Saturday, 19 July 2014

Pintxos! Sweet and Savoury Goat's Cheese Bites and Grilled Halloumi with Peaches

Pintxos! "Yeh, what the hell is that?" I hear you ask.

Pronounced "pinchos", pintxos are small tapas like snacks eaten throughout Northern Spain in the Basque region. Eating pintxos at a bar, usually standing up with a glass of Txakoli ("Chak-o-lee") is the most common way for the Basque people to socialise with their friends and family.

As a Londoner, on hearing of this time old tradition I had the innate London cynicism to question how anyone in the modern Western world has time for such leisurely and social eating. Of course, the obvious thing to do in such a situation is go and find out for myself.

So, off to San Sebastian I went.

Pfttt, who am I kidding? Yes, I do love food. But the sun, sea and sand were pretty appealing as a holiday prospect too. And of course the chance to spend some quality time with friends. Just look at this place.

But back to the food... 

Low and behold the streets of Parte Vieja ( the "old town" to you and I) were lined with pintxos bar after pintxos bar, each filled with hungry punters. A vision of small high tables and side benches, no where to sit, and a bar top generously covered in piles and plates of little temptations.

In all my greedy excitement I only managed to get this shabby picture of a very much more mouth watering sight in the oldest, most traditional pintxos bar in town, Gandarias.

The pintxos tradition is still very much alive. San Sebastians live a far more slow paced, laid back and relaxed life style where taking a siesta is the norm and eating and socialising are one in the same.

Besides the pintxos "experience" the actual snacks a top a piece of bread and held together with a toothpick combine unique and memorable flavours.I have been dreaming of this perfect pintxos recipe since the moment I ate that last crumb of bread. Thankfully, I managed to pull together something very similar to those flavours I tasted in Spain.

Served on a board held together with a toothpick I transported myself back to the luscious San Sebastian coast. And you can do the same, this recipe could not be any simpler. I served my pintxo with a warm salad of grilled halloumi and peaches making the perfect alfresco lunch.

Sweet and Savoury Goat's Cheese Bites (serves 4, makes 8 bites)

8 1 inch slices of a French loaf or ciabatta bread, this works well with a brown loaf too
1 tbsp olive oil  
1 sundried tomato per bread slice
120g goats cheese, cut into 8 slices
1 handful of pistachios
2 tbsp balsamic glaze (or balsamic vinegar to reduce into a glaze with some sugar)
8 toothpicks to assemble

To make these mouth watering bites

1) Brush each slice of bread with some olive oil and bake in a preheated oven at 150 for approximately 20 minutes or until crispy. (You do not want the bread to brown).

2) Now simply assemble your pintxos. Get yourself a pretty board or plate to arrange your bread. This is important because the idea of pintxos are to be aesthetically tempting.

3) Start with a sundried tomato. Flatten the tomato and remove any excess oil. Add as your first layer. 

4) Follow with the goats cheese, pistachios and balsamic glaze. (If you cannot get hold of balsamic glaze, making your own is very simple: Combine 4 tbsp of balsamic vinegar with 1 tbsp of sugar in a pan. Reduce on a medium heat until sticky and glaze- like!)

5) Secure each pintxo with a toothpick and you're ready to go. To take your pintxos up a notch, warm slightly in the oven before serving. (I used the residual heat from toasting the bread earlier, allowing the pintxos to sit in the warm oven for about five minutes before serving). 

To make the pintxos party into a garden lunchm, serve with a warm Grilled Halloumi and Peaches (serves 4)

250g halloumi cheese
2 peaches, skinned and cut into chunky pieces
olive oil for brushing onto peaches and halloumi

1) Simply brush the halloumi and peaches with a little olive oil. Fry in a griddle pan until the peaches and halloumi are slightly browned. (I could not find mine so used a normal pan instead, this worked fine.) 

This method would easily work under a hot grill or even on the BBQ. 

Serve with a simple rocket salad. No dressing is required as the sweet juices from the peaches coat the halloumi in very bite, perfectly. 

Eaten alfresco with a glass of wine, these recipes make a meal out of a garden party bringing the socialising and eating Basque traditions to your garden at home!

Until next time...

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Simple Fresh Pasta

This recipe is a complete indulgence for me. It offers you ( as the reader) nothing particularly creative or unusual. I mean, it's pasta.

But for me. Well, I got to play with this toy all afternoon.

Every girl knows you've got to treat yourself from time to time. Alongside a heap of new clothes and some make up, the most recent gift I have given to myself is this shiny, new Imperia Pasta Machine.

If you've ever tried rolling pasta out yourself (I have) you'll know it's damned hard work. Having this fella' about to give me a hand saved me a lot of time and energy to do the important stuff, y'know like surfing eBay. (Which, by the way, I held off making an account on until I realised it's the cheapest place to purchase an Imperia Pasta Machine. Now, within a week, that account has become a serious vice.)

Fresh pasta just tastes better. It's softer and smoother, yet still has a bite. Besides all that, it's just so fun to make and feels kind of Masterchefy despite being the most simplest method of cooking in the world. 

