Merry Christmas, everyone

I love Christmas Eve. It's the one day of the year when I can embrace my kitchen geekiness. Food crazies are in the mainstream for a day, so, rejoice!
There is a lot going on today. We stuffed our bird yesterday. It had apparently been deboned with a sledgehammer and had to be sown with extra care. For the first time my daughter took part in the proceedings, pointing out where feathers had to be pulled out, and cutting the thread. We made a pot of stock, for the gravy, and in case anyone wants a cup of broth at some point.
I also made jelly with some tangerines my father brought, sent from Valencia and picked that very morning.
This morning it's been custard, to top the jelly, and two batches of the pearl (onion) jam. Done in a bit sautee pan this time and much better for it.
Dried chestnuts have been simmered in syrup. Apples were supposed to be made into sauce but I forgot about them and they are now caramelized (ahem).
We only have to roast the bird and then the potatoes. There is a jar of goose fat waiting.
And because the kitchen is run over, lunch is every man for himself. Anyone not going out for tapas can find ham hock rillettes in the fridge, made last Sunday.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I have some cañas to catch up on.
I hope you have a lovely holiday, rain or no rain.


Chicken skin

Some months ago I wrote about the contents of my freezer, listing among them chicken skins. Someone asked me in the comments if they were for my cats. I felt too sheepish to answer. The truth is, I don't have any cats, and if I did, I would certainly not share the chicken skin with them. I could have shouted it out from the rooftops, though, because it seems chicken skin is The New Bacon.

Cooked chicken skin can be flabby, slippery and rather gross. Even if you take care to brown your chicken pieces, after braising the whole thing goes soft, and what's the point of that? I don't usually bother to brown anything, anyway. And please, don't talk to me about Maillard reaction. Bla bla bla whatever. 

I cook chicken without the skin, at least for everyday chicken things like rice or soups or a sandwich. But because I now live the suburban life of the supermarket chicken thigh package, I have had to learn how to deal with the skin myself. A deft pull and you have your skinless thigh. A few inept wiggles and cuts and it is now boneless. 
The meat for whatever dish I'm making, the bones for stock, and the skin? It pains me to say that I used to toss it. No longer. 

Now the skin goes, salted and cut into small strips, into a non-stick pan on a low flame. And if you have one of those things that look like the child of a strainer and a ping-pong paddle, put it over.
Leave it on its own while you make whatever else you're making. It starts to change colour, spitting a little, shrivelling and crisping and after a few more minutes and a bit of turning becomes crunchy and golden and irresistible. Properly irresistible. It is the most delicious thing, and I can't think of any chicken dish it doesn't improve. Sandwiches, soups, noodles, rice, anything, really. 

If you don't want to use it right away you can leave it in the fridge, and use it to enliven leftovers. My favourites: crisp some to crumble over soups of the heartier variety, like black beans. 
Let them cook til golden and use the rendered fat to cook fried rice, or to make a hash with cooked potatoes, or for the most heavenly ropa vieja.
Add them to poached chicken for  the whole foods, beak-to-tail answer to the Club Sandwich.

You can think of it as kosher chicharrones and serve it as a snack, but that is something I have never got round to. To me, they are simply a very handy way to make sure that I have the best of both worlds, crisp chicken skin and juicy, flavourful meat.


A review of Puro Fairtrade Coffee

Disclaimer: I have never in my life written a review, and it's been keeping me awake and away from the blog. But I said I would so now I have to write a coffee review.

Well. Not "have to" so much as "have to". I mean, I want to do it, but it's given me a bad case of blogger's block, and if I don't get it out soon it's going to dry up lobstersquad completely. Not that anyone would care, but still.

The thing is, a couple of months ago (!) I received a sweet email from someone who not only gave me a really good recipe for cabbage salad but also offered to send me some samples of Puro Fairtrade coffee to review.
And I blithely said "yes".  Like I had any idea how.

And have I enjoyed it? Of course I have. Of course. It really is lovely coffee. Fairtrade is really the only quality that I can't ruin with my coffee making methods, which are on the rough and ready side. The whole Puro coffee story is wonderful, and you can check it out on this video, which tells you the whole story much better than I could.

The best news in all this? Puro Fairtrade coffee only sells to coffee shops and other professional outlets. So it's not up to me (or you?) to ruin a good cup . I have recently found that a small café in my neighbourhood serves it, so I can get my fix in a much more convenient and delicious way.

