Empanada.

IMGP2075

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.

IMGP2076

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!

IMGP2077

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.

Advertisements

Tamale.

tamales!

In case you haven’t noticed, the holidays are upon us. Sure, we celebrate all sorts of holidays throughout the year, but these few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Those are the “real” holidays. These are the days where we all eat too many cookies, mounds of fudge, and every other goodie you could possibly imagine. Every day at work begins with something brought in, lunch ends with a sweet treat, and the few hours after lunch before you leave for the day? Man, those are the hours where we really, and I mean really, need some chocolate.

I have to admit here, that Chris and I aren’t full of holiday traditions. We haven’t had a Christmas tree in years; since we are never home on Christmas we’ve never felt the need. I have a box of decorations that I’ve collected over the years, and they remained in the back of the storage closet once again this year. I don’t have a tried and true cookie recipe, or a special offering that just always works at the holiday parties. Just tonight, I started burning a candle that smells exactly like Christmas, and it made me realize that we need to make some of our own traditions.

pulled pork

Of course, this is all starting next year. We head out east soon, and by the time we’re back, it’ll almost be New Years Eve. That means two more years have gone by without me finally doing Christmas cards. Whoops.

On the flip side, and without knowing it, I think we did start one tradition this year. I clipped a recipe for tamales years ago. I kept flipping past it, thinking it was just way too much work (the one in my stack that I keep flipping past now is a yeasted donut recipe. But I can’t give up yet!). I finally, after a couple of years, got rid of the tamale recipe, figuring I’d just eat store-bought tamales instead of slaving in the kitchen to make my own. But then I recently found another tamale recipe, and right around Christmastime, when folks seem to make tamales over big gatherings of family members.

masa-ancho dough

Chris and I had a recent lazy weekend, the type where well-intentioned hikes (which we’ve not done in months, it seems!) are ruined by rain, and suddenly Saturday night was right around the corner and we had nowhere to be – not even a Christmas party on a December weekend! We’d run a few errands, driven around in horrible downtown San Francisco traffic, and decided that we were most definitely staying in that night. Meanwhile, we neared a Mexican market that had every little ingredient I needed, so I decided it was meant to be. Much to Chris’ chagrin, it ended up being a project for the two of us, although I have to admit I really didn’t put him to work until it was actually time to make the tamales. After a few iterations, we finally had a good system down – he spread the masa onto the husk and portioned the pork on top, and I rolled the husks, folding the dough over the pork, and then tied the ends with strings of corn husk.

I’m not sure who got the shittiest end of that deal. The husk strings kept breaking, and sometimes the husks themselves weren’t the right size, but on Chris’ end he was dealing with my constant critique-ing of his portioning, and I’m not sure how many times I told him, but dang, he really wanted to LOAD those things down with pork, and there just wasn’t room! At the end of the night, literally around 9:30, we were able to taste our efforts, and I promise, it was worth it. We had leftovers for a couple more meals, and we froze the rest, knowing there are always nights when cooking just doesn’t happen. Tamales are perfect for that.

But most importantly, we (at least, I) really appreciated how and why this tamale-making festivity has become a yearly tradition in so many families around the holidays. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of time, but a lot of yield, and a few hours of spending quality time with the ones you love is the most special result of it all (even if the tamales are outta this world). It’s something to look forward to every year, and since 2013 is just around the corner, I’m already thinking about tamale night next December. Tamale night, a tree, some decorations, and maybe, just maybe, some Christmas cards.

Don’t hold your breath on that one.

tamale-makin'

 

Chipotle Pork Tamales w/ Cilantro-Lime Crema
adapted from Cooking Light, December 2012; serves 14 (2 tamales each)

time commitment: forever. just kidding. sorta. a good 5 hours total, but about 2-3 of active time (lots of pork-cooking and tamale-steaming).

printable version

ingredients
filling
1 T olive oil
1 (3-pound) Boston butt (pork shoulder roast), trimmed
1/2 t kosher salt
1 c chopped onion
9 crushed garlic cloves
1 t cumin seeds, toasted
6 chipotles chiles, canned in adobo sauce, chopped
1 c no-salt-added chicken stock
1 t grated orange rind
1 t unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 t ground espresso

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

masa
2 1/2 c no-salt-added chicken stock
2 ancho chiles
1 c corn kernels
4 c instant masa harina
1 1/4 t salt
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 c chilled lard

other
Dried corn husks

instructions
Preheat oven to 300 F.

To prepare filling, heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil, and swirl to coat. Sprinkle pork evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add pork to pan; sauté 10 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove pork from pan. Add onion and garlic to pan, and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cumin and chipotle chiles; sauté for 1 minute. Stir in 1 cup stock and the next 3 ingredients (through espresso); bring to a boil. Return pork to pan; cover. Bake at 300 F for 3 hours or until pork is fork-tender. Remove pork from pan, and let stand 10 minutes. Shred pork. Return pork to sauce.

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

To prepare tamales, immerse corn husks in water; weight with a plate. Soak 30 minutes; drain.

To prepare masa, combine 2 1/2 cups stock and ancho chiles in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH for 2 minutes or until chiles are tender; cool slightly. Remove stems from chiles. Combine hot stock, chiles, and corn in a blender; process until smooth. Combine masa harina, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, and baking powder, stirring well with a whisk. Cut in lard with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ancho mixture to masa mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead dough until smooth and pliable. (If dough is crumbly, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until moist.)

Working with one husk at a time (or overlap 2 small husks), place about 3 tablespoons masa mixture in the center of husk, about 1 inch from top of husk; press dough into a 4-inch-long by 3-inch-wide rectangle. Spoon about 1 heaping tablespoon pork mixture down one side of dough. Using the corn husk as your guide, fold husk over tamale, being sure to cover filling with dough. Use husk to seal masa around filling. Tear 3 or 4 corn husks lengthwise into strips; tie ends of tamale with strips.

