her a recipe for arroz caldoso, which is Spanish, and rice, and very good.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I started to cook a rice that I call Emma´s rice, and then I understood. Emma is from Ecuador, so to me this is a recipe from far, far away, but in the USA Ecuador and Spain are just as Spanish. So we have a winner; a simple, winsome rice-and-chicken dish, easy to make and, in the pressure cooker, lightning quick.

And very much by the way, I have finally succumbed and opened a Twitter account, since two children, a job, a husband and two blogs weren´t enough of a drain on my time. You can find me as @Marujapolar.

Spanish rice

Chop onion, red pepper, garlic small and sautee them until the onion is transparent.
Next, turn some chicken pieces, the size of a walnut, in this mix. You can brown them if you like but I don´t bother. Pour a glug of Sherry or white wine and let it bubble away.
When this is ready, add two cups of washed and drained long grain rice and let it soak up this goodness.
Now you can put in a few saffron threads and some turmeric, or nothing at all if you don´t want a yellow colour.
Add two cups of broth, close the lid.
Give it three minutes under pressure and let it come down for seven more.
Open the lid, fluff the rice, throw in some frozen peas that you´ve microwaved for a minute, and voilá, Spanish rice.

Serve with hot sauce and plantain chips, or plain corn chips and salsa.


French toast

French toast is so easy to make that probably nobody needs a recipe, but then again, somebody makes French toast for the first time some day, and you won´t want it to catch you at a bad time, like Dustin Hoffmann in Kramer vs Kramer.

My children love this, so I make it for dinner rather than breakfast. It goes just as well with cheese and broccoli as it does with maple syrup and bacon.

Take one egg per person, add the same volume of milk, more or less, beat it well and dunk sliced bread. It has to soak up the liquid but not turn soggy, so it´s best to use old bread, from a good loaf (the guys from the bag above make the best in Aberdeen).

Toast in a pan you´ve brushed with oil or butter and that´s it. Easy.

And, as a little Friday bonus, a link to a beautiful short film by Maira Kalman.Guaranteed to put a smile on your face, and tighten your heart, all at the same time.



Guests, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

Having friends over for a few days means not just company and good times; it´s also a prime opportunity for pigging out, and feeling like a gracious hostess rather than a pig.

I give my visitors things they won´t find in Spain. Prime British pork sausages, elderflower lemonade, smoked mackerel and trout, granary malted bread and punnet after punnet of Scottish raspberries, with thick yogurt or with meringues and cream. Good stuff.

Now that they´ve gone, we go back to normal. Lunch today will be steamed broccoli and poached eggs, with the last of the raspberries. No crumbles, chocolate chip cookies, ice cream, mountains of chips or jugs of Pimm´s turning up after meals.

Until we go back to Spain in a few weeks, and become guests ourselves, that is.


Poached eggs

I was listening to a KCRW Good Food podcast. Russ Parsons came on, started talking about eggs, and said that he considered poaching a fuss. That he admired people who poached but that it was a step too far for weekday cooking.
I shook my head in incomprehension.
And then next time I made poached eggs it came to mind, and I wondered afresh, how someone as great as Russ can possibly find poaching eggs too much.
Hubris led me to crack an egg too quickly, and drop it from too high, and it broke.
But apart from that, poaching eggs is a cinch, and I will write down the method below, and entreat you all to poach away. It´s simple, really.

Put a pan on the fire with an inch of water and bring it to the boil. No vinegar, no nothin´. It can be a frying pan, which makes it easier to take the eggs out, but anything is fine.

When it´s boiling, crack an egg into the water. No swirling, no putting the egg in a bowl, no nothin´. Fresh eggs poach more neatly, as the whites spread out less, but who cares?

Add all the eggs you want, but no more than four at a time for a 20 cm wide pan. Be sensible.

Turn the fire down, cover the pot and leave for a minute or so, until the white is cooked.

Now take the eggs out with a strainer, drain on a kitchen towel and serve. If you are very much into presentation, trim any straggly white bigs so it looks round and concise.

Or, and this is my favourite thing about poached eggs, put them in a bowl of cold water. They will keep there for days, in the fridge, if need be. Makes brunch preparations all the easier, but is also handy if you are given some very fresh wonderful farm fresh eggs. Cook them at once and enjoy them over the next few days.

Seriously, it´s that simple.


