Last week I turned 40. It wasn’t awful. Partly because, well, that’s how old I am, and partly because I did so in Rome. It took the edge off… 😉
Our main reason for going to go to San Sebastian this summer was the food. We wanted to bar hop and drink the traditional basque white wine, txakoli, all the while sampling lots of different pintxos. Pintxos are small portions of food – what we outside of Spain usually call tapas. Turns out tapas in Spain come “free” with food whereas pintxos are paid for, portion by portion. Pintxos are often (but certainly not always) more refined or elaborate than tapas too.
So during our 10 days in San Sebastian we walked and cycled and explored the city, and in the evenings we headed out to sample the town’s pintxos. Turns out finding the best food and navigating the bars was a skill to be learnt. The bars are busy and noisy and were a little intimidating at first. In our first pinxtos bar on our first day, I managed to steal food from another customer’s plate and had to be told to give it back. Mortifying, yes, but at least I could then drop any pretence of knowing what I was doing!
If you’re heading to San Sebastian, these are our tips on making the most of the pintxos…
One of our favourite bars was Mesón Martín. The gambas rebozadas (battered prawns) were outstanding as was the squid trainera. A trainera is a traditional Basque boat but the term is also used to describe a slice of baguette topped with seafood. The following was a trainera I returned to order again and again then I came home and made it so I could continue eating it some more. It’s very easy to put together and really great BBQ food.
Garlic infused olive oil (Shop bought or simply slice up a whole head of garlic and add to 250 extra virgin olive oil – heat very gently until the garlic starts to cook and the oil becomes fragrant – let cool and store in the fridge for up to a month)
2 cm wide slices of baguette
Slice of jamon or other thinly sliced cured meat
1 large prawn per trainera
1 small squid per trainera
Parsley and salt to serve
We fell in love with Nashville last summer. Oddly, it was David’s choice of destination on the trip. I’m the country music fan but he was the one that suggested it and continued pushing for a visit, even though it was out of our way. So visit we did and we loved it.
Nashville’s a good looking, laidback town with great food, super friendly folk and an unbelievable music scene. The latter may seem like a rather obvious statement but we couldn’t get over just how much good music was available all over the city, all the time. We’d go back in a shot.
Nashville Hot Chicken is a must-eat when you visit. Moist fried chicken with a blow-your-head-off coating placed on a slice of white bread and served with pickles. I knew I had to learn to make it when I returned and that’s exactly what I’ve done. My waistline may never recover. 😉
Nashville Hot Chicken
8 chicken legs and thighs
200ml tabasco sauce
2 tblspn brown sugar
1 litre vegetable oil
1 tblspn chilli flakes
2 tblspn cayenne pepper
1 tspn smoked paprika
1 tspn garlic powder
1/2 tspn cumin powder
1-2 slices of white bread per person
We ate a lot of cornbread this summer and not all of it good. Often I found it too cakey and extremely sweet . When it was good, however, it was fantastic. Stand out cornbread experiences included my friend, Nanette’s kitchen, the dining hall of the Folk School and an excellent brunch in Marché Artisan Foods, Nashville.
Since returning I’ve made this version by Anna Jones several times. It’s a coriander and chilli spiked version made with cornmeal and fresh corn. Not very traditional, perhaps, but a cracker of a recipe.
PS If you don’t know Anna Jones, I highly recommend her cookbooks. All dishes are vegetarian and I’m yet to find one that underwhelms me.
I forgot we had red currant bushes. In years past, what little crop was produced was eaten by the birds. Not sure what happened this year but we have more red currants than we can handle! Red currants have topped salads and cereals and they’ve been made into jelly and cordial. The best way to eat them is by the handful straight from the bush but these muffins are a close second for me.
