Sunday, September 30, 2012

Daring Bakers: Empanada Gallega

September's Daring Bakers Challenge was an Empanada Gallega!  Patri of the blog, Asi Son Los Cosas, was our September 2012 Daring Bakers hostess and she decided to tempt us with one of her family's favorite recipes for Empanadas!  We were given two dough recipes to choose from and encouraged to fill our empanadas as creatively as we wished!

I am a bit late with this post (was supposed to post on September 27) but I wanted to make the empanada anyway!  I have made empanadas before but they tended to use some sort of pie crust and though tasty, I could never get past the idea that I was eating a TON of pie crust with each piece.  So the idea of making my own empanada dough was too tempting to pass up!

Making the dough was downright simple!  The recipe is very straightforward and it creates a dough that is both tasty AND easy to work!  (Gotta love that combination!)

Empanada Gallega with Ground Beef
3 1/2 cups (500 gm) all-purpose or bread flour (I used bread flour)
1 cup (240 ml) warm water
1/2 cup less 1 TB (100 ml) liquid fat  - oil, margarine, lard, etc.  (I used olive oil)
1 TB (15 gm) dry yeast or 1 oz (30 gm) fresh yeast
1 teaspoon (5 ml)(6 gm) salt
1 teaspoon (3 gm) sweet paprika

Put the flour into a bowl and make a well in the middle.  Add all of the ingredients.  If using fresh yeast, break it up as much as possible.  Mix with a wooden spoon until all of the ingredients have been incorporated.  Turn dough onto a floured board/counter and knead for 8 minutes.  Make a ball and place in an oiled bowl.  Allow to rise covered with a towel for about 1/2 hour before using. 

(make filling while dough is rising)

One risen, put the dough back onto a parchment covered, floured board/counter and divide it in half.  Cover one half with the towel to prevent drying.  Spread the other half of the dough using a rolling pin.  Depending on the shape of your oven pan or cookie sheet, you will make a rectangle or a round shape with your dough.  Roll the dough to a thickness that depends on your filling and the amount of dough you like in each bite.  For your first time, make it about 3 mm thin (about 1/10th of an inch) and then adjust from there in the next empanadas you make.

adapted from The Best Simple Recipes, America's Test Kitchen
1 pound lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped fine
2 TB tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper

Cook beef and onion in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.  Add tomato paste, garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant.  Off heat, stir in cheese and cilantro.  Season with salt and pepper.  Allow filling to cool before putting it on the empanada dough.

Preheat your oven to 350F.

If you used the parchment paper mentioned above, place it with your rolled out dough on a baking sheet.  Place the cooled filling on top, leaving about an inch of dough around the outside.  (Note:  the reason for using cooled filling is so that the bottom layer of the empanada doesn't get soggy!) 

Roll out the other half of the dough on a second flour-covered parchment paper.  This "top" dough needs only to cover the filling, so it will be smaller BUT THE SAME THICKNESS as the bottom dough.  This is a good opportunity to trim off some of your dough to use for decorating the top of your empanada!  Carefully flip your top dough over the filling and peel off the parchment paper. 

Using your fingers, join the bottom and top dough, pinching the top and bottom together with your thumb and index finger and turning them half-way in.  This is how you end up with a rope-like border.  If you desire a video on this technique, check out  When the border is complete, make a 1 inch hole in the middle of the top layer of dough.  This helps hot air exit the empanada while baking.  Use the left over dough to decorate the empanada!

Prick the top layer of dough with a fork and cover with an egg wash.  Bake for 45 minutes.
Printable Recipe

As you can see in the photo above, my empanada opened up a little bit on the bottom edge, so my rope making skills were not spot-on.  Oh well!  The empanada itself was delicious!  The filling is very tasty, especially with the fresh cilantro.  The dough was great!  The flavor is really good, and that sweet paprika really makes it perfect.  I like the thickness I rolled, which was probably about the thickness of a quarter.  Though the dough recipe says it serves 6, and the filling recipe says it serves 4, I would say mine would serve 8! 

This seems like a long recipe but really it is quite simple.  The filling is made while the dough rises, so you could make this well in advance and just roll out the bottom layer when you are ready to bake!

Definitely a keeper for my family!  Many people in the Daring Bakers group made sweet empanadas, using fruit fillings, which is another great option!


Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Bacon Bonanza

It was a bacon bonanza!  I am in a dinner group with some friends and we recently had one of our dinners.  In our group, whomever is hosting can decide the plan for the dinner, whether that means a general theme, choosing the actual recipes, etc.  This time, the hosts decided to do a "secret ingredient" dinner.  After we each chose what course we wanted to create, they emailed us all with the secret ingredient that each course must include.  BACON!  Mr. Clever Mom and I chose the appetizer course this time.  We usually choose dessert but decided to shake things up a bit and picked appetizers instead.  We created a bacon bonanza.

Above, starting from the top left, we made Pancetta-Wrapped Peaches with Basil and Peach Balsamic Vinegar, a Goat Cheese, Herb, Pecan and Bacon Pop, and a Bacon Cracker topped with Maple Bourbon Bacon Jam.  Mmmm.  I wish I could say "definitely try X recipe as it was the best" but really they were all so different and all really good.  The peaches were sweet and crispy and juicy, and the bacon pop paired with a crisp Granny Smith apple was really great, and my goodness that bacon jam was delicious.  Sweet and smoky and perfect atop a flaky bacon cracker.  I have to pat the two of us on the back a bit.  We made three great appetizers!  So here are the recipes for you to try!

Monday, September 24, 2012

My First Quilt Block!

I made my first quilt block for the clever girl's quilt!  I even lined up the print!  Yippee!  I am really pleased with it and am ready to tackle some more.  A whole lot more, for that matter.  I have lots of blocks to go!  Let's get this quilt moving....  I intended to get working on the quilt a while back but it just didn't happen.  However now that I have started, I can't wait to sew more! 

I am excited to get all of the squares done and figure out how to arrange them all.  I still have no idea as to how I will go about actually quilting this thing, but I am hoping for a quilting epiphany.  It could happen, right?

For more info about the quilt I am making, click on the link above and it will take you to my first description about this project.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Best Fudge Brownies Ever!

I know.  The title of this post may seem to be a bit of a brag.  However, I would argue that it is not bragging, it is simply fact.  For one thing, I didn't actually name the brownies.  This recipe is from King Arthur Flour and used to be printed on the back of their bags of all-purpose flour.  (It isn't anymore, which is a true shame.  In fact, this exact recipe isn't even on their website!  There is something close but not the same and it has pretty mixed reviews.  Strange.)  For another, whenever I make these brownies, the compliments abound.  And then they keep abounding for days and even months after consumption!  Friends ask me to bring these brownies to events.  I once made these brownies for a function in my neighborhood and now I will run into people randomly who will say, "are you the brownie lady?".  It is crazy.  And it is true.  These brownies are simply THAT GOOD.  I will give you a caveat of warning however.  These brownies have ruined me for other brownies.  Often I can't even bring myself to try other brownies at events, and if I do I am constantly comparing them to these in my head, and simply put no brownie stands up to the comparison!  Your feelings towards brownies may forever change with this recipe.  Consider yourself warned.

I wish I was a better photographer so you could see the melted chocolate chips oozing out of the brownies.  I promise they are there.  

You might be asking, are they "fudgy or cakey", as that tends to be the big question with brownies.  I would hazard to say that these are a bit of both, though maybe they tend a bit more towards the fudgy side.  I have pondered this fudgy vs cakey question a lot with these brownies and I never really come to a solid decision.  I guess that just means I need to make another batch and try to figure it out again!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesdays with Dorie: Baking with Julia - Whole Wheat Loaves

This week's recipe for Tuesday's with Dorie was Whole Wheat Loaves.  I had such high hopes for this recipe.  It seems like most people in our group had total success with this and plan to make it again and again.  I want to feel that way, too!  However I am not sure what went awry with my bread.  What you see above is actually the second batch I made.  In my first batch, I did not pay too close attention to the time when it was rising, so much more time passed than it should have.  I thought that could be the reason that the bread didn't rise in the oven.  But then I made it again and set the timer for the rising times and had the same dense result.  Phooey.  My second batch even seemed more elastic and appropriately kneaded than the first so I really thought I had fixed it.  I really don't know what happened and I hope someone might be able to point me in the right direction!  I want to master this bread!

