Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pork Empanadas

I tried to write a catchy sales pitch for this recipe, which I remembered from a conversation a close friend of mine's mom and I had about Mexican food about a year ago, but I think the recipe and even the not-professional photos speak as to how easy and tasty this pretty simple-to-make dish really is.  Most of the ingredients you probably already have in your pantry and refrigerator.  If not, simply omit them, or, go to the store and get them, if it's a non-issue.  Other than the Spanish Saffron, all of the ingredients are regularly low-priced items in your local grocery store.  I had the Saffron on hand, which I use only sparingly, of course, as I wanted to add that wonderful aroma and flavor to this torta-like dish.  

Let's just get to it.  If you a have about an hour or so to kill on a lazy summer or winter's day, this is a great dish to make as an appetizer, snack, even a main dish served up with Mexican corn and chili, or something along those lines.  Bird-walking, here, I know, but one of my favorite little snacks I have ever had was corn kernels with crumbled queso fresco in a cup while waiting to return to the USA in Tijuana, Mexico.

  So here's the starting line-up:

Half a yellow or white onion, finely chopped or grated (the smaller the pieces, the better!)
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1 Serrano (or Fresno) chili, seeded and ribbed, and finely chopped
1 small pinch Saffron (this is optional, but as I mentioned, I love the aroma and taste it adds)
1 good tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon Pasilla Chili powder (or your favorite ground chili)
One and a half teaspoons coriander seeds (or powdered)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (or powdered)
One tablespoon dried oregano
Half a teaspoon cinnamon (yes, cinammon!)
Salt and Pepper

In addition:
1 pound package of lean ground pork
2 eggs in a small bowl, beaten
3 rolls/sheets fresh pie dough (store bought)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
About a cup and a half of vegetable oil (to fry the empanadas)

Now, I could have made life easier and quicker for myself by using my spice grinder to grind the cumin and coriander seeds, and the dried oregano leaves, but I like using my hands to crush the coriander seed pods and my little mortar and pestle to grind seeds. The aroma is soothing and the grinding , relaxing. If I had been on a schedule, I definitely would have used the electric spice grinder.  I also would have used dried onion and dried minced garlic to save time.

I added salt and pepper to the cumin and coriander seeds, saffron, and dried oregano, to act as an abrasive. 

Once I finished grinding the spices, I added the mixture to the paprika and chili powder in a bowl. I added the finely chopped onion and Serrano chili to the ground pork in a large bowl.  Afterwards, I added half of the spice mixture to the pork, and half to a large fry pan with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and the fresh grated garlic. 

 I gently folded in the onion, chili and spice mixture to the pork so as to not overwork the meat.  I wanted it to crumble, not clump.  Meanwhile, I turned the heat to low to continue to infuse the garlic flavor in the small amount of oil in the skillet, as well as to roast the spice mixture.  When the garlic began to sizzle, I added the pork and cooked.  It crumbled easily and smelled amazing.  The saffron was a perfect addition, filling the kitchen with a warm, inviting aroma. 

Meanwhile, as the pork was slow-cooking in one pan, in my large cast iron skillet, I added about an inch of vegetable oil.  Being a sneak, I added a sprinkle of powdered garlic to the oil, not knowing if it'd be alright or not, to add one more little layer of flavor to my little empanadas. I also set out the my pie crust rolls to thaw, and set up my counter to cut out little circles of dough.  

When the pork finished cooking, I took it off the burner and put it into a large metal bowl to cool.

You can see my garlic powder mess.  Oops!

I rolled out my pie crust on my floured chopping block rather than on my granite counter because I'd be using egg wash.  I used, of all things, not a biscuit cutter (although I have a great set of cutters;
Thanks, Aunty!), but a little bowl that was just the right size for my pie dough circles.  I cracked my two eggs into a small bowl, beat them frothy with a fork, and got out my small brush.

Next, using a long handled tea spoon, I added a heaping teaspoon full of the pork to the center of a dough circle, brushed egg was around the edges, and folded the circle in half.  Using a fork, I crimped he edges of my half moon-looking emapanada.  

We're at the home stretch!  Before frying, set the empanadas on a large plate - try to place them so they do not touch - and chill them in the refrigerator about ten or fifteen minutes.  This allows the dough to firm up and the egg wash to set, which will help the empanadas stay firmly together as they fry.  

You could use a deep fryer, the oil temperature at 350-degrees, or, you could simply add about a cup and a half of vegetable oil (whatever your favorite high heat oil is) to a large skillet.  You are looking for about an inch of oil in the skillet.  Heat the oil to the point of rippling, and drop in a tiny ball of the dough, and if it sizzles, the oil is ready!  This is achieved at a medium heat.  I gently added four empanadas, did not crowd them, so as not to bring the oil heat down too much.  When they were nicely golden brown, I gently rolled them over. When those were golden brown, I gently removed them and placed them on a wire rack over a baking sheet covered with a couple paper towels.  I say I did these things "gently", because the pie dough becomes nicely flaky, and you do not want them to crumble or fall apart when you pick them up. They are just about palm-sized.  A tip:  The darker the golden brown, the firmer the crust is.  There is a delicate balance there, however, because you do not want it so dark that it tastes burnt.  

