Empanada.

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As you may have read, I didn’t make any crazy New Year’s resolutions. I’ve found that, despite my best efforts, any resolution is well-intentioned in January and February, but come March, they sorta become forgotten. So because of that, I’m just going to resolve to make more reasonable goals throughout the year. It’s just more manageable that way.

That said, I’m sure you also indulged a little more than usual in December, right? We always go back East, to North Carolina, over the holidays to visit family and friends and as much as I like to feel in control, I really can’t be bothered to think too hard about all that I’m eating, and of course, all that I’m not (like salads and veggies). Bless their hearts, my family loves to eat. We had a pig pickin’, and if that wasn’t enough, we also had chicken pastry and fried chicken “on the side”. hahahaha.

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The week after Christmas should have been a week to clear out all the badness, but we were still in NC, and even though Chris’ side of the family follows a more balanced eating lifestyle, there are still sweets galore, and man I do love the sweets. So when it came time to finish off the year, I really didn’t see a need to start all healthy and fresh right away. We figured we’d go ahead and load up on a little more meat, and like everyone else, take it a little easier after midnight. Okay, who am I kidding, not after midnight, but when we woke up the next morning. There are still treats to have after midnight.

So I made an Argentinian feast for six (that probably would have fed 12). MEAT!! We started out with a lighter ceviche (they do eat fish down in South America, by the way), then went straight into the meat with these tasty empanadas. Crunchy, flaky, and filled with beef, I could have eaten more than 2 but I stopped because I knew the third course was ready to be grilled and served. And that, my friends, was a huge plate of lamb spare ribs with chimichurri.  Very tasty.

As for dessert, I have a lovely Argentinian cookie recipe to share, but that will be later. If you like chocolate and caramel, stay tuned!

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Flaky Beef Empanadas with Cilantro-Lime Crema
adapted from Food & Wine, January 2013; makes at least 16

other than the fact that these are awesome, the other best part is that you can easily make these in advance, refrigerate them, and reheat them in a 350 F oven for a little bit. you can also freeze them, unbaked and cook them straight from the freezer (obviously, you have to add more time). you can use whatever sauce you like, but I made another batch of crema from the tamale recipe.

time commitment: about 1.5 hours of active time, but include up to 8 hours total for refrigeration, baking, etc.

printable version

ingredients
filling
6 T unsalted butter
1/4 c plus 2 T lard
1 1/4 lb beef chuck, cut into 1/4-inch dice
kosher salt and black pepper
1 large white onion, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
3/4 c finely chopped scallions
2 t ground cumin
2 t crushed red pepper

dough
1 c water
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 T kosher salt
3 1/4 c all-purpose flour
Oil, for greasing

crema
3 T chopped fresh cilantro
2 T no-salt-added chicken stock
1 T lime juice
1/4 t salt
1 (8-ounce) container light sour cream
1 large garlic clove, minced

instructions
make the filling: In a very large skillet, melt 4 T of the butter in 1/4 cup of the lard. Add the diced beef, season with a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and any liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, pouring any fat in the skillet over the beef.

In the same skillet, melt the remaining 2 T of butter in the remaining 2 T of lard. Add the onion, bay leaves and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the onion is soft and golden, 10 minutes. Discard the bay leaves. Scrape the onion and any fat over the meat and let cool slightly. Stir in the scallions, cumin and red pepper; season with salt and black pepper. Refrigerate overnight or at least for a few hours to let the flavors meld.

make the dough: In a small saucepan, bring the water, butter and salt to a simmer. When the butter is melted, pour the mixture into a large bowl and let cool to room temperature. Add the flour and stir until the dough comes together. On a lightly floured work surface, gently knead the dough until almost smooth but still slightly tacky with some streaks of butter. Divide the dough into two pieces, wrap them in plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.

Meanwhile, prepare crema by combining all crema ingredients; chill.

Preheat the oven to 400 F and oil/spray 2 large baking sheets. Work with 1 piece of dough at a time: On a generously floured work surface, roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick. Using a 5-inch round plate or cookie cutter, cut out 8 rounds of dough. Moisten the edge of the dough rounds with water. Mound 1 1/2 packed T of the beef filling on one half of each round and fold the dough over to form half moons; press the edges to seal. Pinch the edges at intervals to make pleats or crimp with the tines of a fork. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough to form 8 more empanadas.

Place the empanadas on the baking sheets and bake in the upper and lower thirds of the oven for 35 minutes, shifting the pans once halfway through, until browned. Serve the empanadas warm or at room temperature.

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Real Life

I’m going to tell you a little about how things go down around these parts when the weekend rolls in. Don’t get too excited – it isn’t nearly as fascinating as I’m suggesting it is. But that doesn’t stop me from talking about it, so here goes.

We generally kick things off as soon as we get home on Friday. Chris has the luxury of getting to sneak out early which means we get home around the same time as one another. Whoever gets home first picks out a bottle of wine, opens it up, and gets to relaxing. Sometimes that also means I’m cooking something that signals it’s weekend time, which typically involves pasta. I’m not sure why, but pasta dishes always seem appropriate on Fridays. Last Friday was no different.

While eating said dinner and wine-ing, we proceed to catch up on a couple of tv shows or watch a movie. At approximately 10:00, 10:30 on a “late” night, I’m passed out on the couch, usually right in the middle of a show. Yup, real life.

