Cooking for crowds

My cookbook collection grows. When we moved into this flat four years ago, I brought with me a desert island stash. The bare minimum of books I needed for comfort and sustenance. Yes, you can look up the quantities for anything you want on the web, and this blog serves as my own aide memoire. But curling up with a cookbook is different. And then of course I bought a few, and then a few more, and there were so many finds at charity shops and book fairs, and that pesky free super-saver delivery. And they pile up. Literally. They are all over the house. And that’s all right. Right?

I used to justify a cookbook if I used three recipes. Then I whittled it down to one. Now I’m fine if I find a sensible tip, and fine, too, if I just enjoy reading it.  The right kind of cookbook gives you a window into other lives, like any other good book. I like the kind of books that make me feel as if I’ve been taken to somebody’s house, allowed to roam the kitchen, open the cupboards, rummage in the drawers, see the photos on the fridge, lift the lid on what’s cooking. And this I like to gather from the text, not from the photos. Most of my favourite cookbooks have no pictures, maybe a few elegant black and white illustrations. 
Right now, in order to qualify for staying on my bookshelves, I mostly have to like the author, and everything follows from there, because a likeable author will make me like the food in the book, and nudge me into trying something new, or making something old again.

Recently I was given a copy of Cooking for crowds, by Merry White, the 40th anniversary edition of the 70’s original. And it ticks all the boxes. The recipes look great, but mostly the author sounds like somebody I’d love to have dinner with. There are no photos, which is more than fine, as it has lots of sweet black and white drawings by Edward Koren.

As with all cookbooks, there is more than a touch of the aspirational. In this case, be the sort of (supercool) person who has 50 guests and is ready to cook for them. Wouldn’t you love to be that person? Not only do you have fifty people around, but you are unflappable enough to serve them big, generous bowls of homstyle, yet sophisticated fare. And if you burn the borscht? Call it Smoked Borscht.

It’s a wonderful book for building confidence. Cooking for crowds, White insists, is not more difficult, just more time consuming, so there’s no excuse. Even better, if you do not have to, or want, to cook for fifty, the recipes come with different quantities. For 5o, for 25, for 12, for 6. See how easy 6 sounds? Anyone intimidated by cooking for 6 will have to admit it’s not that big a deal, compared with lugging sacks of potatoes that will feed 50.


A sandwich

You know how sometimes you have to call a friend, and you keep putting it off, for good reasons, then bad reasons, then no reasons other than the thing is spiralling out of control, and you end up resenting this person you’re not calling? So it was with lobstersquad. I was looking for something I really wanted to blog about, and not really finding it, but then, reading the Wednesday Chef, I was led to a flummoxing article.
And then I thought, you know what, I might as well write something after all.

That post, which you can read here if you like, is about someone who has decided not to cook because she forgot to put salt in some galette she was making. The galette came out fine, but it was not the galette to end all galettes, and she had failed to make all her friends wither away in envy of her Instagram feed, and so she’s going to live on olives and prosciutto for ever and ever amen.

I can’t even begin on how crazy I find that. Instead, I will tell you about the lunch I made on Saturday. I, too, had decided not to cook, but just for that morning. But because I am the boy scout of fridge maintenance, and have become, now that I live in the North Pole, an avocado curator, I knew that a world class sandwich was within reach.

First I had to go to the shop and buy some fresh bread. Not mindblowing artisanal bread, of course. Supermarket mini ciabattas, of the sort that look a bit rubbery but come to life with a couple of minutes under the grill.

That, filled with thinly sliced leftover steak, wedges of avocado, pickled cucumber, a squirt of lemon and a dash of hot sauce, was all. A bag of salad was emptied onto a bowl, and dressed with the last of a bottle of vinaigrette I make in batches.

It was very quick, it was beautiful, and it made perfect sense, and if it wasn’t cooking, it wasn’t turning my back on it, either.

So there you are. 


A summer salad

You hear so much about  summer cooking, but over time,I’ve come to see that summer is as summer does. In Scotland, you can fire up the oven to cook aubergines and take a hamper full of porra on a picnic. And sit in a cold drizzle while you dip prawn crackers, and wonder, what, exactly, you were thinking about.

But now I’m in Madrid, and summer in Madrid is not kidding around. There is no turning on of ovens, and stoves, as little as possible, thank you. Gazpacho, wether real or Alvalle, is consumed by the gallon. Fruit is delicious and plentiful and so cheap it leaves me aghast, used as I am by now to the highway robbery up north. There are all sorts of lovely tins. And if you want anything else, there are plenty of bars and restaurants. 

So there you are. Where there is summer, there is no cooking, and vice versa.

Sometimes I go beyond slicing a few of the beautiful tomatoes. Here’s a salad I like. It’s the cocarrois insides salad, minus the pimentón, and it goes like this:

Chop some cauliflower, small, into bits the size of a chickpea. A lot of the florets will crumble into smaller pieces, which is a good thing.
Chop spring onions, very small. In Spain spring onions are huge, unwieldy things, and only the white bit is eaten, but you go ahead and use the green if it’s dainty enough.
Now dice a tomato or two, and add some chopped flat leaf parsley. You want a good mix of color.

Dress with salt, olive oil and vinegar. 

(The illustration is from a t-shirt I've done for Tío Pepe)



I won't bore you with all the million reasons that have kept me from blogging. It was nothing bad, just a classic case of freelancer's "all the buses coming at the same time" kind of thing. Plus, you know, Life.

So anyway. Here's to spring, which seems to be around the corner, with buds and flowers and birds building nests and all those pretty things, and a thing I've discovered. If you spread toast with peanut butter and honey, it tastes just like the praline paste nutellaey-thing they have in Le Pain Quotidien. Which is handy, seeing as how there is no LPQ in Aberdeen, and how you save approximately millions of pennies using this mix instead of the other stuff.
So all thanks to my son Pepe, who would be happy to live exclusively on this, dunked in milk.

And let's hope once I meet all the lots and lots of deadlines pending over my head, I'll get back to blogging.


A lazy post

Here's the thing. I have a million things to do, and it's cold and grey and gloomy and it's January and that mostly sucks. And soup makes it better. And I admire all those bloggers who write three new recipes a week, but the thing is, I make the same soups all time. More or less. They are never exactly the same. I might use sweet potato instead of carrot in a lentil soup, or add a spoonful of miso to some borscht, but that would not justify my calling something "Miso Borscht".
So I'm just going to link to the tag "soup" and you can browse it because, really, there is some very good stuff there.



Despensa, originally uploaded by Lobstersquad.

Enjoying our time with friends and family, of course. But the food...oh, the food. The constant parade of fantastic things I would never in a million years cook myself, the occasional walk in the olive groves to work up an appetite, lounging in the sunshine with a glass oloroso, and all those dolce far niente things.
Happy New Year, everyone.