Saturday, August 11, 2012

Leftover Maven: Steak and Cheese Wontons

My younger daughter is subject to cravings.  Two summers ago, when she was with her grandparents at their lakehouse, she had a craving for chicken tikka masala.  New Hampshire is great for lobster, clams, and haddock, but Indian food is not easy to find. I had to make it for her, along with naan bread.

The other night, we had a lot of leftover lobster, so I made lobster ravioli in a tomato cream sauce.  I bought potsticker skins and wonton skins, so I could make the ravioli quickly. I only used the potsticker skins, so there was still a pack of wonton skins in the fridge.

This morning, Christina, who does not like lobster and thus did not eat the ravioli, saw the wonton skins in the fridge and said, "What are you going to make for me? I could really go for pork or beef wontons."

I rooted around the fridge and found some leftover sirloin steak, cream cheese, and cheddar cheese. I knew we also had tomatoes from my brother-in-law's garden.  A filling was born. I diced the tomatoes and made a quick salsa of them with minced garlic and some lime juice, as I wanted the tomatoes to pick up more flavor. I diced the steak and added minced garlic, parsley, and chives. Then I added some cream cheese to act as a binder and a little cheddar cheese for flavor. Salt, pepper and the tomatoes from the salsa (I didn't add much of the salsa juice, as I didn't want my filling to be wet), and I was done. A picture of the filling is below.

The beauty of any kind of filled dumpling -- wontons, potstickers, empanadas, pierogis, etc. -- is that the sky is the limit when it comes to filling.  You can stay traditional or you can stray and make a different yet tasty filling.  The filling I made today gives a slight nod to Mexico, but the combination of beef, cheese, and tomatoes makes sense. If I had leftover gravy, carrots, and potatoes, I might have gone toward a beef pie filling. If I had feta and leftover veggies, I may have stuffed them with those.

You can use whatever you have around, as long as the filling tastes good.

A few tips...

 When you are making a filling:
  • Your filling should be moist but not wet. Wet fillings and frying in oil don't go too well together.
  • Cream cheese is a great neutral binder.  It adds a creaminess to your filling when the wontons are cooked.
  • Make your filling a little on the salty side, as the seasoning has to flavor the wonton skins too.
  • Make a couple test wontons.
When you are stuffing the wontons:
  • Put about a tbs. in the near center of the wonton. You will know after making a few wontons what is too much or too little. You want a balance between filling and wrapper.
  • Take out only a few wonton wrappers at a time. Cover the rest with a damp paper towel, so they don't dry out.
  • Use egg white to seal the wontons. Egg white acts like glue, and it's important to have a good seal on the wontons that will be fried. Use a brush or your finger and lightly brush the edges with egg white.
  • When you seal the wonton, bring the top points of the triangle together and press together.  Then starting from the filling, press outward toward the edges.  You want to start pressing from the filling out, so that you can get rid of any air bubbles.  Make sure that no stray filling is breaking your seal.  If you leave air bubbles or your wonton is not fully sealed, the wonton is likely to break open during cooking.
When you are frying:
  • I use a big, deep skillet and fill it with about 1 or 1 1/2 inches of oil -- just enough to cover the wontons.
  • I fry at around 365 degrees F. If I don't have a thermometer, I use a small piece of bread to test the heat of the oil.  If I put it in and nothing really happens, the oil is not ready.  If I put it in an it bubbles really quickly and browns in less than a minute, it's too hot.  If I put it in and it bubbles merrily and browns within a couple minutes, then it's the right temperature.
  • The filling is already cooked, so the wontons only have to cook a few minutes. I flip them when the underside is browned, and when the other side is down, I put them on a paper towel-lined plate.
Serve and watch them disappear in minutes!


Filling of your choice
Wonton skins
Egg white


Make a filling.  Tips are above.

Create a wonton-making station at your kitchen table with a plate, the wonton skin package (opened) and covered with a damp paper towel, a bowl with egg white, a pastry brush, and a foil-covered baking sheet. If another person is helping you, they can have their own plate, but you both can share the bowl of egg white.

Take out three or four wonton skins and place them on the plate. Put about a tbs. of filling in the center of each wonton.  Brush the edges of the wonton skins with the egg white. Take one of the wontons and bring two opposite points together to make the top of the triangle.  Seal the rest of the wonton by sealing closest to the filling and working your way out, getting rid of any air bubbles along the way. Make sure no filling is compromising the seal.  Please the wonton on the baking sheet and repeat the process until down.

Fill a large, deep skillet with 1 to 1 1/2 inches of oil and heat to 365 degrees F. Put in as many wontons as you can without crowding them.  Cook until browned on one side for a few minutes, and then flip over.

When done, place on a paper-towel lined plate to wick away any excess oil.

Plate wontons on a nice plate and serve.  Enjoy.

Monday, August 6, 2012


My brother-in-law and family came back to the United States to visit after four years of being away.  They live in Guam, which is halfway around the world from us. My sister-in-law, Liz, is Greek, so my younger daughter and I made her some koulourakia.  Koulorakia are lightly sweetened cookies or biscuits -- they seem to me a slightly softer version of Italian biscotti.

