Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Empanadas and chimichurri sauce


This was actually my second time making empanadas--I made them for the first time back in September. The first attempted went quite well, though the filling left something to be desired. Still, it was a somewhat challenging project that was really successful in the end, and I couldn't wait to do it again.

And then the weekend I planned to make them again, I got sick. And then I got really busy with work. And then I started traveling. And life just kept getting in the way until--FINALLY! A couple weeks ago, the time had arrived for Empanadas, part Dos.

Since I wasn't perfectly happy with the filling I had used before, I decided to try a different one. I originally intended to use Smitten Kitchen's chicken empanada filling, but when it came down to it, the recipe sounded fairly involved and I just wasn't sure I was up to it.

Plus, I am a huge fan of pork.

I found a recipe for shredded pork in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything that seemed straightforward and simple: boneless pork shoulder simmered for an hour or so with tasty things like ancho, cumin, garlic, onion, and bay leaves.

Making shredded pork

After stewing the pork (and filling the house with delicious aromas), I shredded the meat with my fingers and mixed back in a little bit of the garlic and ancho it had stewed with, along with some diced poblano I had roasted over the flame on my stovetop (I will dearly miss my gas stove if the next place I live does not have one).

Making shredded pork

The empanada dough is super simple: flour, butter, egg, water, and white vinegar (I used Smitten Kitchen's recipe this time as last). You cut cold butter up into little cubes and then mush it into the flour with your fingers until the whole thing becomes kinda crumbly (I think this is similar to pie crust, yes?). Add in liquids, knead it just a bit, then chill.

Next comes the actual formation of the pastries. The first step is rolling out the dough. For the second step, I tried a couple of different approaches; I'm still not sure which one I like best. I think the simplest way to do it is to trace something round with a knife, leaving a nice flat little circle of dough. Unfortunately, all of the round tracing objects I had were either too small or else made pretty frickin' large emapanadas. I probably did most of them this way, and just ended up with really large pastries, which is fine, though I'd like to be able to make smaller ones in the future, for party food or whatever.

The other method I used was just pinching off an amount of dough, rolling it into a ball, and then rolling that ball flat with the rolling pin. This worked...all right. Sometimes the shape came out a bit wonky. It just wasn't consistent enough, even though it gave me more control over the overall size of the pastry.

Once you've got your little circle of dough, take some filling--not too much, though I'm certainly guilty of this--and plop it in the middle. Then simply fold one half of your circle over the other and seal the edges together, using a fork or other crimping method. I used a fork, which worked well enough.


I placed the number of empanadas we wanted to eat for dinner on a baking sheet, brushed them with beaten egg, and popped them into a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes. (The rest of the empanadas got the flash freeze treatment, and ended up as dinner a few nights later--I'm finishing off the last two tomorrow for lunch.)

What can I say--these empanadas turned out even better than the first ones. The filling had a great flavor, though it could have been moister for my tastes, but the dough was absolutely perfect--rich, flaky, golden brown on top.


I served them with chimichurri sauce, from a recipe I pulled up on Epicurious.Take a bunch of parsley, a bit less of cilantro, garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, red pepper, cumin, and salt. Into the process it all goes, until it's completely pureed. Voila.

Chimichurri sauce

Super tasty, super simple dipping sauce. Long story short, I will never again make empanadas without making this sauce. And since I intend to make empanadas again, I will definitely be making this sauce again. By the way, this was the single most worthwhile purchase of parsley I have ever made--I used more than half the bunch just on this single recipe.

Empanadas and chimicurri sauce

Empanadas are a really impressive dish that, while it requires a bit a of time commitment, is definitely within reach for any home cook. And regarding the time thing, you could use a different, less time/labor-intensive filling, or cook the filling a day ahead of time, or make the dough ahead of time. Whatever you do, the end result will wow the lucky people you end up sharing them with--if you can bear to share any at all!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

No. 51: Martinez


I recently finished reading David Wondrich's delightful Imbibe! (a must-read for anyone interested in cocktails, or American history for that matter). At one point, the book pretty much credits vermouth with the evolution of the cocktail beyond subtle variations on the spirit + sugar + bitters + water formula.

Now, I have not always enjoyed Italian (sweet) vermouth; in fact, after completing list and free to make my own selections, I steered away from drinks containing it. But after reading about its early importance and popularity, I felt, well, ashamed of my distaste. As someone who prides herself on her broad palate, I felt that I was missing something and should try again.

So, the next time I found myself at Anvil, I asked Justin to help me out. He served me a selection of drinks featuring the fortified wine, and hey, I enjoyed them all! They were all cocktails I had tried during my journey through the List, but for whatever reason (different brands, different bartender, passage of time?), I liked them much better this time around.

