Summer cooking

Escalivada, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

Summer is coming to an end here in Scotland. How sad. All the more reason to make the most of it, and spend every possible second outdoors. And to pick the last raspberries, and freeze or jam a few.
I also have to empty a bulging freezer that needs a good clean. There is so much stuff there: lamb's liver, red braised oxtail, bags of prawns, tubs of stock, packets of iberico ham bones, boxes of fish fingers, frozen spinach, beans...Endless list. Happy task, but harder than it sounds.


Payback time

Lunch today will have to be a plain, severe bowl of congee. Perhaps I might allow myself a drizzle of soy, a few almonds, and the merest suggestion of spring onions.
Yesterday we had the bright idea of buying some fish and chips and having an impromptu picnic at a nearby park. The shop was famously good. The sun was shining. The fish and chips was as greasy and crunchy as I remembered. And as I had, stupidly, forgotten, it knocked me out with a blinding migraine that lasted all afternoon.
This is what old age will do to you. Sad, but true. And now I still feel a little frail, so congee it is. Here's a blog post from the LA times that will tell you all you want to know about it, and another one from Use real butter, in case you want to use a pressure cooker to make it.
(How do Scots survive frequent ingestions of the stuff? Must go see Brave and find out)


The icing on the cake

The time has come to write about The Icing. 
I hesitate to write about baking, because there are so many beautiful things out there, done by people who combine the talents of Benvenuto Cellini with the colour schemes of Hello Kitty, and that's enough to depress anyone.
I'm not one of those who despise baking. I love sweets, and I do not fear them. I just don't go into the whole decoration thing. It seems the height of silliness to me to try to make cakes and biscuits look professional. It used to be that people would buy things, and, in shame, bash them up a bit so they looked homemade. What happened to that?
My cakes that look glorious in their simplicity,  smell like eggs and vanilla and good butter, usually slump in the middle, but more than make up for their looks with a jug of home made custard and a bowl of good fruit, fresh or poached.
There is no need for more.
Unless there is, in which case, bring out the icing. But don´t go nuts. This one is made in seconds, is very easy to use , as long as you´re cool with a few jagged edges, and can be coloured in pretty pastel shades.
And unlike most icings, which are cloying  and pointless and make your teeth ache, it tastes wonderful, with a salty sweet kick that makes licking the bowl almost the whole point of the exercise.
People go mad for this, I tell you. Even if there are dainty looking cupcakes of utter prettiness on the table, cakes with this icing are devoured, and the recipe is always requested.
Did I mention, it´s so easy you could train a chimp to make it? It is this simple: take a tub of Philadelphia cheese (the full fat version, OF course) and add a packet (200 gr) or equal weight  of melted white chocolate. Mix. Add colouring of your choice. That´s it.
You can cool it so it´s firmer, but it will never be as stiff as the kind that is almost pure sugar. I've certainly never tried to see if it will work inside a piping bag, but if you´re game, try it and let me know.
You can also mix the cheese with milk chocolate, which leaves no room for pretty colours but tastes divine, a bit like salted caramel.
I used it yesterday for my daughter´s fourth birthday cake. It was the chocolate cake from "Relish" and the icing was a pretty soft pink. Topped with hundreds and thousands and pearls, and a pink Disney princess, it looked silly but tasted like the real thing.


Summer salad

Just a salad. Words that strike dread into my heart. I've written about this before, but it bears repeating: if you have artistic tendencies, or think you may have, ask for help. Don't take it out on a pile of defenseless greens, and start flinging things at them until they are smothered in bits and bobs.

Yes, if salad is going to be the meal, it can't just be a sliced tomato.  I know it's too hot to cook actual food, and it makes sense to make the most of fresh summer produce and a couple of tins. Fine. But that doesn't mean it should have seventeen ingredients. It just looks messy and tastes messy, too.

Why don't you make two, or even three, salads instead? I looks beautiful, lavish, fills you up just looking at it, and takes a little more time to prepare, but much longer to eat.

A combination I like is a bowl of green lettuce and ruccola, perhaps. Tossed with this dressing, with perhaps a tiny bit of raw garlic and some chopped nuts.

In another bowl, tomatoes, just like that, with a drizzle of oil and some salt. If they´re good tomatoes, they need nothing more.

A third can have the heavy duty stuff: the boiled eggs, tuna, olives, asparagus, etc. Placed side by side, drizzled with a simple vinaigrette, or perhaps one that you have made creamy by adding some mayonaise.

Doesn´t that look pretty? Toast some bread, open some wine, enjoy the summer. And if you´re somewhere northern and blustery, have a hearty pudding afterwards. See the advantage where you can.