I went online and used a recipe from,  I halved the recipe and made over 50 3-inch cookies.

I used a chopstick as my ruler to make each cookie.
The dough come out soft and pliable.  I took chunks of the dough, rolled it with my hands into long ropes and then cut them down into about 7-inch pieces.  Each piece I would fold in half and twist a few times around. Christina would brush them with egg wash and sprinkle them with white sesame seeds.

After 12 minutes at 375 degrees F, the cookies were lightly browned and done. Liz declared them, "perfect."

Monday, July 2, 2012

Rewind: Beef Brisket on the Big Green Egg

I haven't posted much this year, but I have an excuse.  Earlier this year I reconnected with some friends from, a Usenet group in which I was heavily involved in the early- to mid-1990s. They are now on Facebook -- RFC on Facebook -- so it is just SO easy to spend time there that the months just slip away.  I am a virtual Rip Van Winkle ...

If you are interested in food, come join us by clicking the link above or searching for "RFC on Facebook" on Facebook.

After a week of British pub food in London, my family was clamoring for some good ole American BBQ. I fired up the Big Green Egg, my favorite smoker in the world, and cooked us up some brisket and ribs. After 5 1/2 hours, we had some succulent, juicy brisket which I served with oven fries and gorgonzola salad.

It's nice to be home.

Below is my original post on how to smoke brisket on the Big Green Egg.  Enjoy!


Okay, I admit it.

I bought my husband a Big Green Egg for his birthday and then proceeded to cook on it a bunch of times before he got to use it.

It's not my fault he's had to travel so much for business, is it?

Today Mark came home from the grocery store with a beef brisket to try out on the Big Green Egg. My ten-year-old, Christina, showed him how to light the lumpwood charcoal and get it to a temperature of 250 degrees.

Meanwhile, I generously seasoned each side of the brisket with a BBQ spice rub, kosher salt, and pepper. You can let it sit overnight with seasoning or even brine it first and then season it.

But I didn't.

I just seasoned it and as soon as the grill was ready, we put it in to cook low and slow.

After about 5 hours, the brisket reached an internal temperature of 197, and we pulled it out and let it rest for about 20 minutes.

Boy, was this good. Moist and tender.

And we even forgot to throw some hickory chips in there to get some great smoky flavor. Next time.

I recommend checking out the blog, Bucky's BBQ and Bread -- Curt helped me out when I first got the Big Green Egg (oh I mean, when my husband got the Big Green Egg). His site is chock full of great BBQ and other delectable eats. Also, Another Pint Please has a brisket recipe using a brine and the site does a nice job of describing how to cook the brisket on a Weber kettle.

If you don't have a Big Green Egg, maybe now's the time to get one. It's da bomb.

1 Beef brisket
Penzey's BBQ 3000 or another spice rub
Kosher salt

Score the fat side of the brisket with a cross hatch pattern. Generously season the brisket on both sides with BBQ seasoning, salt, and pepper.

Heat the grill to 225-250 degrees. Cook brisket 4-5 hours or until it reaches an internal temperature of 195-200 degrees, turning it a couple times during the cooking process.

Take it off the grill, cover it with foil, and let rest about 15-20 minutes. Cut and serve with BBQ sauce.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Crazy or Genius?: Matzoh Ball and Wonton Soup

Last fall, my friend Susan Bralower and I did a trade.  She taught me how to make matzo ball soup and her famous brisket, and I taught her how to make Asian scallion pancakes and Japanese dumplings.

I was reminded of our fun cooking evening tonight as I was craving some warm soup to make this dreary, cold Spring day a little nicer.  As I was prepping, my husband came into the kitchen and asked, "What are you making?" I replied, "Matzo ball soup."

He laughed.

He thought it was funny that an Asian gal was making a Jewish soup for her Filipino and Irish family members.

I decided to make it a "Jasian" (Jewish-Asian) soup by adding some pork wontons to the soup.  Why not?  Both soups on their own are famous comfort foods.  Also, my picky family members could decide whether they wanted to eat either matzo balls or wontons, or have both together.

I googled "matzo ball wonton soup," and nothing came up in the entire internet universe.  So I will be the first to post a recipe!  I'm excited about that.

One of the reasons it may not have come up is that throwing pork wontons in matzo ball soup is NOT kosher, both for the pork and the pasta wrapper.  But since we are not a kosher household, I did not worry about the infraction.  I also used baking powder in the matzo balls, and that's not kosher either as it  is a chemical leavener. Even the matzo meal I used clearly said on the box, "Not for Passover Use!"

Clearly I am out of order for Passover. A quick substitution of chicken filling, however, might make this soup an option for my Jewish friends on other days.

The results?  Fantastic.  My family members could customize their bowls, and to finish off their soups, they could add soy sauce and sesame oil.

I am not an expert on matzo balls, but I know that I like them fluffy and soft. To that end, the tips my friend Susan have given me have come in handy, and I will pass them on to you:

1) Following the recipe on the back of the Streit's matzo meal box works just fine.