The Perfect Pantry

Lydia, Prueba, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

Another blog that has recently had a spruce up is Lydia's The Perfect Pantry, an old time favourite. This is a blog that has all the warm and open tone we like to read, cemented on a rock solid foundation of information and great recipes. If you don't know it yet, go and have a look.
Lydia was kind enough to ask me to do an illustration for the header. I wish all jobs were as fun.
The drawing is one of the preliminaries I did at the beginning of the process.

My pantry, though far from perfect, is bulging with good things, which come in very useful now that I don't have access to my dear Barceló market and all the little shops around it. Brit supermarkets are well stocked but I hate having to drive to them.

Tonight we've had empanada gallega, an impressive looking dish made all from pantry ingredients. This one was filled with onions, from and Eazy can, three tins of sardines, some oregano and a handful of raisins.


At last, change!

As ever with these things, I´d been dreading it and putting it off, and lo and behold, it was very easy and now I wish I´d done it earlier. Here you have it, with bells on: clean, fresh tags, all the followers there looking beautiful, and most important, the share buttons so you can tweet and like to your heart´s content.
Here´s to five years (and a few months) of blogging, a Lobstersquad iPad app in the works, and all the rest.


Extremely crunchy chicken wings

I made these wings yesterday, inspired by a recipe from Mad Hungry. Since I had no breadcrumbs I substituted oatmeal and polenta and oh, wow. Serious crunch, serious flavour. I´m sold, particullary as the type of breadcrumbs found here look like day-glo orange fish food.

I also roasted a head of cauliflower alongside, and made some hummus. It was a very simple meal, all finger food, great with cold beer, easy to serve outside. The perfect menu for watching a Wimbledon semifinal?

heat the oven to 225ºC

Take one kg of chicken wings (that´s about ten, with the tips off).
Salt them, then mix in a bowl a heaping spoonful of flour, half a cup of oatmeal and a quarter cup of polenta and a quarter cup of sesame seeds. You can add crushed garlic and cayenne pepper to this, if you like.

Now beat one egg in another bowl and put the wings in there, making sure they´re all coated in egg. You may need two but then will surely have egg left over and that´s annoying.

Coat the wings in the floury mixture, put them on a greased baking sheet and into the oven for 45 minutes or so, until golden and oh, shatteringly crunchy.

Serve with something to dip them in. My favorite is Thai sweet chili sauce mixed with Dijon mustard.

Feeds two as a main dish, more as an appetizer, though there will be fights for the last piece.


Take time for lunch

J always comes home for lunch, since it´s his job to pick up the kids from nursery.
It´s a proper meal. I lay the table and we sit down, even if we only have twenty minutes to eat it. And even though I often cook it in fifteen, it´s still good stuff.
The good old pressure cooker is a big help, as is the freezer, and yesterday´s leftovers.
What can I say? I come from a culture of big lunches and small dinners, and it feels more civilized to sit down to black bean soup, at a table, than to snatch a sandwich at your desk.
So there. I wish you all a very good lunch.


Quick squid: chipiron plancha

I´ve read many times the rule about squid: cook it fast for a minute, or slow for an hour, unless you want to eat rubber rings.
I usually go for the slow, since it seems easier to control; you let the thing simmer and can try and see if it´s ok. The flash method seemed a bit scary.

However, once you try it you see it really is the easiest thing, and so good. We had a couple of small squid and a bunch of samphire, a salty, crunchy seaweed, with very cold beer before dinner and it was just the thing.


Squid, as much as you like but at least one per person
salt, pepper, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil

Marinade the cleaned squid with the salt, pepper, parsley, juice and oil.

Heat a non-stick pan as high as you can and when it´s hot throw the squid on it. It will curl and contract quickly. The second it´s opaque, take it out. It´s almost impossible to undercook.
Your kitchen probably won´t have the power to turn it crunchy golden like the planchas of tapas bars, but it´s still going to be very good. If you´re doing a lot then do it in batches, so you can control the thing.


I just want to say

Fish Finger Sandwich, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

the Fish Finger Sandwich. Awsome.


Boiling octopus

I´ve written about pulpo a feira before, and octopus salad. Always, I began with the instruction "buy some boiled octopus".
But then I moved to the northernmost reaches of civilization, to a place where octopii are rare, and when found, small and raw. If you´re lucky, they will be clean. If you´re not, you´re in for an interesting ten minutes gouging yucky stuff from the insides of the head. You´ll never believe how much stuff can fit in there.