I wish I could make an informed critique of the differences between the different coffees I received. The thing is, I like coffee very well, but I tend to think of it the Spanish way. For us "un café" is as much about the social occasion as about the drink. You can meet friends "for coffee" and end up drinking Coca-Cola, orange juice or hot chocolate, and nobody is a bit surprised. And at home I usually drink tea. So it isn´t up to me to detect how Puro Organic, with its 100% Arabica content, has a touch of citrus. I have never, ever, not once, detected a touch of citrus in anything other than oranges and lemons. Sad, but true. (Are you thinking about pearls and swine by now? I'm not surprised)
Likewise, Puro Fuerte, is a dark roast and makes me think that Puro Noble  is "medium" in this whole new universe. Like Tall Grande and Venti, except, of course, NOT, because in every way superior to that chainy mermaidy stuff.

There was also a sachet of hot chocolate that my children pronounced top notch. They are actually conoisseurs and can tell Cola-Cao from Nesquik a mile away. Perhaps they should have done the whole review?

So there you are. Watch the video, browse Puro Fairtrade Coffee, save the rainforest, see if you can find a place nearby that serves it because it really is good in every possible way.
And if you're really good and I get permission one day I'll post the recipe for the cabbage salad.


October holidays

Brits are different from every else. They love to make a point of this in every possible way and so here we are, with a two week school holiday in October. It is mysterious and not all that convenient, but on the other hand, it's a holiday, so let's not complain.

I'll be flying home to Madrid, of course. And I'm already daydreaming about all the things I want to eat there. I won't manage them all, but I will try. Having the kids along will be a great excuse, because it's all a part of their cultural education, see?

Here are a few, in no particular order:

Churros from the café in Santa Engracia.

Mountains of ice cream from La Romana. Like, loads. Every day.

Croquetas, salmorejo, tortilla at La Ardosa.

The pulled noodle soup in Cardenal Cisneros

Almost anything from Fide, but to start with, smoked sardines, boquerones, mojama.

The empanadillas in front of the Prado.

A good old bocata de calamares is never a good idea but looks like it.

The tortilla from the bar next door to the Iglesia metro stop.

Pinchos and champagne at Cuenllas.

The puntillitas at Plaza de Opera. And on the way back, get some of that great lewerwürst from calle Arenal.

Heaps of the mustard noodles and the aubergines at Buen Gusto.

Perhaps the Armando. Maybe. We'll see.

Camporeal olives. Salchichón de Vic. Picos de Antequera. Picnicking if at all possible.

Roast tomatoes, mangos, avocados, greengages if I'm lucky and they're still around.

Porra, because tomatoes right now are begging for it.

Empanada gallega, which I will make from the lots of tins nobody bothers with at my parents' after they've eaten the sardines and the tuna.

A Donoso burger.

Try the new Garriga on López de Hoyos.

Bread from Viena Lacrem.

Lots of cañas, of course (let's leave the kids home for that. Likewise, the Gin and tonic sampling).

Lemon meringue tarts from Embassy. 

That insane eggy airy thing from La Duquesita I tried last time whose name I can't remember.


Pancakes from Vip's. 

Also, dare I say, a relaxing cup of coffee in la Plaza Mayor? 


Ginger scallion sauce, again.

I wrote this post back in the summer of 2010. I basically hated that whole summer but this ginger scallion sauce is one of the few good things I remember from back then.

I still think it's pretty great, and make it often. A bit after reading Francis Lam's article, I saw a similar recipe in the  Momofuku cookbook. It's even simpler, just spring onion and ginger and salt and oil, with a small dash of Sherry vinegar. It's good, but I prefer the taste of cooked spring onion. I also find that it's so moreish that if I make a whole big batch that is supposed to keep in the fridge, it disappears in a single meal. And that's a lot of oil for a single meal. 

So here's what I do now. I cut up a few spring onions, just the green bits, until I have what I need. I chop or grate some ginger. Put both in a mug with some salt, cover with vegetable oil, not even enough to cover. And give it a minute in the microwave.

This is very fast, I don't need to bring out the machinery, there is no bubbling oil, and the sauce is still terrific. Have it on plain Chinese egg noodles, with a splash of hoisin sauce, as David Chang says in the book, or on anything, really. Best-fast-food-EVER. 

(Choice of illustration entirely random, a page I rather like from my current sketchbook)


Back to school

Late summer has hit me hard this year. Three books to finish on the same deadline, and my daughter starting school. With a method they use here in the UK whereby the parent spends almost as much time at the school as the child, carefully letting them go in such easy stages that the wee one will have no trauma whatsoever. The mother, of course, is sticking straws in her hair by that point. 

Still, that's over. And thanks to those lovely dinner ladies, you will not be having to endure me banging on about lunch boxes. We'll leave that to Amanda Hesser and her science fiction kids.

Thank goodness for the freezer, then. Full of good stuff, it gets you through anything, because even if you're making grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner, cooking some frozen leaf spinach slowly with a bit of butter and garlic cumin and a few raisins makes it look like a proper meal. Which it is.