This Saturday probably wasn’t the epitome of a typical Saturday, but it certainly was a good one. I started it off with a little run through Panhandle Park and after burning a few calories, I got down to bizness. I re-learned how to use my teeny tiny plastic sewing machine, and I proceeded to – wait for it – make seat cushions! Dang, I felt crafty as all get out. They aren’t finished yet, so I can’t quite call myself Martha Stewart, but even so I’m feeling the need to make sure a lot of people know that I made. a. freaking. seat. cushion. With my bare hands (sort of). Two of them. Hot damn!

Amidst the excitement of cushion-sewing, I broke out the lard and the butter as well as one of my favorite Rick Bayless cookbooks and went to town on making empanadas. I had some leftover fresh pumpkin from a pumpkin curry dish I made the other night and figured it would make a mighty fine filling for the rounds of doughy goodness, and I did not lead myself astray. The empanadas turned out to be pretty tasty, and perfect for a little Mexican-style get together later that night at Liz & Kevin’s place.

So all in all, it was a fun-filled Saturday, and I felt like I’d gotten a decent amount of stuff accomplished.

Meanwhile, as anyone I’m friends with on Facebook already knows, Chris spent his Saturday protecting the citizens of Arkham City, which essentially means he sat on the couch with a set of headphones on and a game controller in his hand. He kept on his typical Saturday attire (workout pants and either a Northwestern or NC State hoodie, depending on what’s clean) until I forced him away from Arkham City and into the shower. (I’m not complaining here, either, just poking fun. His free time is well-deserved, plus it gives me time to play with lard.)

We then headed over to Oakland where Liz & Kevin whipped up a ton of awesomeness, including guacamole and flank steak tacos. We made the mistake of suggesting a trivia game, and as a result we left their house feeling about 10 times dumber than when we’d arrived. My only saving grace was the fact that I brought the empanadas, so I was thankful for that and considered it time well-spent in the kitchen that day.

Sunday rolled around and we were rewarded with an extra hour of sleep, which we took full advantage of. We spent the morning walking over to the farmers’ market, grabbing brunch at Nopalito, and doing regular Sunday errands and such. We watched our regular Sunday night shows, The Walking Dead and The Next Iron Chef, and before we knew it, it was time to call it a night and get the whole week started, all over again.

See what I mean? Nothing earth-shattering over here, that’s for sure. But truthfully, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

How was your weekend?

Pumpkin Empanadas
Adapted, barely, from Fiesta at Rick’s; makes 24 empanadas

time commitment: ~3 hours (1 hour, 45 minutes active time)

printable version

ingredients
pumpkin filling
2 c pumpkin puree (canned or fresh*)
1/2 c dark brown sugar
1 1/2 t g Mexican cinnamon
1/2 t salt

empanadas
2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1 c white spelt flour
1/2 t salt
2 t sugar
1/2 c chilled lard (yum!)**
1 1/2 sticks chilled unsalted butter
2/3 c ice water

glaze
1 egg beaten with 1 T water

instructions
combine all pumpkin filling ingredients into a 2-quart saucepan; cover and set to medium-high heat. stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved, then uncover and simmer until mixture is thick, about 15 minutes. move to small bowl and cool to room temperature.

while the filling cools, make the dough. add flour, salt, and sugar to a food processor and pulse to combine. cut lard and butter into small 1/2-inch pieces and scatter over the flour. cover and pulse about 8 times. uncover and pour half of water into processor. pulse 3 more times, then add in the remaining water and pulse a few more times. at this point, the dough should clump together, but if it doesn’t just add 1 T of water at a time, pulsing until it does come together. dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and bring into a ball. divide in half, wrap each half in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour. (you can also do this whole part with a pastry cutter or two forks, but that takes a long time and the processor is sooooo easy.)

take one of the halves of dough outta the fridge. flour a flat surface, and roll dough into a rectangle about 12×16 inches (or thin enough in any other shape to cut out 12 4″ round empanadas). using a 4-inch circle or cookie cutter, cut 12 circles out. working with one at a time, brush the outer edge lightly with water and place ~1 tablespoon of filling in the center. fold the dough over the filling and press the ends together to seal. you can crimp with the tines of a fork or make them into crinkly ends or twist the ends like I did (although I can’t really explain how I did that other than say that I pulled a tiny piece of one end out and constantly twisted the dough around itself until I got to the other end…. and that doesn’t help, does it?!).

transfer to baking sheet and place in fridge for at least 15 minutes. meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 F and repeat this process with the remaining half of the dough.

bake empanadas for about 15 minutes, then remove them and brush the lightly with the egg wash and bake another 5 minutes. cool and serve. (you can also freeze them; I froze half of them by putting the sheet in the freezer for about 15 minutes then dumping the pre-frozen treats into a plastic ziploc bag. to bake frozen empanadas, add 5 minutes to the cook time and cook straight from the freezer – do not thaw.)

*to make fresh pumpkin puree, take about 4 cups of cubed fresh pumpkin and boil in a large pot for about 10 minutes, until soft. drain pot, and mash with a fork or potato masher until smooth
**if you’re afraid of lard, Rick says you can also use shortening (same amount) OR I’m sure you could just omit and double the butter if you really want