Empanada Bakefest

We were supposed to get together for our regular bakefest the other weekend, but after helping Shannon and Matt move, we were more inclined to eat pizza and drink beer than to do anything useful. Which is what we did. And then I took a nap. And we didn’t get around to making these delicious empanadas until Wednesday night, when the group cleared two trays of them in no time flat – which is why the only photo I have is of the leftovers, or, more properly, leftover:

Empanada!

I’m pretty sure that I first encountered empanadas in Champaign – there is photo evidence of empanadas being consumed at the Capricorn birthday dinner at Radio Maria. We discovered the empanadas from Manolo’s right before we left town – in fact, the below photo is from the yard sale we held two weeks before Shane left Champaign for good. Our loss, truly.

Day 21 - 8/13/07

In general, I’m a fan of food in pockets. We made totally delightful pop-tarts at a previous bakefest. I had a serious calzone problem when I lived in Rockford – either take-out from the Logli pizzeria after a long day at Barnes & Noble, or with a beer at Old Chicago while working on the World Beer Tour. When we were serious about losing weight, we both ate A LOT of Lean Pockets, as they were an easy way to take lunch to work and control calories. I’ve never gotten into pierogies, but I loved filled pastas of all sorts. It’s hard to screw up the pocket formula: take something good, wrap it up in sweet or savory dough, bake it for a bit, and then enjoy.

Tonight’s empanadas were no exception. The dough was crumbly at first, but rolled out beautifully in Olivia’s capable hands. Shannon conveyed the discs of dough from roller to kitchen, while Susie played the very important role of cat cop. Shana and I filled the flattened rounds with a few spoonfuls of a savory chicken-chorizo stew, then rolled and crimped the edges, brushed on an egg wash, and popped them in the oven.  25 minutes later, we sat down with the boys and other friends for a fantastic spread: two dozen empanadas (including a few stuffed with sweet potato and feta), roasted asparagus with sea salt, a fantastic salad with beets and candied nuts, home brew and rosé, and ice cream eaten straight from the pint.  A fine start to the Wednesday night potluck season, and yet another successful bakefest.

Recipe:
Chicken empanada with chorizo and olives from Smitten Kitchen

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24 Loaves: Basic Boule

So tonight I made this sauce.  Except that instead of velvet buttery goodness after 45 minutes, after an hour and a half the sauce was still chunky and would not reduce.  I spooned a cup or so of sauce over a leftover chicken breast and warmed them together in the oven, hoping and hoping that the rest of the sauce would reduce.  Um, nope.  Are you sensing a theme to this week?  Oh well, it was still tasty, and after another hour and a half on the stove, it’s finally getting impossibly rich.  Too bad we ate dinner an hour ago.

DSCF5137

But that wasn’t what I came here to tell you about today. Today is all about the bread.

Blessed Boule

One of my resolutions this year was to learn to bake different kinds of bread: 24 loaves, to be precise. While I’ve made pita bread and English muffins since embracing this challenge, this was technically my first loaf of 2011. The Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method relies on a slow ferment – like the No Knead Bread recipe that failed me (or I it). I started with the basic recipe, which makes enough for four one pound loaves.

First, mix everything up in a lidded (but not air-tight) vessel large enough to handle the rise:

Rising Bucket

After two hours in the warm kitchen, the dough more than doubled in size:

2 Hours Later

At this point, you could scoop out a pound of dough and bake yourself a beautiful loaf – or you could stick the bucket in the fridge to continue to ferment. Here’s where this recipe is different from the No-Knead Bread. The cold rise does something wonderful to the dough: it allows the good bacteria to ferment and the long-chain starches to break down into sugars.

When you’re ready to bake, you scoop out and shape a beautiful boule, then let it rise 40 minutes at room temperature while your oven warms up. 30 minutes in the oven, and you’ve got this:

Look at that!

We ate the whole damned thing before the steam stopped rising. And I can’t wait to bake another loaf, except that I might need to run a few more miles before I do.

Recipes:
Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter from Smitten Kitchen
Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day from the book of the same title, by way of Alexandra’s Kitchen

25 Recipes #2: Goulash

I’ve been cooking up a storm since we got home from Cleveland last Wednesday – I just haven’t been blogging about it. I made hummus and fresh pita bread for our friends’ New Year’s party – the latter was perfect, unlike earlier pita efforts. We were both somewhat worse for wear on Saturday, and the Barefoot Contessa’s fresh pea soup was just the thing for our troubled stomachs. On Sunday, I made the first recipe from my new Essential New York Times Cookbook: mushroom caps stuffed with sausage and duxelles – simple but incredibly flavorful, and destined to be on our table many times in the future. I also took on the second recipe from my 25 Recipes list: goulash.