So there you go. Keep it full of spinach, green beans, peas, sweet corn, salmon, sausages, stock and of course ice cream, and you can take whatever editors and schools throw at you.  


Spiced peanuts

I am well aware that this post will sound barking mad to many people. The idea of tinkering with a bag of peanuts, when it's so delicious on its own, and when there are so many flavoured versions out there, is plain loony. I know. I see people who wear makeup to the gym with that horrified fascination. But what can I say? This is much better than anything you can buy, and it takes about three seconds to do. You don't have to turn on the oven, so it's quick, and summer-friendly. It also costs a fraction of the price on fancy flavoured peanuts, which is the kind of thing that makes me feel clever. That's who I am. Let it go.

So, heat a basic elemental bag of salted peanuts (or almonds, cashews, whatever). 
Heat a frying pan that will hold them comfortably. Now add a spoonful of garam masala. This is to taste, of course, and depends on how many peanuts there are. Suit yourself. When it smells toasty, add the peanuts, toss them until they're hot, and serve them in a pretty bowl. Everybody loves them, and they are impressive way beyond the effort they take. 

You can also try different spices. A pimentón/rosemary/garlic combo is great. Just add them to the hot peanuts and toss until you can smell them. That way they won't burn. A bit of sugar at the end gives a nice little touch, although it can catch and become caramel. Not that it's a problem, just don't bite into it if it's hot.

Cold beer is a very good thing with them. Or Sherry, of course.


Dolce far niente cooking

This post can be considered to close a trilogy dedicated to summer cooking.

There is non-cooking, almost non-cooking, and then there is get-out-of-jail-free-card cooking. By which I mean, tin opener cooking, or twist of the wrist cooking, which is, in fact, not doing anything cooking. Dolce far niente.

The stuff in your store cupboard. The special stuff that you buy on holiday or in that cute, expensive deli, and then don't use because it's, you know, special. And you like the look of those labels, sitting so prettily next to the rice and the garbanzos, and like to think they make your larder look like Elizabeth David's.
This is the time to go for them. Toast bread, slice tomatoes, open tin, and there you are, dinner.

I now have a box that is super extra special and that I really am rationing like a castaway. It came all the way from Sicily, from Fabrizia Lanza (you know her from this earlier post, and this one, and this one), and is chock full of gorgeous stuff. Dried tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, dried herbs, tangerine jam, all done with produce from the kitchen garden at the school. I did the drawings on the labels, so there's an element of shameless self promotion, but not much. This, like the best Italian cooking, is all about the ingredients.

I could only wish that it was still hot enough to warrant that kind of lazy cooking. I fear Scotland may be lapsing into its usual weather. Hearty soups are only around the corner. Sigh. Let's have some of that Sicilian sunshine in a jar, then.


Fresh and quick tomato sauce

Another recipe for tomato sauce. Well, I'm sorry, but there it is. They're not all the same. And while the jammy, concentrated, dark and savoury one I've grown up with is great, sometimes it won't do. It takes too long to cook down, and it tastes too strong for some things. 

This one, on the other hand, is fresh and summery. It tastes of tomatoes. And it is made with tomatoes that come from a tin. I stress this because I just don't understand when recipes insist on "the freshest, ripest heirloom tomatoes". The best use I have for those, provided I can find them, is to slice them and eat them just like that, with a bit of salt and olive oil. Silly food writers.

This is a sauce that you can make in the middle of a blizzard at the top of a mountain, and it takes all of five or six minutes to make, so it's perfect for eating with fresh pasta, or for topping shop bought pizza bases. It keeps for days in the fridge and freezes well. It's a friendly little thing, basically, and good to know.

So. Take your largest non-stick frying pan and put it on the hob with a generous splash of olive oil. Or mix some normal vegetable oil and a bit of good extra virgin. No one will know, except your wallet.
While that heats up, open two tins of whole plum tomatoes (and this is the moment when you'll be glad you bought Spanish or Italian tins, because they are easier to open).
Take out the tomatoes, careful to not spill their juice, and put them in a blender with a good pinch of salt. Blitz. Texture, to your liking; I go for a velvety passata, but chunky is lovely too.
Add oregano to the hot oil, or garlic if you like.
Now add the passata and a sprinkling of sugar and let it bubble away for a few minutes. 

You could let that reduce for as long as you like, of course, but it splatters and sticks and is no fun to look after. A few minutes is enough for me, and it keeps it light and zingy and, yes, I promise, fresh and summery. 


Summer non-cooking

You know that thing where you put off writing a thank you letter and then it's too late to send just a normal letter and it builds up in your mind until you sort of hate the person who did something nice in the first place? Or is that just me? Whatever.