2) Add seltzer and/or baking powder to keep the matzo balls fluffy.  This may not be allowed if you are keeping kosher, but if not, they work great.

3) DO NOT overmix the batter, which will result in tough matzo balls.  Mix together until just incorporated.

4) You must refrigerate the matzo mixture for at least 30 minutes.  This is so the matzo meal can absorb the liquid.  You will notice that when you make the mixture, it will seem a little loose.  After its resting time, the batter will have firmed up. Do not remix.  Just go to the matzo ball making phase.

5) DO NOT overhandle the mixture when making the matzo balls.  Moisten your palms and gently and lightly roll into golf ball size balls. I made them slightly smaller, as I didn't want them to be significantly bigger than the wontons.

6) Simmer in salted water.  I asked Susan why she just didn't cook them in the chicken broth, and she said they would absorb too much of the broth, and you wouldn't have any left for soup.  If you have enough broth, you could cook them in the broth, but if not, salted water does the trick.

7) DO NOT open the lid once the matzo balls are cooking. I suspect this is because you want the steam to build up in the pot, so that it will cook the parts of the matzo balls that are sticking up out of the water. Having completely forgotten Susan's advice, I did lift up the cover to see if the water was boiling and not simmering.  Oops. My matzo balls were fine, but it's probably worth not risking it if you're making it.

Matzo Ball and Wonton Soup
Serves 6

Chicken broth (Homemade or 3 cartons of College Broth chicken broth)
2-3 carrots, cleaned, peeled and sliced
2-3 celery stalks, cleaned, and sliced
18 wontons (I had these in my freezer)
1 batch of matzo balls from the recipe on the back of the Streit's matzo meal box
Fresh parsley
Condiments: soy sauce, sesame oil

Prepare your matzo balls first (see recipe below).

Bring chicken broth to a simmer in a Dutch oven.

While chicken broth is heating, saute carrots and celery pieces in a tbs. of olive oil for 3-4 minutes.

When chicken broth is simmering, add carrots, celery, the pre-cooked matzo balls, and the wontons.

Simmer for 10 minutes until vegetables are tender and wontons are cooked. Add fresh chopped parsley to finish.

Everyone can serve themselves and customize their bowls, by getting both matzo balls and wontons, or sticking to either matzo balls and wontons.  Diners can also add soy sauce and sesame oil to their individual bowls to taste.

Matzo Balls

1 cup Streit's matzo meal (or other matzo meal mix)
4 large eggs
1/4 cup oil or chicken fat (schmaltz)
1/4 cup seltzer or water
1 tsp. kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1 tsp. baking powder (optional)

In a bowl, beat eggs.  Add seltzer water, oil, salt, pepper and baking powder.  Whisk together well.

Add matzo meal and stir until incorporated.  Mixture will be a little loose.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour to 1 hour.  It can also rest overnight.

When you are ready to cook the matzo balls, fill a large pot (e.g., a 5-quart dutch oven) with water and bring it to a boil.  Add kosher salt to the water to make it salty.

While the water is coming to a boil, take the mixture out of the fridge and make matzo balls.  Moisten palms with cold water and make matzo balls the size of a golf ball (they will expand and get much bigger doing cooking). When making the matzo balls, handle them gently and lightly in order to make fluffy matzo balls.  Do not densely pack the balls or overhandle the mixture. Put finished balls on a plate or cookie sheet until you are done forming the matzo balls.

When water is boiling, reduce the heat to low or simmer.  Add the matzo balls, making sure they have enough room to move and float. Cover and do not open during the cooking process.  Simmer for about 30 minutes.

Remove balls with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl or cookie sheet.

To finish, simmer the matzo balls in chicken broth for 10-15 minutes before serving.

If you don't want to use all the matzo balls you just made, you can put them on a lined cookie sheet, not touching each other, and flash freeze them.  When they are frozen, put them in a Ziploc baggie for future use.  Or you can freeze them in chicken broth.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Momofuku-inspired Ramen


Mmm ... ramen.  Since I lived in Tokyo after college, I discovered that ramen was more than those cheap little packs I grew up with, and I developed a preference for shoyu ramen, or soy sauce ramen which is Tokyo-style ramen.

When I make quick-style ramen for us, I use the noodles from the cheap packs, but instead of using the seasoning packet, I make an easy Asian broth, which consists of chicken broth infused with a little grated ginger, sliced scallions, soy sauce, and ground white pepper to taste.  I've bought sliced pork from the deli section of the grocery store to add to the ramen and assorted veggies like thinly sliced napa cabbage, spinach, etc.  I loved boiled eggs in my ramen, but my girls definitely pass on that!

In any case, this is one of the fastest dinners ever.

The Momofuku restaurant is famous for ramen, and its cookbook has detailed instructions on how to make their ramen.  It goes kind of like this: make dashi broth, make tare, make shredded pork, make seasoned menma (bamboo shoots), make soft-boiled eggs, etc.