Goulash!

I’m not sure how goulash got on our list exactly. I approached it with a bit of trepidation, as Shane grew up in a city whose cuisine is as influenced by Eastern Europeans as my hometown’s is by the Swedes.

I was concerned because there seems to be a great deal of disagreement about what constitutes authentic Hungarian Gulyás. Many recipes call for tomatoes, while others swear that goulash never contains tomatoes. Some recipes call for potatoes to thicken the stew. Others suggest serving the stew over dumplings or egg noodles. The goulash I remember from my childhood always involved ground beef and elbow macaroni, and is apparently known as American Chop Suey in some parts of the country..

Browning the beef

Fortunately for me, Shane doesn’t have any particular memory of a specific goulash, so I was safe to proceed. The one thing all goulash recipes seem to agree on is the paprika, which gives goulash its characteristic color and savory smoky flavor. The paprika differentiates goulash from more pedestrian (but no less delicious) beef stew. In this goulash, the paprika is cooked in bacon fat already used to brown your beef and saute onions and garlic.

Sauteeing onions and garlic

Add everything to the pot – the browned beef and bacon, plus stock, diced red peppers, tomato paste (oh, the heresy!), seasonings, and water (or beer) enough to get the right consistency. Let it all simmer for an hour or so – enough time for me to shred and then prepare some pasta – and you’ve got a warm and hearty dinner. I was going to add ‘flavorful’ to that list of adjectives, but I was honestly underwhelmed by this recipe. It was good but not remarkable, which is probably the case with most comfort foods.

Kitchen Assistant

Either way, Mina was happy to supervise, Shane was happy to eat it up, and I’ll be happy to make it again. Maybe we’ll try a more authentic recipe next time.

Recipe:
Goulash from Smitten Kitchen – 1/4 recipe with egg noodles and some bread was enough for three portions

1124 Thanksgiving Prep

turkey

We’re leaving in the very wee hours of the morning to drive to Iowa to spend Thanksgiving with my family and also with the Wadsgreens – so tonight was very much about clearing the fridge, packing the bags, and doing a bit of meal prep since we’re likely to roll into Davenport just in time for dinner.

I would say that my grandparents are getting up there in years, but that would be an understatement. They’re old. My grandma was born in 1918, so her first Thanksgiving would’ve been just after Armistice Day. My grandpa was born two years later – his childhood on a farm in very rural Iowa might’ve looked like this:

1920' ish Iowa
Photo by drivebybiscuits1

This year we’ll have eleven at dinner: the two of us, my grandparents, my parents and my aunt Nancy, Eric, Jenn, Bill, and little Max. Mark will be celebrating with friends in California, but will be home for Christmas. Uncle Tom, Aunt Ann, and the little cousins will be with Ann’s family. Uncle Rich will be in Iowa City. There will be turkey and stuffing and Grandma’s mashed potatoes and butterhorn rolls. We will drink wine out of tiny glasses, and Grandma will fuss over the dishes if we don’t get the dishwasher started before she can get up from the table. It will be very warm in the house. These things never change, though this year I’ll be introducing two new dishes: sweet potatoes with pecans and goat cheese and carrot cake, both from Smitten Kitchen.

Part of the reason I love friend Thanksgivings so much is the lack of codified traditions. We each bring our own things to the table – literally and figuratively – and discard the things that don’t work. I love this. But I also love the traditions. I love the fact that our family recipes – boring and predictable as they can be – are ties to the past, to the years of shrimp cocktail before dinner, of being sandwiched at the dinner table between my aunt and my mom, of sneaking sips of wine after the meal. I argued against having a turkey this year, but I know I’d miss it if it wasn’t on the sideboard along with Mom’s cranberry sauce and the small cut glass salad bowls.

Going home for the holidays is expensive and time consuming – hours in the car, money for pet sitters and expensive tanks of gas and food on the road. Moods run thin, we eat too much, and sleep is compromised by unfamiliar beds. I dread the drive and the stress, and part of me will be relieved when we don’t have to make as long of a trip. At the same time, I treasure the years and years of memories, and look forward to the brief amount of time we’ll have with my family around the table. I feel tremendously blessed.