I haven't written in a month, and feel that any old post will not do, but then I don't feel like writing something long, or a proper recipe, and oh, I don't know. The last thing you want is to resent your own blog. Really.

So let's just say it's all due to summer cooking. Because so far, and touch wood, we've had a lot of proper summer days. And that means the lazy kind of cooking. The tomato salad (with cherry tomatoes from Murcia). The steam-grilled asparagus. The bowls of strawberries and yogurt. The walks to the good ice cream shop. The bags of cherries.The picnics on the beach, the grilled sausages, the big salads, the tins of sardines with avocado toast and yes, the gazpacho. No kidding, it got to the point where one afternoon I thought I just had to have a bowl of the stuff.

No news here, but just in case anyone is in a hurry making gazpacho and has no room in the freezer for a quick chill, here's what you do.
Serves two, my children growing up Scottish and therefore shunning anything that might resemble a vitamin:

Take two heaping spoonfuls of cherry tomatoes (around 250 gr) and put them in a blender with a 5 cm chunk of peeled cucumber, a wedge of red pepper if you have it, and if not some tinned/jarred variety. A pinch of salt, a squeeze of lemon, squirt of Sherry vinegar and a good, generous pour of olive oil. No garlic for me but go right ahead.
Now blend until creamy. Normally you'd add water, but wait. Simply sieve this to get rid of the tomato skins and seeds.
And now for the cunning plan: leave it in a bowl on the counter and instead of water add ice cubes. In an hour or so it will be far chillier
than if you had left it in the fridge, and your butter will not smell like gazpacho.
Stir, taste for salt and vinegar, and there you go.
If you need an extra boost to deal with children on school holiday, add a shot of vodka for a Gazpacho Molotov.

The image is for a T-shirt coming soon to a store quite far from you, probably, but that you should certainly visit.


Kedgeree alert

I wrote about kedgeree a while ago, and now I have shortcut, and it comes from Simon Hopkinson. Gasp. 
I would never have expected it from him, but there you go. His books are full of things I'd love to eat but would never cook. Buckets of cream, stern instructions, a general expectation of ingredients individually wrapped in crisp paper packages by knowing artisan sellers...And above all, the assumption that if you want good food, you must cook it carefully, slowly and well, and behave as if you have no children, deadlines, or arteries.
Which makes for great reading, but, you know.

The man is also on TV. Where he is a calm, ever so slightly dull voice amidst the hysterical babble. No flirting with the camera, no licking of fingers, no jumping madly from hob to oven while chucking harissa, herbs, miso and vanilla at some poor unsuspecting piece of fish.

So behold my amazement when he starts to make kedgeree (min. 16)and instead of poaching the smoked haddock first and using the stock to make the rice, he put the whole piece of fish directly into the pot. Marvelous. No wonder he is often referred to as Saint Simon of Hopkinson.

You can see my recipe here, like I used to make it. Simply ignore the first bit and jump into cooking the rice. If you want to make it the normal way, and not as a risotto, simply use the same amount of water as you would of rice, and let the rice steam a few minutes, off the hob, so it's fluffier.

Spanish readers: please someone try this with salt cod and let me know how it goes.


The sprouting life

I love reading about polar exploration. No idea why, but I find accounts of bewhiskered Victorians tramping through the ice eating their shoes endlessly fascinating. All the more so now that I live within shouting distance of the Arctic Circle.

I was reading about William Edward Parry, and how he kept his crew fit by growing mustard and cress on top of the heating pipes inside their ice bound ship, and instantly decided to give it a go. 
Now, I won't pretend that scurvy is a clear and present danger in Aberdeen in 2013. Hardly that. But there are days when the wind howls and the rain pelts and everything is the exact shade of slate grey, when the last thing you want is to leave the house to buy plastic wrapped pasticky vegetables. And those days can fall on May 23rd, like today.
On those days it's just easier to take inspiration from a book of Polar exploration than from Elisabeth David waxing lyrical about the diet of the Mediterranean peasant.

Also, it dispels that weedy hippy image you can't help associating with sprouts. Not that Polar explorers are gourmands, but weedy? No.

Turns out, it's very easy to sprout stuff. Seeds just can't help themselves, they really really want to become plants. So this method works with anything, but to my taste, lentils are the best. They are quick and they are so delicious, you can't stop munching once they're out. Seriously. Forget about the health thing, these things are just plain irresistible.

You need a biggish glass jar, very clean, with no lid. Fill it about a third of the way with lentils.  Cover with water and let it soak eight hours or so.