So, as I said, you won't be overwhelmed by this recipe. And you've probably had pasta like this before. But, if you're like me, you'll agree it's the simple things that are the real luxuries in life. 

And for anyone braving the rolling technique or anyone that gets as excited about pasta as me and has gone out and bought a pasta machine - this pasta dough recipe is fool proof. Works every time. 

Simple Fresh Pasta (serves 2 or 1 really hungry person)

Pasta Dough

100g 00 flour (found with all the other flours in a supermarket. Unfortunately plain is not a great substitute)
1 large egg
a pinch of salt

Pasta Sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
6/8 cherry or plum tomatoes
6/8 basil leaves, finely chopped

To make the pasta dough

1) Weigh the flour into a bowl. Make a well in the middle and crack in your eggs and add the salt.

2) Mix together using a fork. Eventually the dough will resemble really, really dry scrambled eggs.

Warning! This can get a little messy.

3) Tip out the dough onto a clean surface and knead until smooth. (This will take about 5 minutes).

4) Cover in cling film and let the dough rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

5) Once rested take half the dough and let the pasta machine do all the hard work, taking the dough through each notch until you are on the thinnest setting that you prefer. A good measure is to see if you can see your hand through the sheets. (If you're going free hand - just get rolling!)

6) To cook - let your water come up to a boil, add salt to the water. Allow the pasta to cook on a rolling boil for about two minutes or until cooked through.

To make the sauce

1) Heat up the oil. Let the garlic fry a little before adding the tomatoes. Season to taste and add the basil. add your pasta directly into the sauce so that all the flavours come together. grind a generous amount of pepper over the top and voilà you're basically in a Piazza in Florence basking in the Tuscan sun!

I'm going to be experimenting with my pasta machine over the next couple of weeks, If you have any tips or ideas for me to try out let me know on Twitter @Sita_S_D. You can follow me on instagram too @Sita_S_D  to see what I've been making!

Until next time...

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Spicy Mixed Dried Fruit Hot Cross Buns

For me, this week has been about celebration. And any celebration worth celebrating has got to involve some baking! Fact.

With it being almost Easter and all, I thought it was about time I tried my hand at Hot Cross Buns. This guys' baking book has been on my shelf for a couple of years now. As you know, I'm not all that much into following recipes myself. But baking something new, well, I needed some expert, GBBO standard advice.

So swiftly turning to page 82, Chapter 3: Easter I found Chocolate Orange Hot Cross Buns - perfect!

Well, kind of... Inevitably I want to put my own stamp on my celebration buns. So out with the Chocolate Orange, and in with a little bit of what I fancy, which happens to be a lot of warming spice and dried mixed fruit. A fairly classic combo in anticipation of the melting butter that will marry so well with a freshly baked generously spiced and fruit bun. 

Baking these does take a bit of effort. Effort in the sense you have to wait for the dough to rise, only to bash out all the air once it has risen. And kneading can feel quite monotonous. While drawing on the cross is a bit fiddly.

(Not really selling this recipe am I!)

But actually, when it comes to celebrations, what seems like a faff isn't so much a faff when you get extremely satisfying results, somewhat impressive looking buns and a treat for yourself and others around you. 

We've all got a bit more time on our hands over the Easter break, and this is usually combined with a few more hungry mouths to feed. I couldn't recommend home made Hot Cross Buns any more highly for a scrummy Easter treat!

Spicy Mixed Fruit Hot Cross Buns (makes 8)

Preparation time: 2½ hrs (including rising time)
Cooking time: 25 mins

Hot Cross Buns

450g strong white bread flour

½ tsp salt
3 tsp ground mixed spices (mix as you wish - I used mainly cinnamon with cloves, cardamom, ginger and nutmeg)
50g caster sugar
7g fast action yeast
1 orange, zest only
1 large egg
200ml warm milk
30g melted unsalted butter, left to cool
120g mixed dried fruits


50g strong white bread flour
4 tbsp water
2 tbsp golden syrup, warmed

Here's how to make them...

1) To make the buns - sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl (apart from the dried fruit). Add in the zest of the orange.

2) Combine all the wet ingredients - the egg, milk and butter. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix using your hands.

3) Tip out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 5/7 minutes until elastic. Tip in the dried fruit and combine into a ball. 

The warmest place I could find was under the sink!
4) Set aside in a lightly oiled bowl, cover in cling film and leave in a warm place to rise. Leave for about 1 hr or until doubled in size. 

5) Once risen. Knead the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Make 8 equal sized balls from your dough and place on a baking tray. Cover in cling film and leave to rise again for another 40 mins, or until doubled in size.

6) Now it's time to add the famous cross! Simply mix together the flour and water in a bowl. It will form a thick sticky paste. If you have a piping bag - use that. If you're like me and don't, just improvise with a spoon. (There's no point making something at home if it doesn't look home made right?!)

7) Bake the buns for 20-25 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 200˚C in a fan oven. As soon as they're done - brush each bun with the warmed golden syrup. And that's it - home made Hot Cross Buns ready to serve!

I couldn't resist a bite!

I hope you all have a wonderful Easter break and indulge in whatever you eat!

Until next time...