1120 “Thanksgiving”

I love Thanksgiving, and I love that nearly every Thanksgiving since 1999 has included at least one bonus Thanksgiving dinner – not the comprised of leftovers type, but the type where you’re surrounded by friends and loved ones who are not bound to you by genetics or tradition. I wrote about this in my zine last year – I love the way that we’ve invented and reinvented traditions while playing with the idea of family. I love that some years there are just a few of us far from home – and some years our house is bursting at the seams with good food and good friends.

Last year we were new in town, so we broke with tradition and instead had a Bosnian feast with friends in Chicago for Kim’s birthday. This year we both wanted to resuscitate the tradition, so in October, I sent out an email inviting friends to a potluck Thanksgiving dinner. When we didn’t hear back from many people, we decided to just have an open house – come when you can, bring something tasty, and everyone will go home full and happy. Little did we realize that all but two of the people we invited could make it, meaning that at 8pm we had run out of both plates and seating. By oh my goodness, was it wonderful.

There were so many good things that I can’t begin to recount them, but I do want to tell you about the two dishes we made. First, a pumpkin risotto which used up the last of the weekend’s pumpkin. I misplaced one of the onions – I think it must’ve just gone in early – and I would omit the white pepper next time, but otherwise the dish was a total success. The recipe claimed that it served 6, but at least 15 small portions were spooned out, leaving at least 2 for leftovers, so I would guess you could happily feed 8 hungry people if you want to give it a try.

And second, oh my word, the stand-out recipe of the evening and possibly the fall: Smitten Kitchen‘s sweet potatoes with pecans and goat cheese. Candied coins of sweet potato topped with a sort of Waldorf salad, except sub a sweet red wine vinegar for the mayonnaise, and sub dried cranberries for the apples. It was exquisite. I’m so glad we made a double batch, and I can’t wait to make more for my family’s Thanksgiving next week.

Recipes:
Sweet Potatoes with Pecans and Goat Cheese from Smitten Kitchen
Pumpkin Risotto from Food and Wine

1030 Beef Barley Soup

Despite my previous enthusiasm, I’ve decided that I’m done with this recipe.  It’s just – boring. And it makes WAY TOO MUCH. And those two things are a bad combination in my book.  Let me back up.

Beef, barley, and leek soup from Smitten Kitchen
Photo by citymama

The weather was brisk today, and I anticipated spending most of the day helping my friend Olivia move into her new house. I knew I wouldn’t want to have to think about dinner when I got home – and that Shane wouldn’t be home until later either. In hopes of avoiding a fast food dinner and also stocking the fridge for a week of solo eating, I took half an hour to prep dinner and get it in the crockpot before leaving for the day.

After a morning of heavy lifting and maneuvering, a fair amount of pizza, and an invigorating moped blast around town, I arrived home not particularly hungry despite the wonderful smells coming out of the crockpot. I turned the temperature down and took a long hot bath. I read for a while. I pulled the short ribs out of the crockpot, coarsely chopped the meat, and added it back into the soup. And then I measured out THREE QUARTS, ONE PINT, AND ONE SMALL BOWL of beef barley soup.

Make that boring beef barley soup. I’m finding that it’s really difficult to accurately season large quantities of liquid destined to be in the crockpot for several hours. I’m not shy with seasoning, but I am concerned about over seasoning when the cooking is going to take place when I’m not around. As a result, this soup was a total snooze. I’m going to pick up some sherry to see if it will improve the flavor profile – but even if it does, we are going to be eating this soup all winter. How boring.

Recipe:
Beef, Leek, and Barley Soup from Smitten Kitchen

0821 All Girl Bagelfest

Who would’ve thought you could go from this:
How else would you do it?

to this:
Final product!

with really not THAT much effort? OK, it did involve ten minutes of kneading. And also clearing out my fridge so that 2 1/2 dozen bagels could do their thing:
Ready for the pot

2 minutes boiling in the pot, a bit of an egg wash, and some expert decorating before the bagels went into the oven:
"Decorating"

And then we tucked in to a gorgeous brunch – prosciutto and Olivia’s tea-cured salmon, thick slices of tomato and thin ones of cucumber and red onion, cream cheese and two kinds of melon. Mimosas with mango or apricot nectar. Good friends and good conversation. And amazing bagels:

Recipe:
Peter Reinhart’s Bagels from Smitten Kitchen