Now drain it well. Cover the jar with a piece of muslin . I find the ones sold in pharmacies best for this. Snap a rubber band to hold it in place.

You rinse the lentils twice a day. This takes about three seconds. Simply pour water through the muslin, swirl it a bit, pour it out through the muslin, which acts like a sieve.

In a couple of days you will see little curlicues.  These are Polar times. I bet they sprout more quickly in warm climates. 
You can eat them like that, but I like to wait a bit more, until they look like tadpoles. 

Once they're ready, rinse and keep in the fridge, with a proper lid on. They keep for a few days like that, but I generally eat them pretty quickly. They make a perfect snack, with a little salt or soy sauce.


Picnic season

Picnic season is here. It doesn't matter if you are in the "sit on a nettle, eating a wasp" camp or constantly babble "everything tastes better outdoors".
 Like it or not, at some point between now and the end of September you will be balancing a sandwich on your knee.

I myself, am a big fan. I am so prone to picnics that I have several times dragged my children to our neighbourhood park in dead of winter, clutching a thermos of hot chocolate and some biscuits, the better to enjoy the too-early sunsets.
Scotland has that very British craziness of combining the perfect scenery with the worst possible weather. And yet we soldier on.

I won't post recipes, because really, all you need for a picnic is some sunshine, a bit of grass or sand, a blanket, cheese, bread, fruit and water. And if you can make sure the beer is cold, bless you. And nobody ever said no to chocolate.
And don't forget to pack a bottle opener, and a fresbee, or a ball, or a kite, or something that will lull you into a pleasant sense of having been active and outdoorsy as you drift off into a well deserved nap.

I was used to hot weather picnics, which mean coolers full of ice where you nestle the cherries and the chocolate. Where a blanket has to protect your bare legs from thorns and spiky dry grass. And where shade is of the essence.
Now I grapple with such issues as wind breakers, waterproof blankets and wellington boots. But I am free from the ghost of melted chocolate, and if I want a cold drink I only have to plunge a bottle into the icy sea for a couple of minutes.

I do have a bit of a problem with the props. I take a stand against tupperware, paper plates and napkins and plastic glasses. And I hate to see packaging marr the view.
So it's wicker baskets and inconvenient picnic tins for me. And tiffin boxes, striped tea towels, Swiss army knives and enamel plates and cups. It's annoying, but picnics aren't about convenience. They're about nostalgia and pretending to be a character in English literature. Up to you wether you want to be Sebastian with the teddy bear and the strawberries, or Ratty and Mole with the potted-ham-potted-tongue.



Better weather, sunshine, the first timid buds showing...spring is late this year, but it will come, eventually.
A meal of salad, paté and toast, with some rhubarb and custard at the end, is perfect.
The crayons and pencils and watercolours come outdoors after a whole winter inside, and so we have more sketches, which can only be a good thing.
More soon.


Lentils, pressure cooked.

I guess now is not a very good time to convince people that pressure cookers are perfectly safe, convenient little gizmos that don't explode. They really don't, you know, unless you make them. 
But I can see that the image problem is not likely to go away, so I suggest we call them express pots, like we do in Spanish. Olla Express, now, isn't that a gadget you'd be glad to use? Dear manufacturers and marketers, you are welcome to the idea. I am a pressure cooker evangelist and will be glad to have more converts to the cause.

So, anyway. The recipe. Lentils, cooked until just al dente, well dressed with a punchy dressing and a few crunchy things. It may be one of the perfect side dishes, and is one of my favourite things for lunch. You'll probably only find Puy or so called Puy lentils, but of course I would recommend Spanish pedrosillanas for this.

Here's what you do. You take your express pot (see what I just did there?) and put in a cup of lentils, a bay leaf or a good pinch of dried oregano, some salt, and perhaps a garlic clove or a shallot. Salt is controversial so you can do without and use it later, if you prefer.
Add water to cover by three centimetres/an inch. Lock the lid, bring up to pressure. When it's up, give it two minutes and turn off the hob. Now let it come down naturally for ten. Don't leave it longer or it will turn into lentil stew, which is fine but a different thing.

When you open it, drain the lentils but reserve the liquid, plus a couple of spoonfuls of lentils. 

Put these lentils in a pretty bowl or plate, and while they're warm, dress them. Olive oil and lemon for starters, and then any or all of these, well chopped: capers, shallots, dill pickles, parsley, almonds. You may want a touch of mustard, perhaps some sherry vinegar, probably some black pepper. See how you like it, and try it once again before you serve because they soak up the dressing a lot and you may want more oil or lemon or salt.

I love this with another salad of beets, or grated carrots. And boiled eggs and brown bread, or smoked mackerel, or these sausages. Anything, really.