Momofuku's way is not the fastest way ever, but it's certainly informative, and you can then pick and choose what you have time to do.

Momofuku Ramen Broth

Recipe by David Chang – Momofuku Cookbook
Makes 5 quarts – this is enough for about 10 portions of ramen. Make the entire recipe. It freezes nicely and making less seems like a waste of time when you’ve got a pot on the stove all day. So make all of it. David recommends it!
Two 3X6 inch pieces of konbu (dried kelp, find this at Asian markets)
6 quarts of water (use at least an 8-quart stock pot)
2 cups dried shiitakes, rinsed well (clean them good, or you’ll end up with a scummy broth)
4 pounds free-range chicken, either a whole bird or legs
2.5 pounds pork neck bones
1 pound smoky bacon
1 bunch scallions
1 medium onion, cut in half
2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
Taré (this is basically the main seasoning – the primary “salt” component – in ramen. This recipe takes another hour to make and I didn’t have enough pots or the time to make it this time around, but I will in the future) – or – equal parts kosher salt, soy sauce and mirin to taste (more about this in the directions below)

  1. Rinse the konbu under running water, then combine it with the water in an 8-quart stockpot. Bring the water to a simmer over high heat and turn off the heat. Let steep for 10 minutes.
  2. Remove the konbu from the pot and add the shiitakes. Turn the heat back up to high and bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down so the liquid simmers gently. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the mushrooms are plumped and re-hydrated and have lent the broth their color and aroma.
  3. Heat the oven to 400°F.
  4. Remove the mushrooms from the pot with a spider or slotted spoon. Add the chicken to the pot. Keep the liquid at a gentle simmer, with bubbles lazily and occasionally breaking the surface. Skim and discard any froth, foam, or fat that rises to the surface of the broth while the chicken is simmering, and replenish the water as necessary to keep the chicken covered. After about 1 hour, test the chicken: the meat should pull away from the bones easily. If it doesn’t, simmer until that’s the case and then remove the chicken from the pot with a spider or slotted spoon. (After I let the chicken cool off, I shredded all the meat to save for future use and tossed the bones in the freezer to make a future chicken stock)
  5. While the chicken is simmering, put the pork bones on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan and slide them into the oven to brown for an hour; turn them over after about 30 minutes to ensure even browning.
  6. Remove the chicken from the pot and add the roasted bones to the broth, along with the bacon. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the broth at a steady simmer; skim the scum and replenish the water as needed. After 45 minutes, fish out the bacon and discard it. Then gently simmer the pork bones for 6 to 7 hours—as much time as your schedule allows. Stop adding water to replenish the pot after hour 5 or so.
  7. Add the scallions, onion and carrots to the pot and simmer for the final 45 minutes.
  8. Remove and discard the spent bones and vegetables. Pass the broth through a strainer lined with cheesecloth. You can use the broth at this point, or, if you’re making it in advance and want to save on storage space, you can do what Momofuku does: return it to the pot and reduce it by half over high heat, then portion out the concentrated broth into containers. It keeps for a couple of days in the refrigerator and up to a few months in the freezer. When you want to use it, dilute it with an equal measure of water and reheat it on the stove.
  9. In either case, finish the broth by seasoning it to taste with taré – or – 2 or 3 tablespoons of combined kosher salt, soy sauce and mirin, per quart. Taste it and add more seasoning to get it right. It should be very seasoned, almost too salty. Under-seasoned broth is a crime. I made a seasoning mix of salt, soy sauce and mirin to season the entire 5 quarts I ended up with, but you may have to add additional seasoning after the broth “sits” overnight.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Grandma Joyce's Apple Cake

Since we have had an unnaturally warm winter this year, it feels like we are a month ahead of schedule. The crocuses and daffodils are already stretching their green shoots out of the ground, and the light is bright and clear in the morning. It shines through the windows, beckoning us out of bed to meet the day.

This morning I got up and headed straight for the kitchen.  Yes, I needed to get my cup of coffee, but the need to bake an apple cake propelled me as well.  The cake is a cinch to make, and I thought it would be nice if my family was greeted by the fragrance of apples and cinnamon wafting from the kitchen this fine Sunday morning.

If you ever need a great breakfast treat or quick dessert, this apple cake won't disappoint.  Enjoy.

Grandma Joyce's Apple Cake

3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups chopped apples (about three large apples; I prefer Granny Smith apples)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and lightly flour a 9 1/2 x 13 inch pan and set aside.

In large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Mix to mix sure ingredients are distributed.

In another bowl, mix together eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla, apples and walnuts.

Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix together until incorporated.  The batter will be thick, as when it cooks, the apples will provide the necessary moisture to the cake.

Spread the batter out in the pan.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes to an hour.  The cake will be done when it's nicely browned on top and when an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

If you want to use a bundt pan instead, bake for approximately 1 1/2 hours.

Mardi Gras: Chicken and Andouille Sausage Casserole

On Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, I had a craving for shrimp ettoufee with its dark roux-based sauce gliding its way through white pearls of rice.