I served my empanadas with a fresh cilantro garnish and a chipotle mayo dipping sauce.  What will you serve yours with?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tamarind Chicken over Udon Noodles

This is a dish I started making about three or four years ago when I entered my favorite Middle Eastern/Asian Market.  I'd enjoyed Tamarind "pops" from Baja, Mexico, and fell in love with tamarind's sweet and sour flavor.  When I noticed it as a sauce (or concentrate) and a chutney, I had to purchase it.  My first few attempts at this dish included several of the ingredients I used to day, but I also include cubed red, green, orange and/or yellow bell peppers.  I did not use those today, as I wanted to create a more elegant looking dish, not more colorful. I hope I accomplished that today, but I am certainly not averse to incorporating peppers into my dish, as I love peppers.  I did use Serrano peppers, but in the marinate and sauce, not the body of the dish itself.  I will address the heat aspect of this dish, as you can make it as heat spiced as you wish, or not.  This dish takes a little less than an hour to prep and to cook.  Good times!  Here's the main ingredient line-up:

1 large onion (I used a white onion), cubed
3 large garlic cloves (grated), separated into three equal parts
1 large or two small Serrano chilis, seeded, ribbed, and finely chopped
The next items will need to separated into two bowls (marinade and fry sauce):
2 tablespoons Tamari sauce or Low Sodium Soy sauce, separated
4 tablespoons Tamarind sauce or Chutney (sauce), separated
2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce, separated
2 tablespoons Kung Pao sauce (if desired), separated
2 tablespoons (Your favorite) Mustard  (I used a Cranberry Mustard, for tartness)
Half a tablespoon and Half a tablespoon Hot Chili sauce (I used Vietnamese), separated
2 tablespoons (Your favorite) Sake or some other biting alcohol
Extra Virgin Olive oil, 2 tablespoons, separated, and 2 tablespoons in the high-sided pan
Dried Spice Ingredients:
2 teaspoons coriander (ground, or crushed seeds),
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely chopped, or dried, separated
2 teaspoons dried or ground chili powder (Your favorite)
Salt and Pepper (added to the marinade)
2 - 3 tablespoons Paprika, separated
1/4 cup slivered almonds, or, same amount of peanuts 
1+ bundles of Udon Noodles (one bundle yields a little more than one cup)
 The star ingredient:
1 package boneless/skinless chicken thighs, cubed

By now you know that all of the ingredients are separated into two bowls:  one for the marinade, one for the fry sauce.  Combine all of the separated ingredients, including one part of the garlic into one bowl.  Repeat the procedure for the other bowl.  Mix the ingredients in the bowls well.  Next, add two tablespoons of the evoo to the large, high-sided fry pan or skillet, along with one part of the garlic and one teaspoon of the chili sauce.  Just let it sit together over no heat.  Now, place the cubed chicken thighs into a bowl or on a large plate, and cover with the other bowl of sauce. Cover and coat all of the chicken cubes.  Let sit and marinate for thirty minutes.  You can cover and place in the refrigerator, but I left it out so the meat would not seize up in (what will be) the hot fry pan. 
 Incorporate the ingredients in each bowl well!
Marinade the chicken for thirty minutes!
After allowing the oil and chili sauce to sit in the fry pan for 25 minutes, turn the heat to low.

After 25 minutes, turn the heat over the pan to low.  After nearly ten minutes, the chili sauce seeds will start to sizzle and may pop.  Look out for those seeds!  They splatter!  Use a mesh splash guard if you have one. Turn the heat to medium-high.  Add the onion cubes, add a pinch of salt, and cook until the onions just begin to soften.  Add the chicken with as little marinade as possible and saute for about five minutes until the chicken begins to sear.  Add the second bowl of sauce and incorporate well.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.  Allow to simmer for ten or so minutes. 

Bring three cups of water to a boil, salt lightly, as the Udon noodles soak up whatever you put into the water, and add the Udon noodles.  Allow to cook about eight minutes.  You will need to try it at that point to see if it is done.  You will know; the noodles should not be tough or chewy.  Drain the noodles and add to your bowl or plate.  

Meanwhile, chop up a little scallion greens or cilantro, and set aside for a minute.  Have sesame seeds?  They'd make a nice topping, as well as the greens. 

Take the chicken off of the heat and place a few heaping spoon fulls over the noodles, allowing the noodles to soak up the spicy goodness.  Top with the cilantro or scallions and sesame seeds, if you like, and serve.  

What might be even better than that tangy, spicy taste?  