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Mendu Vadas with Chilli, Apple and Mint Chutney

Whilst I was in India last year I sampled some outstanding food. Moreish snacks are my favourite Indian food and every region in India has their specialities. 

Despite travelling in mainly Northern/ middle India, it was probably Southern Indian food that I ate the most. Who can resist a hot crispy dosa? Definitely not I!

But it's not only dosa the South Indian cuisine is famed for. If you haven't tried mendu vadas yet, this is your chance! It is as simple a dish as dosa but much easier to make as home. (If you have ever tried to make a dosa as thin and crispy as you can get in restaurants, then you'll know that making dosa at home is never as satisfying as eating it out!)

Along side dosas, idlis, gallons of sambhal and chutneys, Mendu Vada were ordered time and time again on my travels. If you like South Indian food as much as I do then you have to try these. They are so simple and require nothing more than a blender to make! The mixture can be kept in the freezer, ready to defrost and fry whenever you fancy a treat. 

I don't think the chutney I have chosen for this recipe is authentic in a any way, but it works. And it is a stunner of a chutney. The sweetness from the apple is a revelation which really  compliments the kick of chilli. Any left overs sit very happily in a chutney cheese sandwich

Mendu Vada with Chilli, Apple and Mint Chutney (serves 4)
Soak rice and dal over night
Preparation time:20 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

Mendu Vada

50g white rice
150g urad dal (also known as split black lentils)
2 tbsp chopped coriander (including the stalks)
1/2 tbsp cumin powder
1/2 hot green chilli
1/2 tsp salt (1/4 if using table salt)
Vegetable/Sunflower oil for frying (any flavourless oil will do)

Chilli, Apple and Mint Chutney

1 cooking apple, roughly chopped with the skin on
a small bunch of coriander (about a fist full), roughly chopped
a small bunch of mint (the same amount as coriander), leaves only
1 hot green chilli, keep the seeds in if you like spice and take them out if not
1 tsp sea salt (1/2 tsp if using table salt)
1 tsp sugar
1 lemon, you just need a squeeze of lemon juice
1 tbsp plain yoghurt

Here's how to make them... 

1. Start with the mendu vadas. Soak your lentil and rice in water over night. This will soften them and make them easy to blend.

2. Drain the rice and dal and put into a blender. Add all the other ingredients - coriander, cumin, green chilli and seasoning. 

3. Blend into a smooth paste. You may need to add a touch of water to loosen the mixture. You are looking for a thick greek yoghurt consistency. (Watch the video above at 0.14s you'll see what I mean). 

4. Heat some oil in a deep fryer. You want a medium heat otherwise the outside of the vada will cook too fast and the inside will be raw. 
Use wet hands to handle your paste otherwise it will stick to your hands! Test the heat of the oil using some of the mixture - just gently drop a blob in. You want the oil to bubble and sizzle. The mixture will turn golden but not brown over about five minutes. 

5. Now use your wet hands to shape the vada into round patties. Make a whole in the centre of each one before you drop it into the oil. I used a back of a wooden spoon to make mine!
Once cooked drain the vadas onto some kitchen towel and keep warm in a low oven.

6. Meanwhile make the chutney. Simply whiz up all the ingredients, except the yoghurt, in a blender. Taste and check for seasoning. Finally stir in the yoghurt before serving. 
The chutney will last in the fridge for up to a week.

These are such a satisfying treat and so easy to make. I hope you all enjoy giving them a go!

Until next time....

In the mean time you can see what I've been eating on Twitter and Instagram.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Roasted Tomatoes

The sun has most definitely had his hat on these past few days. And so has everyone else it seems! Chirpy, smiley faces are most welcome after the abysmal wet weather in February. 

Eating al fresco, stopping for a quick drink and going for walks in the park. It's all been happening this week. 

As a result my recipe this week has got summer written all over it: Roasted Tomatoes.

Whilst tomatoes are not exactly in season at the moment, roasting brings even the dullest tomato to life, and takes you back with its sweet aromas, to those hazy summer days. 

Tomatoes have many best friends and I have paired these tomatoes with it's very best: thyme, basil, garlic and my favourite, balsamic vinegar.

These Roasted Tomatoes are simplicity at its best. (This blog isn't called Sita's Simply Delicious for no reason!) And that's why I love them. 

Roasted Tomatoes (serves 2) 
Preration time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins

6 tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 sprigs of thyme, plus a few to garnish
1½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 pinch sugar
4 basil leaves to garnish

 Here's what you do...

Cut the tomatoes in half across the top. Cut out the hard, white core. Lay on lined baking tray giving each tomato some space to roast.

Sprinkle each tomato with the garlic and thyme leaves (pick the leaves off each sprig). Then season generously with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. 

Pour the balsamic vinegar into the centre of each tomato. Do the same with the olive oil, except let this drizzle onto the skin too.

Roast the tomatoes for 40 minutes in a pre heated oven at 180ºc. 

Finally garnish with some fresh thyme and basil leaf.

Eat the roasted tomatoes warm or cold. In a salad/ stirred through some pasta/ whizzed into a soup/ smooshed (technical term) onto some warm, toasted sourdough/ with some cheese. Or just as they are. Simple!

Until next time...