Since my younger daughter doesn't eat seafood, that was out. I decided to make a saucey casserole with chicken and andouille sausage instead.  I made a medium-dark roux, and with it, made a gravy of sauted onions, white wine and chicken broth. To the gravy, I added some seasoned and seared chicken, andouille sausage, and mushrooms, and then let it cook in the oven until it was bubbly and browned on the surface.

With rice and a liberal dousing of hot sauce, this was highly decadent and satisfying.

If this isn't a way to indulge before Lent, I don't know what is.

I didn't use a recipe, but Emeril has one you might try out. I'm sure he knows his way around New Orleans cooking.

Chicken and Andouille Sausage Casserole

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon Essence, recipe follows
  • 2 to 2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 dry bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 ounces andouille sausage, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onions
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, stems trimmed, wiped clean, and sliced
  • 6 boiled artichoke hearts, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons chopped green onions
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon leaves
  • Toasted sliced French bread, accompaniment


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a heavy plastic bag, combine the flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the Essence. Add the chicken and toss until well coated. Shake to remove any excess breading and reserve the remaining flour.
In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, remaining Essence, cheese, and butter and set aside.
In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken in batches as necessary and cook until browned on each side, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Add the sausage and cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until almost browned, about 4 minutes. Add the onions, garlic, and cayenne and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until they are soft and give off their liquid, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the reserved flour and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chicken, artichokes, stock, cream, green onions, parsley, and tarragon, stir, and bring to a boil. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the top and bake until bubbly and the top has a golden crust, about 25 minutes.
Remove from the oven and serve hot over toasted French bread.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Empanadas with Barcelona Cookbook Empanada Dough

I love long weekends, don't you?  That third day makes me feel like I have all the time in the world, and I can cook all day.  This weekend I happily spent time in my kitchen making empanadas.

Empanadas are a great way to use up leftovers.  I made a filling from leftover Thomas Keller roast chicken, gravy, salsa, and a little crushed tomatoes, mixing it with sauteed onions and garlic, spices (cumin, chili powder, oregano, and kosher salt and pepper), and a little cream cheese to bind.  

Whenever you make empanada filling, it should be juicy but not runny.  It also should be bold in flavor as the little morsel of filling needs to carry the dough as well.

For the dough, I tried out my friend Andy Pforzheimer's recipe from his Barcelona Cookbook (recipe below), and it was fabulous, tender and soft.  I would expect no less from Andy, as I've made several other Barcelona Cookbook recipes on my blog with great success.  His restaurants are also spectacular.

I did make one modification to his recipe, substituting vodka for half of the water called for in his recipe. The alcohol apparently reduces gluten formation, and it burns off during cooking, leaving a flaky crust.  

Here's the dough when it's done mixing.  It balls up around the dough hook attachment.  If you find it's too wet and not balling up, add little sprinklings of flour until it gathers itself together.  Conversely, if it's dry and crumbly, add drops of water until it comes together.

After the dough has come together, I like to divide it into six portions.  That way I can work with smaller pieces of dough at a time.  The dough should rest in the fridge for at least 45 minutes.  Before rolling, you want the dough out at room temperature for 20-30 minutes, so it will roll out more easily.

I like to make a few test empanadas before I make the rest of them. Since I was making appetizer-sized empanadas, I used a 2 1/2 inch round cutter (I only had one with a scalloped edge; a straight edge is perfectly fine). I fried these at 370 degrees Fahrenheit for about 4 minutes.

I use my husband as a guinea pig to try them out.  I think he doesn't mind.  After I tasted one, I added a little more salt and some shredded Mexican cheese to the filling.

Now it's production time! I think the easiest and fastest way to do it is to roll out the dough and cut out all the disks.  Then place the filling in the center of the disks.  I use egg white to help seal the empanadas, so at this point, I will brush three or four of them at a time and then close them up as the egg white dries out pretty quickly. Finally, I crimp all of them at a time with a fork to make sure the edges are bound together. When you close the empanadas, make sure none of the filling has compromised the edge of the empanadas, as they won't fully seal that way and will open up during frying.

If you bake them, having perfectly sealed empanadas isn't as big as an issue.  After brushing them with an egg wash (an egg whisked with a little milk), I baked some as well at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.

Which one won in our house?  The fried.  But the baked ones are delicious too.

I brought both the baked and fried empanadas to my friend's house as an appetizer, serving them with a Barcelona Cookbook roasted red pepper sauce. They were a big hit!

Oh, and guess what I did the next day.  You got it -- beef empanadas with leftover skirt steak and pot roast.  These were just as yummy.  And I brought them to another friend's house as an appetizer.  Enjoy!

Barcelona Restaurant Empanada Dough
(Modified recipe from the Barcelona Cookbook)
Makes around 70 2 1/2 inch empanada disks

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tbs. sugar
1/2 tbs. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 large egg 
1 egg yolk (save the egg white in another bowl to use in sealing the empanadas)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup plus 2 tbs. water (I used 1/2 water and 1/2 vodka here)

In the bowl of the electric mixer with the dough hook or paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder on low speed until ingredients are well incorporated.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk (save the egg white in another bowl), and vinegar.