Here are some of the specifics as to what I did to maybe help solve this puzzle:
  • I did not use active dry yeast, but used SAF Instant yeast instead.  I used 2 1/4 teaspoons of the instant yeast instead of the 1 TB active dry as the recipe requested.
  • I used liquid amber malt extract (many thanks to the suggestion to find it at a beer brewing store!)
  • I mixed it in my Kitchenaid Artisan mixer for the 10 minutes. 
  • It did seem smooth and elastic after kneading, though somewhat sticky. 
  • I let the bread proof in my oven on the proof setting.  I live in Houston and it is still very humid here so I thought being in a dry warm environment in the oven would be better than the humid kitchen with the air conditioner cycling.
  • I used a rolling pin to gently work the dough into the rectangle shape before putting it in the buttered pans.
  • The dough rose well during both rising times.  It was in the oven that it didn't really rise.

Many thanks to Michele of Veggie Num Nums and Teresa of The Family that Bakes Together for hosting this recipe!  You can find the recipe on their blogs or on pages 83-84 of Baking with Julia.   To see other bloggers successes with this recipe, visit the Tuesdays with Dorie blog and click on LYL: Whole Wheat Bread.

Please help!  I want to make this again and have it work.  I would LOVE to have a great whole wheat bread recipe to use.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Saffron and Cardamom Panna Cotta

Several posts ago, I alluded to a dinner party in which the theme was spices.  As the dessert course, I made pate a choux swans with vanilla bean and cardamom creme patissiere and a Saffron and Cardamom Panna Cotta.  To be honest, I wasn't sure if the swans would turn out, and I wanted something else to serve just in case.  Plus, when I saw this recipe it seemed to scream to me that it was the right thing to make for the dinner party.  Can you go wrong with two desserts?  I think not!

It just so happened that I had checked out Alice Medrich's cookbook Pure Dessert from the library just prior to planning this dinner party, in which she has an entire chapter on herbs and spices!  Honestly, it is an amazing book and I will have to purchase it for my shelf.

As it turns out, panna cotta is a perfect thing to make for a dinner party, because you can do it ahead of time and just pull it out of the refrigerator and top it with garnishes when it is time to serve!  Fantastic!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Salmon with Asparagus and Chive Butter Sauce

Do you need a fast, healthy dinner?  Here it is.  Salmon with Asparagus and Chive Butter Sauce, from America's Test Kitchen, The Best Simple Recipes.  I really like that cookbook and this recipe is just perfect.

A couple of weeks ago there was a great sale on fresh wild Sockeye salmon at my grocery store so I bought quite a bit and stuck it in the freezer in pound segments.  I wish I had purchased more!

This recipe is super fast because you use the asparagus as a bed to cook the salmon.  Everything is done in one pan and then you create a yummy white wine sauce at the end for the top.  Voila, dinner!

Salmon with Asparagus and Chive Butter Sauce
adapted from America's Test Kitchen, The Best Simple Recipes

1 lb thick asparagus, trimmed
1 cup water
4 (6 -8 ounce) salmon fillets, skinless and 1-inch thick
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (I have used regular)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Lay asparagus in single layer on bottom of a large skillet. Add water and 1/4 teaspoon salt to skillet. Season salmon with salt and pepper and lay across asparagus spears. Bring water to boil over high heat, cover and cook over medium heat until salmon is cooked through (until it starts to flake) and asparagus is tender, about 8 minutes. Transfer asparagus and salmon to platter.

Add wine to skillet, increase heat to medium-high and simmer mixture to reduce, 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in butter and chives and season with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over salmon and asparagus. 
Zippity-zap, dinner is ready!  The clever girl said, "Momma, this is delicious" and cleaned her plate!  I can't even tell you how proud I was of her right then.  I am so blessed to have a child with a wide range of tastes. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

My first quilt!

I have decided to make a quilt for the clever girl for when she transitions into a "big girl" bed.  Seriously, she was ready for this transition a while ago, but I knew I wanted to make a quilt so I've been postponing it.  Luckily, she still fits in her toddler bed so it still works!

Above you see the fabric I chose (and carefully cut) for the quilt.  I am using a pattern that was in the Spring 2012 issue of Stitch magazine, the Shoo Fly Quilt.  It is my understanding that the shoo-fly pattern isn't anything new, but this designer made the pattern ginormous so each block is one square.  I think one fabric might be hiding, but overall the fabric above is what the clever girl's quilt will use.  The yellow squares on the top left will be the background, and then each color strip will make up one shoo-fly square.  The pattern itself is for a twin sized quilt but since I am over-ambitious, I am making this a full-sized quilt.