Red Currant and Almond Muffins
150g plain flour
100g ground almonds
3 tspn baking powder
50g caster sugar
225ml milk (plus extra if required)
60g butter melted
1 cup red currants
1 tblspn almond extract
I’m off to North Carolina this weekend to teach another cooking course at the John C Campbell Folk School. Cannot wait to return. It’s a beautiful place, in every sense: a peaceful, creative, supportive environment in the tranquil, green Appalachians. They run all kinds of craft based courses – ironmongery, weaving, painting, wood turning – and students come from far and wide to study for a week or two and soak up the mountain air.
This year my course’s focus is baking. My students and I will be making cakes and biscuits and scones and puddings. And there will be pastry too. Pastry is the diva of the food world, I think. A stunning performer but there’s no rushing it and it must be handled just right. I’ve been practising different short-crusts and rough puffs for months now and have found the recipes that work for me (Leith’s and Dan Lepard, respectively).
Last week, however, I decided to give proper puff pastry a bash. I’d always heard that even professional chefs don’t make their own and assumed it was going to be highly technical, time consuming and, ultimately, not really worth it. Good puff pastry is available in the shops, after all. But I was wrong on almost every count.
Following the Bourke Street Bakery recipe (superb book, by the way), it turns out that the process of laminating the butter into the flour is pretty straight forward. It was time consuming in that I had to start 24 hours in advance and for the first few hours I was rolling for a short time every 20 minutes, but it wasn’t labour intensive and I could potter about whilst the dough was resting. And the end result? Well, it was phenomenal. Light, buttery, crisp and flaky pastry. I will most certainly be making it again.
I used the pastry to make the following Spiced Chickpea Rolls (based on another recipe from the Bourke Street book) and they were a big hit with everyone who tasted them. Even the most committed carnivore admitted they were better than their more common sausage counter part.
Shop bought puff pastry would work perfectly well here but should you feel the desire to try making your own, instructions can be found here.
Spiced Chickpea Puffs
800g puff pastry
1 large onion, chopped
2 red peppers, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tins of chickpeas
1 heaped tspn cumin
1 heaped tspn coriander
½ tspn chilli flakes (optional)
250g fresh spinach
Juice of one lemon
½ tspn salt
3 tblspn tahini
Handful of chopped coriander
1 egg white
In a large pan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over a medium high heat. Add the onion and saute until starting to soften. Add the peppers and cook for another 5 minutes before adding the garlic. Cook for two more minutes before adding the spices and chickpeas. Reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes more. Stir occasionally and add a tiny bit of water if the mixture sticks at all.
Stir in the spinach and pop a lid on to allow the spinach to wilt. Once wilted, remove from heat and add the lemon juice, tahini and salt.
Spoon half the mixture into a food processor and whizz until a rough paste is formed. Return to pan and mix to combine with whole chickpeas (you want a varied texture). Stir through the coriander and let cool for an hour.
Heat the oven to 200oC.
Gently roll out the puff pastry to 5mm thick and cut into rectangles (slice – don’t press down), approx 15cm x 30 cm. Spoon the mixture onto one side of the pastry then fold over and crimp edges together. Place on baking tray. Repeat until all pastry has been used. (There may be mixture left over – it makes a nice veggie burger.) Brush rolls with egg white and dust lightly with paprika.
Place in oven and turn temperature down to 180oC. Cook for 30 mins then remove from baking tray and place on wire rack in oven. Cook for another 15- 25 mins more until pastry is crisp on top and bottom.
Allow to cool slightly before eating.
On the list to teach are Hot Cross Buns – beautiful, spiced tea cakes that are eaten around Easter. I’d never made them before and expected them to be tricky but it turns out, they are very straightforward to make at home and are miles better than anything I’ve ever bought in the shops. They also make the house smell utterly divine. Can see these being made all year round from now on.
Hot Cross Buns
300ml full-fat milk
10g sachet dried yeast
500g strong bread flour (plus approx. 50g more)
1 tsp salt
75g caster sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tspn mixed spice
60g mixed peel
1 egg , beaten
For the cross:
75g plain flour
For the glaze
3 tblspn caster sugar & 1 tblspn water
Best eaten warm with butter and/or jam. If you aren’t eating these on the day, freeze once cooled.