Add the egg mixture and melted, cooled butter to the flour and mix on low speed for one minute, until blended. Increase the speed to medium and add the water.  Mix for about two minutes to incorporate fully.  When the dough is ready, it will gather in one ball around the dough hook or paddle.  If it's not doing that and is wet,  add a little sprinkling of flour at a time until it comes together. If it's dry and crumbly, add a few drops of water at a time until it comes together.

Take the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured work surface and give it a few final kneads.  It will feel really soft and silky.  Divide into three portions.  Shape each into a rounded disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least four hours and up to three days. [Note, I refrigerated the dough for about 45 minutes, and I thought it was fine.]

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Eggs Benedict

This post is for Sandy Norelli, who was kind enough to write on my blog that she was glad I was back after a writing hiatus.  It's nice to know someone noticed I was gone.

Why did I stop writing?  It boils down to this:

Picture from here.

A birthday present from my husband, the light and portable Ipad proved addictive.  I could check my emails, play my music, read my Kindle books, and surf the Internet.  I could do everything on the Ipad that I could do on my laptop -- except blog.

Thus happened my abrupt withdrawal from the blog hemisphere.  I still cooked and posted on my Facebook page, but my real blog slowly starved.

I am back again, and with a yummy Eggs Benedict for today. I was flipping through the MasterChef Cookbook and saw their foolproof way of poaching an egg, which involves cooking it in its shell first.  Cooking the egg briefly in its shell brings it to room temperature, which helps it keep its shape while poaching and also speeds along the cooking of the egg white so that the egg yolk does not overcook.

If you haven't ever poached an egg or have had poaching disaster, it's fun to try out a new technique.

I also wanted to try making a blender hollandaise sauce, which is a fast and easy way to make hollandaise sauce.  Simply Recipes, which is one of the most comprehensive and reliable food blogs out there, had a recipe which I used. 

I didn't have the traditional English muffin and Canadian bacon, so I just used a piece of crispy, warm toast and some perfectly fried bacon as the foundation for my silky egg and lemony, buttery sauce.


Eggs Benedict (for 4)

4 Eggs 
Hollandaise Sauce (see recipe below)
2 English muffins, split in half
4 Canadian bacon

Make the hollandaise sauce (see recipe below) and set aside in a warm place, such as on the stovetop if you have a place to set things down, or next to the stovetop.

Fill a wide pan halfway with water and add 1 tbs. of vinegar.  Bring to a low simmer over medium heat.

While the water is heating, heat another skillet over medium heat.  Add Canadian bacon and warm through on each side.  When heated through, turn off the skillet and set aside.

When the water is barely bubbling, add the whole eggs in their shell for 10 seconds.

Remove the eggs from the water.  Crack the egg on a flat surface into a small bowl or ladle and then add the egg back into the water in a continuous tilt.  Repeat with the remaining eggs, making sure to space them apart, so they don't touch.

While eggs are poaching, toast English muffins. When done, put one half of an English muffin on an individual plate and place a piece of Canadian bacon on top of each English muffin half.

Poach for three minutes.  Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and pat the bottom of the egg in the spoon on a paper towel to remove any excess water.

Place the egg on a toasted English muffin with a piece of Canadian bacon on top.  

Top with hollandaise sauce and serve immediately.

3 egg yolks (see how to separate eggs)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (if using salted butter, skip the added salt)

Melt the butter slowly in a small pot or in the microwave. Try not to let it boil – you want the moisture in the butter to remain there and not steam away.

Add the egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and cayenne (if using) into your blender. Blend the egg yolk mixture at a medium to medium high speed until it lightens in color, about 20-30 seconds. The friction generated by the blender blades will heat the yolks a bit. The blending action will also introduce a little air into them, making your hollandaise a bit lighter.
Once the yolks have lightened in color, turn the blender down to its lowest setting (if you only have one speed on your blender it will still work), and drizzle in the melted butter slowly, while the blender is going. Continue to buzz for another couple seconds after the butter is all incorporated.
Turn off the blender and taste the sauce. It should be buttery, lemony and just lightly salty. If it is not salty or lemony enough, you can add a little lemon juice or salt to taste. If you want a thinner consistency, add a little warm water. Pulse briefly to incorporate the ingredients one more time.
Store until needed in a warm spot, like on or next to the stovetop. Use within an hour or so.
Makes about 1 cup of sauce, good for about 4-6 servings.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Super Bowl: Black Bean Salad and Other Fare

Something miraculous happened the other day.  My recluse husband said, "Your social tendencies are rubbing off on me.  I think we should have a pre-Super Bowl party."

This was shocking, particularly since Mark had to endure three holiday parties at our house in one week this past December.  I thought it was brilliant to have three parties of 30-50 people each over the course of 5 days.  What a challenge for a foodie like myself to pull this off -- and not take a day off of work. We could see everyone in our circles.  And I could prep for three parties all at once.

It worked. And apparently in more ways than one, since my husband is now actually suggesting a party.