Nothing like starting big with my first-ever quilt!

Let's not even talk about how I am actually going to QUILT this thing because currently the answer is "I have no idea".  I hope that will just come to me...

Surely it will, because quilting must be in my genes somewhere.  My grandmother quilted, my aunt quilts, my mom quilts, my sister has quilted.... surely I have it in me to quilt as well!  I'm crossing my fingers!

Oh, and by the way.  Just in case making a quilt isn't crazy enough, I am also designing the actual bed frame for the bed.  As in constructing it out of wood.  Yes, I am totally a crazy person.  But hang with me a moment while I explain my insanity a little bit...  We are in the process of tearing down a house to build a new one and the original house has neat old doors.  So I want to make a bed frame using those doors.  I have seen some beds like this on the Internet, so I feel confident that this is something Mr. Clever Mom and I can tackle.  Right?  I am pretty handy with this sort of thing (the only girl in the wood-shop class in junior high for 2 years, though yes that was quite a while ago) and we did design and create the clever girl's play kitchen, so surely we can make a bed that will actually stand!

I know, I am way overly ambitious.  When will we get all of this done?  In what free time???


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lemon-Garlic Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and Grits is one of those meals that defines you as someone who lives in the south.  You may never eat it if you live elsewhere, but if you move to the south, somehow a hankering develops for shrimp and grits and you will definitely eat them somewhere.  At a restaurant, at a friend's house, somewhere.

As a little kid, I thought "grits" were a body part.  Though I don't actually remember watching Alice on television, I can certainly remember the phrase, "kiss my grits".  Thus, body part.  Ahh, the innocence of youth!  It never occurred to me that grits could be food, because I lived in the mid-west thus we didn't eat grits.  Simple as that.

Then I moved to Houston.  In the south, people might eat grits with any meal.  You could make it a bit soupy, add some salt or sugar and it is a breakfast cereal.  Or add some salt, bacon, cheese and/or red-eye gravy and it is a nice side to some scrambled eggs  and bacon, instead of the hash browns you might get elsewhere.  Use the same flavor combinations and serve it with fried catfish for dinner.  You can even fry it in a pan or mold it into blocks, slice it and fry the slices for a whole new twist!  In truth, there are many places in the south where Shrimp and Grits would be on the breakfast menu as well as a lunch and dinner menu.  It is a versatile food!  Depending on where you live in the south might dictate how you cook them.   In some areas, grits are cooked with water.  I had my first grits in southern Georgia, and they were cooked with milk.  Thus, I cook my grits with milk. 

I have made a variety of Shrimp and Grits recipes, but this one was just a little different and mighty tasty.  Often, Shrimp and Grits has some sort of tabasco or other hot sauce in the recipe, so the shrimp have a nice kick to them.  When I found this recipe for Lemon-Garlic Shrimp, I decided it was different and worth a try.  I am so glad I gave it a try because they were delicious and could slide into ranking number 1 for favorite Shrimp and Grits recipe!

There is one serious problem with the original recipe, however.  It calls for INSTANT grits.  What??  Instant??  No true southerner cooks with instant grits.  No, I am not a true southerner, but I have to agree with the southerners on this point.  Instant grits are dreadful.  Yuck.  They are not a food.  They are more like wallpaper paste or grout or something.  Do not eat them.  I get Bobs Red Mill corn grits.  Mmmm.  Anyway, I had to do the grits a different way than the original recipe suggested, and prayed that Food Network's serious lack of judgement in including instant grits as an ingredient didn't transfer to the rest of the recipe.  Thankfully, it didn't!

Lemon-Garlic Shrimp and Grits
adapted from Food Network Magazine
Serves 4

Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
2 TB butter
2 large cloves garlic, miced
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
juice of 1/2 lemon, plus wedges for serving
2 TB roughly chopped parsley

Start the grits first, then work on the shrimp.

Season shrimp with salt and pepper.  Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the shrimp, garlic and cayenne (if using) and cook, tossing, until the shrimp are pink, 3-4 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add 2 TB water, the lemon juice and parsley, and stir to coat the shrimp.  Season with salt and pepper.