So anyway, here are instructions for boiling an octopus. Once it´s done, you only have to proceed to the other recipes.

It´s very easy, as long as you follow two rules:

I have only done this with the small octopii (?) I find here in the North Sea, but in Spain you´d bring home a great whaking beast, so it´s best to make this for a party.

First, freeze the octopus. Ask the fishmonger if it has been frozen before, and if it has then you´re free to go. Freezing breaks up the whatever technical term it is so that it is tender.

Put it in the fridge to defrost overnight (or, you know, waive all health and safety advice and leave it on the counter for a shorter while. it´s what I do)

Bring a big pan of water to the boil (no need to salt). Add a bay leaf and a a few peppercorns.

When it´s boiling, drive a hook through the octopus´s head and plunge it into the boiling water. Count to three, and take it out.

Wait for the water to come back to the boil and repeat the process three times.

This ensures that the skin won´t break up and it will look prettier.

Put it back in the water, cover and leave to simmer for about 90 minutes, by which time it should be tender.

Or, if you are using a pressure cooker, leave for 30 minutes and let the pressure come down on its own.


Fusion baby food: miso mashed potatoes

Miso is one of the things that´s always sitting in my fridge. Usually to be used as a soup base when I´m making Japanese-y noodle soups, and as a quick marinade for fish, but also to kick up a panful of mushrooms, or anything that tastes a bit wan.

Yesterday I had a leftover boiled potato, and a toddler in a high chair looking hungry but discerning. The lone potato would not cut it, but if I started fiddling around defrosting stuff, he´d howl. Answer; miso mashed potatoes, a David Chang conceit, but fine for all ages.

I heated the potato in the microwave, and then put a bit of butter and a bit of miso, mashed it with a fork, and that was that, a very popular instant hit.

You can also do that with sweet potatoes, and if it´s for you, don´t be shy with the miso. Your pork chop or chicken thighs will be very happy next to this.


The Food of Spain, by Claudia Roden

It´s finally out. I can´t wait to get my hands on it, and much fruitless time is spent debating wether to buy the US edition already, and risk the American measurements, or wait like a good girl for it to come out here.
Meanwhile, you can read a review here, a New Yorker profile of the author here, and, best of all, an excerpt here.
I can´t say for sure, but I think this is it, the definitive book on Spanish cooking, yes!


Pressure cooked white rice

Brown rice is usually the star of the pressure cooker, because it takes forever to cook in a normal pot. White rice cooks fairly quickly, but sometimes even ten minutes shaved off cooking time makes a difference, and it´s a good trick to have up your sleeve.

My pressure cooking guru, Lorna Sass, says you can cook long grain rice in a pressure cooker., but it will be stickier than it would be in a normal pan. Lorna insists that she´s used to it now and would not have it otherwise.

I tried it and it was ok, but definitely on the gummy side. Perfect for fried rice the day after, but nothing great.

However, I tried it again yesterday, because I was in a hurry and wanted to test a theory. Lorna will have you put 1 cup of rice and 1 and 3/4 of water in the cooker.

I did it with just 1 of rice to 1 of water and you know what? It was awesome. Yes, a little stickier than usual but definitely not gummy, definitely delicious and very quick. So here it is:

Long grain rice in the pressure cooker

Put a bit of oil into the cooker and while it heats measure out two cups of rice and wash and rinse them.

Now turn them in the oil a little until they begin to look a bit transparent (or not. this is optional)

Add salt and two cups of water.

Cover, lock, bring up to pressure and count three minutes. Turn the heat off and let the pressure come down for seven minutes.

Open, fluff the rice with a fork and there you go. For decadence, add a bit of butter.

Also, this method is perfect for pilafs, so stay tuned for my cheat´s pilaf, a thing of beauty and speed.


To make the kitchen smell good

Back again, never mind the Icelandic volcano that nearly grounded us.

I came back to a house inhabited only by J for ten days. There was a weird smell, which sometimes happen when you leave a guy alone. It didn´t come from stacked takeout boxes, however (the house was eerily tidy, actually). After some sniffing around I located a glass I´d left on the counter with a bunch of fresh cut parsley. Two weeks later, it was a stagnant pond with lots of fuzzy slimy stuff.

This was quite lucky, as last time it took me a couple of days to locate the offending substance; chorizo wrapped up and left to molder in a cupboard.

