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.