Steam tamales according to whatever method works best for you. My smoke alarm goes off constantly if I turn the oven on too high, so this method in this recipe doesn’t work well for me. I put them tamales in a bamboo steamer on the stovetop, and steam for about 1 hour. It takes longer, but I don’t have to constantly open windows and wait for the fire truck to show up… [This recipe says: preheat the oven to 450 F, then place tamale, seam side down, on the rack of a broiler pan lined with a damp towel. Repeat procedure with remaining husks, masa mixture, and pork mixture. Cover tamales with a damp towel. Pour 2 cups hot water in the bottom of a broiler pan; top with rack. Steam tamales at 450° for 25 minutes. Remove and rewet top towel, and add 1 cup water to pan. Turn tamales over; top with cloth. Bake for 20 minutes or until set. Let tamales stand 10 minutes.]

Once ready, serve tamales with crema. You can also freeze them after steaming. Reheat by resteaming for a shorter time, or by heating in the microwave.

Allez Cuisine!! Battle Basil

Battle Basil group

Late one night I was sitting at home thinking to myself how incredibly fun it might be to start some sort of social group with local friends. But I wondered, w hat kind of social group would really be something to look forward to and do time and time again? Book clubs seem a little overdone (and boring. and I don’t have time to read anything more than what I do) and wine clubs are a little too “high class” for me, even though I do love a good glass (or bottle) of red wine. But then I thought about cooking. To be sure there are others out there that enjoy cooking enough to join together in some sort of cooking group. And then it hit me – an Iron Chef party. Awesome!!! But since my kitchen isn’t quite the “Kitchen Stadium” as the one on TV, how about a way to prepare food in advance? So then the idea of an Iron Chef Potluck Party was hatched. I emailed a few peeps I thought would be interested and to my delight, they all were super excited, if not super duper excited, about it.   

  

thai basil shrimpDSC02001.JPG 

It’s as simple as this: the first host chooses the “Theme Ingredient” and emails it to the attendees the day before the Battle. Then the guests prepare 1 dish (or more) to “support and enhance” that ingredient. We judge in the style of Iron Chef (10 points for taste, 5 for presentation and 5 for creativity) and at the end of the night the reigning Iron Chef is announced! The prize, as if participating isn’t prize enough, is choosing the next ingredient. Who hosts gets figured out along the way.   

fried mozarella with basilstrawberry panna cotta with basil balsamic 

So the first Battle was held last weekend and it was a BLAST. We had a whole bunch of great dishes and (I’m not lying here) they were all really good. The hard part was judging in terms of the theme ingredient and NOT on the taste alone – otherwise they would have all received high marks! Getting started was sorta funny – we all scurried towards the table to eat, plate in one hand and scorecard in the other. Some ate and then scored while others ate and scored simultaneously. I was in the latter group, but could only go for about two dishes at a time before I got all frazzled.  

crab basil risottoblackberry crumble  

 

I made a couple of dishes and a beverage.  

 

Overall, it was good times. We decided to Battle every month, which should be really fun. I’m sure others will join as the popularity increases! The next “Battle” will be on April 4th. Since I won with the above cake/ice cream combo, I get to pick the next Theme Ingredient – yay!! Stay tuned! I’ve got a pretty long list of possible ingredients, so luckily I have a while to pick. 
  

 

Chocolate Basil Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
Adapted from
Camilla’s blog (You might recognize her from some Food Network Recipe challenges.)
   

Printable recipe   

ingredients
1 cup sugar (I used 1/2 cup sugar and a little less than 1/2 cup Baking Splenda)
1 1/2 cups packed fresh basil leaves (more for garnish)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup hot water
1 recipe chocolate sour cream, frosting (below)
   

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick baking spray. Place the sugar and basil in a food processor. Process until basil is chopped fine and uniformly green in color (it will look slightly wet).

In a large bowl whisk the melted butter, cocoa powder and basil sugar until well-blended. Whisk in the eggs, 1 at a time, until blended and smooth. Stir in the baking soda, vanilla, orange, and salt. Gradually add flour to bowl, stirring just until blended (do not overstir).

Add hot water to mixture, stirring just until blended. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 22-25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean (mine was 22). Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cool completely, meanwhile prepare sour cream frosting. Spread over cake and garnish with basil leaves. Cut into 12 servings.
 
Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
 
ingredients
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
6 tablespoon reduced fat sour cream
1 1-ounce square unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

instructions
In a medium bowl whisk the powdered sugar and cocoa powder; set aside. In a separate medium bowl beat the sour cream and melted chocolate with an electric mixer on low speed until blended. Gradually add sugar mixture to sour cream mixture, beating at low speed until well-blended. Add vanilla and beat well for 1 minute until very smooth and creamy.

   

 

Basil Ice Cream
  

Adapted from various places
 

ingredients
2 cups reduced fat milk
1 cup packed fresh basil
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream (or 1/2 & 1/2)
  

instructions
Bring milk, basil, 1/4 cup of sugar to simmer in saucepan and remove from heat. Steep basil in mixture for 30 minutes. Transfer to blender/food processor until well blended.
  

Beat yolks and remainder of sugar in bowl until well blended and pale (using electric mixer is handy). Add milk mixture in slowly, stirring constantly. Pour into saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until spoon is coated with mixture (do NOT boil). Remove and chill, either in fridge or in ice bath, depending on timing.  

Once chilled, pour mixture into ice cream freezer (1 gallon), according to instructions (~20 minutes).  


   

chocolate basil cake