I quickly threw that out, but to make sure all lingering nastiness went away, I did the Yolanda-Frying-Fish-Night-Trick. It makes your kitchen smell lovely, and seems to subdue any competing nastiness, so it´s a good one when you´re cooking pungent stuff.

Simply, boil some water with a bit of sugar, some lemon, and a stick of cinammon.

Let it bubble away on a back burner unattended, but do keep an eye on it. Once it´s boiled down you can even use it to drizzle on fruit salad if you like.

Oh and by the way, a recipe for arroz caldoso, by way of Hip Pressure Cooking, where Laura asked me to do a guest post. Thank you!


Tamasin Day Lewis in Madrid

Untitled #94, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

this is a sketch I made during the press event held before the masterclasses at Alambique cookery school last Monday.
It was a lot of fun, the food was amazing.
more Madrid food tales soon, if I can stop eating and drinking long enough to post about it.


Ballymaloe brown yeast bread

Clearly nobody needs to make bread at home, and anyone who does does so because they like it, not because they find it easy or convenient. So saying a recipe for bread is easy and convenient isn´t saying all that much.

However, this bread is a good way of either getting into the bread habit, or of slipping back into it. It´s the easiest bread I´ve ever made, no question. It makes the famous NYT no-knead bread fussy by comparison.

It makes an honest to goodness wholemeal loaf, crunchy outside, springy inside, a bit chewy, with lots of flavour.

When you read the recipe you´ll think, like I did, "no way". Wishful thinking, you´ll say. It can´t be true. Mix flour and water and molasses and yeast in a bowl with a spoon, pour the battery dough just like that into a greased tin, leave it to rise there just once and bake straight away?

I fully expected to get a well-meaning but inedible brick, and if it had been a recipe from anyone but Ballymaloe´s Darina Allen, I wouldn´t have even bothered.

So try it. I think we´ll be having home made bread every day again. It´s the easiest thing in the world to mix three batches, bake them, all in an afternoon, freeze two loaves and have enough for the whole week.

The full recipe, together with a few more, is in this Guardian article. They come from the book "Forgotten skills of cooking" which is a great book, although not the most practical, because, frankly, keeping chickens and growing cabbages ain´t in my line. I´ve borrowed it from the library, but I´m copying down a lot of recipes, so it´d definitely recommended.

However, just so you know, here are a few notes. The dough took one hour, not 20 minutes to rise. The rest is just as Darina Allen writes.

If you´re in Spain and can´t find strong brown flour for a reasonable price, buy gluten and add a heaping spoonful to your flour.

If you´re using powdered yeast, mix all the dry ingredients and then the treacle and water.



Cacharros, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

winding down, waiting for Pia to fall asleep, browsing Darina Allen's latest book and debating wether to make Eve's pudding or Irish apple cake tomorroe.


Royal weddings app, out in English, and chocolate sauce

Hello dear readers. As promised, our royal weddings app is now out in English. As the world gears up for royal wedding madness, get ready with some brushing up on frivolous historical tidbits.
Also, a chocolate sauce to enhance your celebrations.
Chocolate sauce is one of those things you just have to know how to make. It´s part of being a civilized member of this planet. Life is simply much better when you know you can pour some hot sauce over ice cream .

The simplest is, of course, ganache. Cream and good chopped chocolate, there you go. The little black dress of sweet sauces, dark, elegant, restrained, classic, it goes with everything and gives it a touch of class.

Sure. However, it depends on your having cream in the house. I don´t have cream in the house. In Spain, yes, I always have those little cartons of UHT cream, but here in the UK cream is fresh, so I only buy it with specific dishes in mind. Or else. You know how it is with cream, specially when it´s as criminally good as British cream.

Enter the storecupboard solution.

Chocolate sauce needs only cocoa, fat and sugar. So to make a very very simple and very very quick one, you can skip several steps and use Nutella, which, however well it cloaks itself in wholesome nuttiness is basically oil and sugar.

Put a whopping big spoonful of Nutella in a coffee mug with a half teaspoonful of cocoa and a glug of milk, and give it thirty seconds in the microwave.

Beat it well with a spoon and watch the messy melted spread turn glossy, dark, wicked and even more irresistible.

It is the perfect sauce, at once grown-up and intense, yet fudgy and sweet, with a praline undertone. It is the goods, I´m telling you. Ice cream sundae has never been so perilously easy.

Pour that over vanilla ice cream as you watch the royal wedding, and if you´re a true fan, add Rich Tea biscuits, which the groom seems to favour.