Creamy Grits:
2 cups water
1 1/4 cups milk
1 tsp. salt
1 cup grits (NOT INSTANT!!)
1-2 TB unsalted butter, cubed
1/4+ cup grated parmesan cheese

In a small saucepan, bring water, milk and salt to a boil.  Slowly stir grits into boiling mixture.  Whisk continuously until grits are well mixed.  Reduce to low heat and continue to whisk often, until thick and smooth, approximately 5-10 minutes.  Add cheese and stir gently until the cheese melts.  Turn off the heat and allow grits to rest about 5 minutes.  Stir in the butter and stir until completely smooth.  If the grits are too think in consistency, add milk over low heat, whisking constantly.

Never use the recipe on the side of a package of grits.  They are bad news and you will think am a crazy person for liking grits!

Divide the grits among shallow bowls and top with the shrimp and sauce.  Serve with lemon wedges.

Printable Recipe

No matter where you happen to live, give this recipe a try.  Your southern friends will thank you, your northern friends will think you are a genius.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tuesdays with Dorie: Baking with Julia - Nectarine Upside-Down Chiffon Cake

This week's recipe for Tuesday's with Dorie is Nectarine Upside-Down Chiffon Cake.  I was pretty excited to make this cake, as I finally found some fresh tasty nectarines and the recipe sounded so yummy....  fluffy cake, streusel filling, fresh nectarines.  Sounds like a good combination!  However, I have mixed feelings about the end result.  I'll explain as we get there.

Plus, I had to deal with a few challenges on the way to creating this cake. 

Let's start with my first challenge.  The recipe calls for a 10-inch springform pan with 3 inch sides.  My springform pan is 9 inches.  I didn't so much feel like buying another springform pan, as I just don't use them that often.  What to do?  I posted a request to borrow a 10 inch pan on the kids forum in  my neighborhood.  I have to say, our kids forum is fantastic!  It is good for all things kid-centered, but so many other things as well!  Like springform pans!  I asked if anyone happened to have a pan I could borrow for a few days and a few hours later I had several offers!  Yahoo!  I love my neighborhood!  Challenge one - overcome.

My second challenge was a bit more difficult.  A couple days before I planned to bake this cake, I seriously injured my neck/shoulder at the gym.  Seriously readers, I was simply doing push-ups but I turned my head a funny way and felt tearing pain shoot from my neck into my shoulder.  Not good.  Working out can be dangerous!  That night I was in such pain I didn't sleep a wink and actually woke up Mr. Clever Mom at 3am as I was in pure agony to see if he could help.  That dear man massaged me for an hour.  Bless him!  Anyway, I was laid up in bed the entire next day, wondering how in the heck I would make this cake.  Breathing hurt.  Standing hurt. How would I bake?  Well, when baking day came, that sweet man became my sous chef.  He sliced, he measured, he mixed.  I couldn't have done it without him.  Challenge two - overcome!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Spiced Beef Corn Bread Cobbler

For me, this is a pantry meal.  Meaning, I don't have to get anything special from the grocery store, I generally have all of the ingredients on hand.  It's perfect for those times when I need to get to the grocery store but haven't had a chance, and I need to come up with a quick dinner plan!

Spiced Beef Corn Bread Cobbler
adapted from Epicurious

Makes 4 (main course) servings

1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 carrots, diced
4 TB vegetable oil (I use olive oil)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 pound ground beef chuck
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 (14- to 15-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 TB sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup whole milk
1 large egg
2 ounces coarsely grated sharp Cheddar (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons)

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly oil a 9 1/2-inch (6-cup capacity) pie plate. 

Cook onion and carrots in 2 tablespoons oil in a deep 10-inch saute pan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until edges are golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beef and cook until no longer pink, breaking up large lumps, 4 to 5 minutes. Add 1 tsp. sugar, spices, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juice and briskly simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup, 8 to 10 minutes. 

While beef cooks, whisk together cornmeal, flour, 2 TB sugar, baking powder, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together milk, egg, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a small bowl, then stir into cornmeal mixture until just combined. Fold in 1/2 cup cheese. 

Spoon cooked spiced beef into pie plate with a slotted spoon, reserving juices in skillet. Skim off and discard fat from juices if desired, then pour juices over beef in pie plate. 

Spread corn bread batter over beef, then sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons cheese over batter. Bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted into center of corn bread comes out clean, 15 to 25 minutes.
Serve cobbler warm. 

This reminds me of a southern version of a sloppy joe.  The spices in the beef mixture are really nice, and the cornbread gives that home-y slightly sweet taste to complement the spices.  Yum!