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Campanelle Pasta Bake

Folks, if I don't say so myself, this pasta bake is a walk in the park, and can take as little as thirty minutes.  I like to make my sauces from scratch when tomatoes are in season, but today, I got a little help from the store.  You can even use your favorite bottled pasta sauce, which will surely save you  a lot of time and effort.  I like to use fresh aromatics, onions, garlic, citrus, as well as herbs, as much as possible. So whether you are suffering the mid-week slump or the end of week "Yuks", this recipe is perfect.  If you have some energy and want to get in some culinary therapy, this is also the recipe for you!  Get in some "think time" chopping and slicing your veggies. Whatever the case, add this to your quick and easy recipe arsenal. 

                       Check out the starting line-up:

3 large cloves garlic, sliced into thin chips (a lot, I know, but I love garlic)
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (now known as evoo thanks to Rachael Ray).
1 can fire roasted tomatoes, 12 or 16 oz can (or, you can roast your own)
1 28 oz can of pureed tomatoes  (I LOVE Cento)
3 or 4 spicy sausages diced (I used Chiptole and Smoked Kielbasa sausages)
2 sprigs fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried oregano  
8 or so leaves of fresh basil
1 package fresh cherry or grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
Juice of half a lemon
2 or 3 tablespoons (Cento) Red Wine Vinegar (or your own favorite)
2 tablespoons of Paprika
1 Fresno chili, diced
1 large red or yellow onion, diced
1 pound of Campanelle pasta  (But, of course, you can use whatever pasta you have on hand, or want.  I used the Campanelle due its ruffled bell shape which holds sauce very well.  Penne or Rigatoni, or any spiral pasta works great, as well).  
3/4 cup grated Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

This couldn't be simpler, gentle readers:

Using a cutting board or chopping block and a sharp culinary knife, slice the garlic into chips and place into a high-sided sauce pan or dutch oven with the evoo with no heat on. When the garlic has been in the oil for about five or so minutes, turn the heat on to low.  You want to infuse the oil with that amazing garlic flavor.  My garlic is Mexican garlic, and is larger and the "paper" is a bit purple.  It's great.  Love it.  Meanwhile, seed and finely chop the red Fresno chili (they have a bite, but they have a mild, floral-like flavor;  I am growing these in my potted garden), the onion, the basil and oregano, and set aside.  

On a different chopping block and with a different knife, quarter and chop the sausages in to small pieces, about a quarter of a penny or nickle, if you can.  You can always use a packaged ground sausage, if you like, which will save you time and effort.  I used two Chipotle and two Smoked Kielbasa sausage links.  Great combination of flavor!  Set aside for a moment. 

Now that the prep is done, crank up the heat to moderate-high, and add the onion and chili. Add a pinch of salt to help the onions "sweat".  When the onions are just getting soft, add the sausages. Cook until the edges of the sausages just begin to crisp.  Add the red wine vinegar to deglaze the pan.  Scrape the bottom to get that burned flavor into the mix.   At that point, add the can of fire roasted tomatoes.You could add the fire roasted tomatoes first, and then scrape.  Who cares?

By now, have the pot of water boiling.  Once it boils, liberally salt the water and add the Campanelle pasta.  Stir well to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom.  

Add the 28 ounce can of pureed tomato to the mixture, followed by the Italian seasoning, the Paprika, and half of your fresh herbs.  If you are using dried herbs only, add them now.  No fuss, no muss!  Stir to incorporate the seasonings and the tomato puree well.  When the pot begins to boil, reduce the heat to low, place the lid over it, but askew enough to allow steam to escape.  Allow to slow simmer for about fifteen or more minutes.  Take the lid off at that point, and crank the heat to just about medium for five or so more minutes and stir well to get those flavors married well.  Grate a little Parmigiano Reggiano into the pot and mix.  This is going to be great!

Dump the pasta in to the boiling pot of water after you salt it, and cook until just before al dente (just before done, according to the package directions).  To know, just pull on one out on a spoon and taste it when it cools.  Pour the pasta into a strainer over the sink.  

Now, there are two ways to go about this.  If you are tired and just want to get it over with, add the pasta to the sauce and thoroughly mix it.  Sprinkle some Parmigiano Reggiano over the top and have at it!  But if you have the time, and want to make this a true "bake", then spray a baking dish or pan (about a 10" x 10" pyrex type of pan, or even a 9" x 13" pan will be fine) with non-stick cooking spray or oil it well with evoo on a paper towel.  Add heaping spoon fulls of sauce until the bottom of the pan is coated nicely.  Be generous!  Cover the sauce with a layer of the Campanelle pasta.  Grate Parmigiano Reggiano cheese over the pasta and cover that with a thick spread of sauce.  Top the sauce with both some Parm-Regg and the Mozzarella cheese and bake until the Mozzarella begins to brown, about fifteen to eighteen minutes at 375 degrees.  Such great flavor!

Top with the rest of the fresh herbs and serve!  Hope you enjoy this!  Following are some photos of the process.  

I had some sauce and pasta left over from adding it to the baking dish, so I added the pasta to the pot, grated in some cheese, mixed, and that was dinner tonight!  Have a nice piece of bread to mop up the remaining sauce.  That could be a meal all in itself!

 And, the final product!