The first of the cocktails I savored that afternoon was the Martinez:


Heralded by many as the predecessor of the Martini, the Martinez consists of Italian vermouth, gin, maraschino liqueur, and orange bitters. With that list of ingredients, I shouldn't have been surprised to enjoy this one. The drink is pleasantly sweet, not cloying (despite what one *ahem* might be lead to think from the combination of sweet vermouth and maraschino), and the fact the vermouth, not the gin, has the starring role means that you can enjoy a Martinez without getting too sloshed. At least, not after just one.

Making Paneer

In January, I decided to make a foray into the wide world of cheese-making. I had just finished the first chapter of Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, which happens to cover dairy, and I was intrigued enough by the processes described that I wanted to try it for myself.

I started out pretty much as basic as you get--paneer. I figured the non-aged, unflavored farmers' cheese would be a good place to start. Plus, as a big Indian food fan, I LOVE paneer, and I had a curry recipe that I bet it would go great in.

I followed the recipe for whole milk paneer from 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. It's really not much of a recipe, it's so simple: bring milk to a boil, stir in a curdling agent, then separate the curds and whey and press to drain out as much liquid as possible.

This really was an easy, if slightly time-consuming process. I brought a gallon of whole to a boil, which took about an hour, stirring the whole time. Once it reached a boil, I poured in 1/4 cup white vinegar. The directions said that curds would appear within 15 seconds or so, and it really did happen much more instantaneously than I expected.

I poured the contents of the pot into a colander lined with cheesecloth (this is it's true purpose!) and wrapped it tightly before setting a water-filled tea kettle on top. I let this sit for the next five hours, pushing down on the kettle occasionally to make sure as much liquid as possible was squeezed out.

And, voilá!

My paneer, after draining/pressing for 5 hours and then chilling in a mold (read: tupperware) in the fridge

The cheese had a pleasant, if mild, taste, which was to be expected since I hadn't added even so much as salt for seasoning; it was crumbly in a way similar to feta but a little rubberier.

The crumbliness had me worried; after all, I was supposed to cube the cheese. In the end, the edges crumbled but I was able to cut most of it into nice neat cubes which I then fried in a bit of vegetable oil. I am a reluctant pan-fryer; I don't like hot oil splashing all over my hands and arms. But I thought that crisping up some of the edges would help the paneer stay intact after being stirred into the curry. Also, browning = flavor.

Frying the paneer
Pan-fried paneer, though only on two sides because I am impatient

I then proceeded to whip up Mark Bittman's recipe for curry with spinach (originally designed to be used with leftover thanksgiving turkey) and mixed in the paneer:

Curry with spinach and homemade paneer
Mmm...tomato-coconut milk curry, spinach, and homemade paneer--what's not to love?

The process of making paneer was altogether really easy and one that I would repeat. I look forward to trying more cheeses. I plan to try the Homesick Texan's queso blanco with herbs and chiles next, and hopefully move into rennet-based and aged cheeses.

Did I mention I'm a cheese fiend?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Back in the saddle?

First, a confession:

I've started a couple posts like this one since my last posted post, but they all devolved into apologies and justifications for not posting, and you know what? That is some boring crap to read. But, I want to start writing again, in a form somewhat longer than 140 characters, so here goes:

Not gonna apologize for not posting, and not gonna spend much time justifying it either, but guess what? I've really been pretty busy and involved with life since I last posted. A couple big things happened. In chronological order:

1) We got a new cat.


His name is Fezzik, after Andre the Giant's character in The Princess Bride. We named him this because he is a big sweetheart. Emphasis on the "big," by the way; he's a really large cat. Also, he sleeps like this:


2) I finished all 100 drinks on Anvil's list.

Ice defraction

It was a good experience--I tried many things I probably never would have otherwise and both broadened and honed my tastes. Since I completed list I've become more adventurous and further developed my palate, but this was an excellent starting journey. I've read a few books now on the history of drinks and cocktails, and I've even started mixing some of my own.

Angel's Kiss

I really did mean to blog the whole 100, but I was too busy drinking 'em to stop and write about 'em. ;) Still, I've got a huge collection of drink photos, should anyone care to take a look.

3) I got married!

Anne & Andrew before the wedding

Yes, married life is grand. In fact, it's lot like my previous year of unmarried life, when I was living with the love of my life and working hard and having a good time. I got married because I loved my the life the way it was, and I'm so unbelievably happy that I get to keep having this life, with this person, for as long as I am alive.

Cupcake time!

The wedding was wonderful. I'll spare you the details, but it was full of light and color and swing dancing and cupcakes and family and friends and sincerity and love and joy. Just like weddings should be.

And it was not the best day of my life. I know that that day is yet to come.

The dress

...And THAT was all before the new year!

Expect a post from me soon about what I've been cooking recently. Until I find a way to get back to writing fiction, I plan to focus this blog on cooking and cocktails, with a helping of travel and significant changes in my life, which has really only just begun.


Wedding photos copyright 2009 Hawes Photography & Design