So here I am, thinking through the menu.

Mexican-inspired chicken wings are a must.  Every time I make these, they fly from the plate. 

With some Frank's red hot sauce and butter, they are easily transformed to buffalo wings, another crowd favorite.

Chili, of course. I have a reputation to uphold.

I also have six pounds of Italian sausage from the famed Arthur Avenue in the Bronx for sausage and peppers.

My husband would be completely happy to not see a vegetarian dish in sight, but black bean salad would be perfect.  Marinated in a vinaigrette and paired with crunchy cucumbers and juicy tomatoes, it goes well with just about any standard Super Bowl fare you can throw at it.

Plus, it comes together in minutes, and you don't need a recipe.

Black Bean Salad

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
Homemade vinaigrette (see below) or your favorite store-bought vinaigrette
Hothouse cucumber, diced (this is the long cucumber that comes wrapped in plastic)
Grape tomatoes, cut in 1/4s
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Optional: diced red onion, minced garlic, diced red pepper or other vegetable, chopped cilantro or parsley

Put black beans in a bowl. Add cucumber, tomatoes, vinaigrette, salt and pepper to your liking. If you like, add onion, garlic, and chopped fresh herbs.  Let marinate for an hour and serve (no need to refrigerate).

Before serving, taste and adjust seasonings.



Homemade vinaigrette is easy to make and economical too.  And all you have to do is remember this ratio to make vinaigrette any time: 1:4.  That's 1 part acid (lemon, lime, vinegar, etc.) to 4 parts olive oil. You can stop right there, or you can then add a little mustard (for flavor and to help the vinaigrette emulsify), and salt and pepper. If you want to go further, you could add some garlic and/or shallots.  The sky's the limit, or you can be a minimalist.

I am usually a lemon, olive oil, mustard, salt and pepper vinaigrette kind of gal.

With the 1:4 ratio, you can make a little as a you want (e.g., a tsp. of acid to 4 tsp. olive oil) or a huge vat of a salad dressing. If you want to cut the oil, you could go to a 1:3 ratio, but you might have to add a little sugar to cut the acidity. If you use a cheap balsamic vinegar, which contains a lot of sugar, the 1:3 or even 1:2 ratio will work just fine.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sarajevo Moussaka with Mushrooms and Zucchini

My house is full of die-hard carnivores. They turn up their noses at anything that is meat-free.

But this weekend, Ulrike, a German exchange student who is a vegetarian, came to stay with us. What to do?

Ask my friend Julia, that's what.  She's an awesome person and cook, and in typical Julia-fashion, she answered me without missing a beat: "Make the Sarajevo Moussaka from the Sundays at Moosewood Cookbook.  It's got mushrooms and zucchini, and it's topped with a feta-egg mixture. She will love it!"

I found an online version and went from there.  Like any layered dish, making this takes time.  But with the snow falling outside, all I wanted to do was stay inside and cook. I made the tomato sauce, starting with sauteed onions and garlic, and then using a 29 oz. can of crushed tomatoes, white wine, veggie broth, and some leftover pesto I had in the freezer. I roasted zucchini slices in a 450 degree (F) oven until they were lightly browned.  I sauteed the mushrooms and onions and finished them with some white wine and soy sauce. Finally, I parboiled the no-boil lasagna noodles until they were flexible.

With our mise en place complete, Ulrike came in and helped put the moussaka together.

Getting ready to layer the moussaka.

Ulrike put down the first layer of tomato sauce and then a layer of noodles.  Since our casserole was an oval shape, she cut pieces of noodle to fit.  Then we put down half the zucchini and one cup of the mushrooms, and added some more sauce. We laid down the next layer of noodles in a different direction than the first layer to give the moussaka structure. Two more layers and we were done.

Ulrike then whisked the eggs, feta, and some fresh parsley together and topped the moussaka:

After an hour and ten minutes in a 350 degree (F) oven, it came out looking like this:

It's a tad dark.  I should have covered it with foil when it was browned enough, probably around 45 minutes, but I got caught up in watching 30 Rock, which I had dvr-ed.  What can I say?  I am human.

Finally, we let it rest for 15 minutes, tented with foil, so that the moussaka could set.  When you let it set, it cuts very nicely.

As Julia predicted, Ulrike did indeed love the moussaka.  She kept saying, "This is so good. This is so good." My carnivore husband even tried it and liked it.

Which made this carnivore very, very happy.

My tips:

1) Parboil the noodles. Even though the noodles I used are no-boil lasagna noodles, I still like to blanche them in heavily salted and boiling water for a couple minutes until they are flexible.  The benefits are many: 1) you don't have to worry about them not fully cooking through in the oven, 2) when they are flexible, you can cut noodles to fit into the pan, and 3) cooking them in heavily salted water means the noodles are seasoned, and you don't need to worry about your dish being bland.

2) Criss-cross the noodles when layering. Layering the noodles in different directions adds structural integrity to the moussaka structure.  When you cut it, it stays in nice pieces.

