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.
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.
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?
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 chillierthan 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.
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.
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.