Next day, a soup. I know you´ll think that that muddy looking liquid is ugly and useless, but trust me.

All you do is chop some celery, onion and carrot into little dice. If it makes you feel better by all means call it mirepoix. Sweat this in a little oil or butter or both, inside your express pot (ahem) and add the lentils and liquid, plus a cup or good stock, if you have it. If not, water with a bit of good stock powder will be fine, or just water, but the real chicken stock brings it up a few notches.
Bring up to pressure, give it three minutes. This is an understated soup, but very good. It has more heft than just vegetables, but is way gentler than all lentils. Put some lemon juice and some Sherry there, too, and perhaps a few fresh herbs to brighten the colour. It is just the thing for these spring days that are always colder than you hoped.

Let's give pressure cookers a good name, go on.


Back to blogging

Hello dears.
I've been away for a month and during all that time I would think "oh, I have to do a post about this" but then I'd forget, or I'd have to meet a deadline, or I'd rush off to the other end of the Mediterranean, or I'd go to a wedding, or a carrousel, or have to choose the colour of a wall. It was pretty exhausting, let me tell you.

When we got back, I thought it would be good to do a post about the food you eat when you come home after a month. And another about the foods I was glad to have again. And another about what I brought back in my suitcase. But then I got sidetracked by packing, and then, bla bla bla. You know. The usual.

Which is to say, I will be back, I will write, I will post, and there will be recipes. There is a certain olive oil cake that brings tears of joy. A salty yogurt drink. A nifty way with run-of-the-mill mozzarella. Etc. But first, I need to do some work.

In the meantime, I leave you with this sketchbook page. It has drawings of all the faces in last month's Observer Food Monthly. Geeks may recognize my clumsy attempts at Nigel Slater, Rene Redzepi and Danny Bowien there somewhere.


Off to Sicily

New readers, enjoy my Sicilian posts of last year. Old readers, take another look and tell me how lucky I am to be going again to the Anna Tasca Lanza cookery school. Béa of La Tartine Gourmande is doing a workshop. You will never see buckets of ricotta looking so pretty.

Will report back. Ciao for now


Cocido Madrileño

Cocido means boiled. 
It sounds simple, and it is. Hunks of meat, a bunch of chickpeas, some vegetables, water, time. Everywhere where there are pots and pans and beans and bones there is some sort of cocido.
However, half the point of cocido, or puchero, or potaje, berza, olla, fabada, caldo or escudella, whatever you want to call it, is to make it into an exercise of nostalgia. You make the type they make where you are from. And if you don't have someone back in the old village who kills a pig and can send you a few chorizos, you will at least find a market stall with a charcutería from your region, because the butcher is sure to have someone back home sending him the good stuff.
And then you will make it and eat it and argue with your friends the relative merits of the cocido montañés over the cocido maragato, as the case may be. And you may have to loosen a button or two, and a grand time will be had by all.

I, of course, come from Madrid, which also happens to have the best cocido of them all. Naturally. So I skip the arguing part.

Cocido in Madrid means chickpeas, not beans.  It has beef, and ham, and chorizo and morcilla and tocino and chicken. And potatoes and cabbage. And tomato sauce. We serve the broth first, with noodles, which is basically the only difference with most of the others.

As I say, half the point is in the experience. In going to market on a Saturday morning, queuing, maybe even fighting a little, getting some advice, wheedling a couple of extra marrow bones from the butcher, stopping for a caña on the way back. Obviously I can't do that in Aberdeen. Even if  there was a market, I wouldn't find all the ingredients I need. 
Except that I've discovered that if you take the broad, sweeping view, and attack the thing in a can-do spirit, you can make a wonderful exile's cocido. My version is unorthodox, but it's easier. Also, because it's not really cocido madrileño it can stand in for most of the regional versions. It is as heretic to call this a cocido as it would be to call it a puchero, so go ahead and make it and call it whatever you want.

What I do is boil the meat and chickpeas, sautee the sausages, and serve the cabbage as a salad. Different textures and colours , and it's pretty quick, you'll see.

First off, shopping. Potatoes, chickpeas and cabbage are all easy. The shin of beef, also. Here it's cut like osso buco but that's ok. There is no jamón serrano, but there are beautiful smoked ham hocks. There are no boiling hens, and for my streamlined method I can't use normal chicken, so I do without. Likewise the tocino is off the books. There is enough pork fat anyway. For morcilla I refuse to substitute haggis, because, you know. Enough already. 
The chorizo found here is not very good. Instead, I buy the very excellent local pork sausages, and hit them with garlic and pimentón. It is awesome.

Now, for the method. Quantities are for 4/6.