3) Let the moussaka rest for 15 minutes, so that it will set.  When it comes time to cut slices, the slices will stay together. Tent it with foil, so it stays warm.

Sarajevo Moussaka with Mushrooms and Zucchini

I loosely followed this online recipe from Food and Wine, which is a variation of the original recipe in the Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant Cookbook. I cut the ingredients in half to make a moussaka for 4 people, except for the tomato sauce as I wanted to make sure I had enough to layer the casserole, and I wanted some to serve at table-side. I made my own version of the tomato sauce as well.  I'm sure you could use your favorite jarred sauce if you don't want to make your own sauce.  Just make sure you have around 3 cups of sauce.

Please note that if you want to do this from start to finish, it will take about two hours of prep and cooking time.

To use throughout the recipe:
Olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
Fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
Kosher salt and pepper

Tomato Sauce
1/4 of the chopped onions
1 clove garlic, minced
1 29 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tbs. finely chopped basil or 2 tbs. pesto

Mushroom Mixture
1 lb. sliced mushrooms
3/4 of the chopped onions
1 tbs. soy sauce
1/4 cup white wine
1 tbs. finely chopped dill (I used 1 tsp. dried oregano as a substitute)

1 lb. zucchini, sliced cross-wise in 1/2 inch slices
Olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper

12 no-boil lasagna noodles (I used Barilla brand)

Egg-feta Topping
3 eggs, whisked
1/2 pound crumbled feta cheese

Turn the oven to 450 degrees (F).

Put sliced zucchini in a large bowl and toss in enough olive oil so that each piece is lightly coated with oil.  Place on a non-stick baking sheet (I line mine with a Silpat) and lightly sprinkle each piece with kosher salt and pepper. Set aside until oven is preheated.

Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  When hot (hover your hand above the skillet and when you can only do it a few seconds, it's hot enough), add a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Swirl the oil around and add 1/4 of the chopped onions.  Turn down the heat to medium-low.  Add salt and pepper to season. Cook for five minutes until softened, stirring occasionally. Add the white wine, tomatoes, and veggie broth. Simmer uncovered about 15-20 minutes. Stir in the basil or pesto, and some chopped parsley (optional).  Taste, adding salt and pepper as necessary.  It should not be a thick sauce but a loose sauce, as some of the liquid will be absorbed by the noodles when cooking.  If it seems really thick, add a little more water or veggie broth.

If the oven is preheated now, put the zucchini in the oven.  Cook for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned.  When done, remove from the oven and set aside. Turn oven off if you're not going to cook the moussaka right away or turn it down to 350 degrees (F) if you are.

Fill a large pot with water and heat to boil. Mostly cover, so that it comes to a boil more quickly.

While the water is heating, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 1/4 cup of olive oil and swirl around. Add mushrooms and onions.  Turn down the heat to medium. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are browned. Add wine and soy sauce and cook a few minutes until the liquid has reduced.  Add the dill or oregano, and salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Turn off heat and set aside.

When the water is boiling, add a generous amount of kosher salt.  I usually taste the water to make sure it's salty enough, as you want the water to season the noodles. Add the noodles, but don't walk away! Move the noodles around in the water, so they don't stick together, and when they are flexible, pull them out.  This takes just a couple minutes.  Lay them out individually on a Silpat or non-stick foil.

Now it's time to layer the moussaka.  It's easier if you divide your zucchini in 1/2 and put them in separate bowls, and divide your mushrooms in thirds and put them in separate bowls.

Here are the layers (listed as if you were looking at the casserole from the side, so start from the bottom of the list and work your way up)

Feta-egg mixture
Tomato sauce (1/2 cup)
Last noodle layer (2 Barilla no boil noodles)
Rest of the mushrooms (1 cup)
Tomato sauce (1/4 cup)
1 layer of noodles going in the other direction from the first ones (2 Barilla no boil noodles, plus 1/2 of one to fit the edges)
Tomato sauce (1/4 cup)
1 layer of mushrooms (use 1/3 of the mushrooms (1 cup))
1 layer of zucchini (use 1/2 the zucchini)
1 layer of noodles going in the other direction from the first ones (2 Barilla no boil noodles, plus 1/2 of one to fit the edges)
Tomato sauce (1/4 cup)
1 layer of noodles going in the other direction from the first ones (2 Barilla no boil noodles, plus 1/2 of one to fit the edges)
Tomato sauce (1/4 cup)
1 layer of mushrooms (use 1/3 of the mushrooms (1 cup))
1 layer of zucchini (use 1/2 the zucchini)
1 layer of noodles (don't overlap if possible;  2 Barilla no boil noodles, plus 1/2 of one to fit the edges)
Tomato sauce (1/2 cup)
Bottom of casserole pan

Whisk eggs, feta, and some chopped parsley (optional; for color) together and lay on top of the casserole.  Put the casserole in the 350 degree (F) oven and cook for 45 minutes until lightly browned.  Cover and cook another 15 minutes.

Take the moussaka out of the oven and tent with foil.  Let it rest for 15 minutes before cutting.

Serve with a simple green salad.  Delicious!