Put  500 gr of  chickpeas, unsoaked, in a 6 litre pressure cooker. Add a smoked ham hock, two pieces of osso bucco or a single 1 kg piece of beef shin (or oxtails, or tongue. Whatever you have). A bay leaf, carrot and whole onion and celery stick are nice.
When it comes up to pressure, give it 40 minutes and let it drop naturally.
This takes about an hour altogether.

In the meantime you can shred a head of white cabbage and dress it simply with a bit of raw garlic, cumin, olive oil, vinegar and salt.

All this can be done ahead, first thing in the morning, or even the day before.

When it's almost time to eat, cut up the sausages into chunks the size of a walnut. Sautee them over high heat in your largest frying pan. When they're crusty and golden, add a spoonful of pimentón and a couple of crushed garlic cloves. Swirl it around, and put it on a platter so as not to burn the garlic or the pimentón.

Now, when you open the pot you'll see that you have tender meat and a lovely golden broth. First, fish out the vegetables and throw them away. 
Now, take out the meat and put it on a platter in large chunks. The marrow bones are the best bit and you should probably stake them out. Cook's treat.

Strain the broth. You can heat it up in a separate pan and boil some tiny noodles in it. Or simply serve it in mugs or consommé cups. This is, without a doubt, the single most delicious soup you will ever have. Just saying.

When that is over, have the meat, chickpeas and fake chorizo, with the fresh and zingy cabbage slaw.
If you have very hungry people to feed, or more than you expected, or you are counting on having leftovers, you could consider boiling some potatoes while you make the salad. 
This is not essential but highly recommended, since it gives you a higher chance at achieving the highest purpose of cocido: having ropa vieja the next day, and arroz del señorito after that (I promise to post about the leftovers).

Illustration is a sketch copied from a photo in Jerusalem. 



Tartare, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

Aren't you glad I'm going to spare you a bunch of fuzzy edged high contrast yellowed out Instagram pics?
I don't even have any sketches, because it was very cold and stopping for even a second was impossible.
We walked and walked and it was lovely because it always is. And like I always do I had steak tartare and it was beautiful.
So there you are.
Next up, a proper post about cocido madrileño, to counteract all this francophilia.


Business Cards

Business Cards, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

I'm off to Paris, to the Gourmand cookbook fair. Just as a spectator. But because you never know, I've made a batch of business cards to take with me. Handmade, since moo.com offers so many choices that in the end I couldn't choose.

I have nothing to do for two days but walk around, eat, sketch. I pack no wet wipes, emergency bananas, cardboard copies of The Gruffalo, and it is pure bliss.
But of course I love my children and will be sure to bring back their requests: green and brown macarons for Pepe, pink and brown for Pia.


My favourite 5 minute meal

Not that I want to fetishize speed. No sense in that. It may be fun to see Jamie Oliver run around like a wet hen making a 15 minute chicken bolognese, just like it's entertaining to watch a fully grown man lock himself into a briefcase.  Not to be tried at home, but otherwise, no harm. If I have three hours to let a bolognese sauce blip away, I do, and if I want a plate of pasta in 15 minutes, I make this, or this.

But sometimes I really need to get food on the table very fast. Enter the 5 minute wonder that is polenta with garlicky greens and a poached egg.

To tell you the truth, I most often allow myself ten minutes for this, but anyway, that's still fast. 

Start by boiling a kettle, so you can jumpstart the poached eggs and instant polenta.

Now put a 3 litre pressure cooker on the hob with a slick of oil and a couple of smashed garlic cloves. While they heat, wash a head of broccoli. Cut it up in big chunks, no finesse, but do peel the stalk and slice it in tickish rounds.  This works with kale, spinach, spring greens, the usual.
Throw it into the cooker, salt it,  and add as little water as you can get away with. My pressure cooker is a WMF Perfect that comes up to pressure with 100 ml. Lock, and set the timer for ONE minute.
Poach the egg/s, make the polenta. You'll be feeling like a one-man orchestra by this point so perhaps ask someone else to lay the table if you can.
When the timer goes for the broccoli you can either bring the pressure down immediately for tender florets. Or you can let it keep pressure, off the hob, for two minutes before bringing it down. This will give you that  very soft, melting, khaki coloured broccoli beloved of Italians.
Without a pressure cooker the timings are different, but use this method.

By now the polenta will be ready, so spoon it onto a plate, top with the greens, add olive oil and lemon juice, and settle the drained egg on top. Parmesan and black pepper always welcome.

The good thing is that if the polenta is ready before anything else, you can let it sit and bring it back to texture with more hot water and a whisk. And the eggs can be made ahead. And the greens are lovely at room temperature. So it's a very accomodating meal, ready in five minutes, or ready when you are.


Instant polenta

Poor polenta. So maligned. 
It does my head in when I read the sort of apologetic, bumbling recipe headnote that says "polenta is bland, but you can jazz it up by boiling it in milk, and then adding a ton of cheese and herbs and stuff".
What's the sense in that? Of course polenta is bland, that's the whole point about polenta. Just like bread, or rice, or pasta. Bland, cheap, filling stuff on which you put savoury, punchy, hot, expensive stuff. It's called dinner. 

Then, once you've cleared that hurdle and accepted, welcomed, even, the fact that polenta is bland and that's ok, you smash into a wall. "Polenta takes an hour of careful stirring, but that's ok".
No, dear food writers who art in another planet. It is so not ok to stir for an hour, or forty minutes, or whatever you say, specially for something that is dammed with faint praise upfront.

There are two ways around that. One is to cook polenta in a rice cooker, which does all the work for you. It takes its time to cook, like on a stove, but it's hands-off time.

Or, you can use instant polenta. And no, the world will not fall apart. And nobody will know. Because that thing about polenta being bland we talked about? Well, it works to your advantage. Instant polenta is bland, sure, but, ahem, so is the other, arm-destroying, real one. So there you are. Two minutes away from a bowl of creamy, sunshine-yellow, comfort in a bowl, ready to be topped with a bit of this or that and a shower of grated cheese.
One of my favourite fast lunches is soft polenta, topped with pan-steamed broccoli and topped with a poached egg.
And it behaves just like regular polenta does, in that once it's set you can slice it and grill or fry it until crisp. 

But that's not all. Instant polenta (I mean the ground stuff, by the way, not those horrid blocks) is something you need to have to hand for many other things:

It can take the place of breadcrumbs in many of the places you need them: to coat crisp fried things, in meatball mixes and the like. 

I also use it to thicken soups or stews. Not the more delicate or dark or Asian flavoured ones, of course. But if a run of the mill chickpea soup is looking a bit more soupy than I like, a bit of instant polenta thickens immediately.

Heat milk with frozen corn kernels and a bit of salt, add some instant polenta and there it is: creamed corn. Lovely stuff.

Mix some into your crumble toppings. This works just as well with the non-instant kind of cornmeal. But the instant one is what I use to mix with the fruit that goes inside, instead of cornstarch. It's much tastier, and the grainy texture pleasantly rustic.

I´d be lost without it, I really would.

(Drawing totally unrelated, of course, but the book is just out, and I like the cover. Catalan readers, storm your local bookshops right away)


Puchero (chicken, chickpea and rice soup)

This is not an exciting recipe. 
I'd better start off like that, because it would be a shame if you expected something else and then saw this soup and thought "bo-ring". So let's be frank: this is a restorative, lovely soup, but it is a dull shade of beige, the texture is all soft and you would never serve it to guests. 
It is just comfort food, a pillowy, wonderful elixir, sure to warm you through if you're cold, fill you up if you're hungry, perk you up if you're tired, send you to sleep if you're exhausted, and bring you back from the brink if you're ill.
So. Even if it ain't exciting, I think we can all agree that you need this soup in your life.

Better yet, it is made from stuff you probably have lying around, and if not, from things you can buy at even a ratty supermarket. 

Of course I use a pressure cooker, but a normal pot will do (just multiply time by three). 
In goes a can of chickpeas, drained if you're not liking the taste of the liquid. Three chicken thighs (this is the standard at my supermarket, but whatever you have), bone in, skin off. A whole carrot, peeled. Half a cup of rice, long or short grain, doesn't matter.
Salt, cover with water, lock the lid and when it comes up to pressure, give it ten minutes. Let it come down naturally if you can, but if you can't, then cook it for twelve.

There. That's it. You'll have cloudy, fragrant chickeny chickpea soup, thickened by the by now very soft rice. All you need to do is shred the chicken, mash the carrot against the side of the pot with a fork, check for salt, and serve. Bring lemon and hot sauce to the table, just in case.


Back soon

A month is a long way between posts. And I keep waiting until I have something particularly post-worthy and think it should be a proper long post with a new drawing and all  kinds of beautiful things. But the end of holidays, packing up the contents of a whole flat, a series of looming deadlines and snow keep getting in the way. 
And snow is the best. It won't last long, but for a few days, nothing beats rushing to the park with the children and the sledges and a thermos full of hot chocolate. 

So, even though I'm brimming with stuff I want to write, I have a pot of chicken stock I need to strain, a boy who wants to turn off every lamp the better to enjoy his flashlight and a girl who needs a ponytail for her doll, so for now let's leave it at a friendly "Hi, happy New Year" and all that sort of thing.

And by the way, my website has a new, streamlined look. Just so you know.

Back soon.