Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fixing Things and Empanadas

Can you fix things? Like if something around the house breaks? For example, a garage door opener? Mine broke this week. It goes down but when its time to head up, it just makes this clicking noise. I want to fix it. I walk into the garage and stare at it but apparently that’s not enough. Wiping the cobwebs away from the mechanical box thingy didn’t seem to do it either. I can’t fix things. I have to say that I have passed that skill on to my kids as well. One time, my teenagers left the car keys engaged without the engine running and when the battery died, my son thought to replace the battery. Jump starting never entered his mind. Now it’s not his fault. I gave him this skill (or lack of). I am going to have to call someone to come and look at the garage door opener.

Now that I’ve established my area of weakness, I’ll play more to my strength. I am pretty good in the kitchen and Olivia loves helping me in there. She has a great affinity for the messier jobs too. Cracking eggs and kneading dough seems to be tops. We’ve formed a pretty good team. If I can’t teach her to remodel a bathroom, perhaps I can pass on some kitchen skills. With a four-year-old’s unending list of questions combined with my love to talk about food, the fun is non stop. And no matter where she is in the house, she seems to sense the flour coming out of the pantry. Dutifully, she grabs her chair and heads to the work surface. We’re about to get busy.

I hope everyone cooks with their kids. If you don’t have any, I suggest you get some. And if that’s too much trouble, just borrow one. Olivia would love to come to your house and help you with the flour. On our agenda this time: Empanadas. I made some not too long ago and Lisa just loved them. This batch came out even better. Empanadas are a Latin pastry that can be filled with just about anything; pork, beef, chicken, cheese etc. Because every Latin culture has a variation of Empanadas, what one country calls an Empanada may be very different in another. The dough recipe I chose was this one. The cooking method is also variable. Ours were fried in peanut oil but baking is another way (more common actually and certainly healthier). I also chose frying because it’s much more forgiving if the dough is not perfect. Whatever your choice for dough, stick closely to the recipe because you’re now dealing with the science of bread. Failure here is complete failure. As a non-baker, I have no pearls of wisdom other than, I fried the damned dough; fool proof. Olivia finds the popping on the stove more entertaining too.

The filling here was quite a star for me. I slow roasted a sirloin the day before with vegetables for an extra lean pot roast. I find sirloin to be quite beefy in taste. It’s not typically highly marbled, so it not as buttery all by itself as say a Rib-eye or Tenderloin, but yet it packs a ton of that flavor that makes me maintain my carnivorous nature. It’s perfect for braising or slow roasting. It also holds up well in stew and, while not traditional, makes a mean braccioli (pronounced brajole). Today the plan is to use the fall apart characteristics from the 6 hour roasting to get the shredded beef effect found in Latin dished.

With some common ingredients found in Mexican and Latin American cooking, I made a filling worthy of the near perfect dough that Olivia had expertly rolled out and helped cut into 6 in rounds. Together we packed each Empanada and fried them to a light honey colored gold. The texture was remarkable. Each bite of the shell had a slight crispiness to the outside but the 1/8th inch thickness was perfectly chewy beneath. The filling had a surprising smokiness that made one think they were eating this on a cool desert night beneath a saguaro cactus with an open fire. Onion, Garlic, Cumin and Smoked Paprika combine to give this tender beef an over the top flavor that is simple and rustic with a definite air of sophistication.

A pedestrian street food in many places but a gourmet addition in mine and Olivia’s kitchen. We stuff ourselves on these decadent savory pastries while I contemplate that damned garage door. I have to remember to call someone.

Beef Filled Empanadas

For the roasted Sirloin (1 day before)

3-4 lb Sirloin Roast
1 yellow onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 carrots, roughly chopped
2 stalks Celery, roughly chopped
2 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 ½ cup red wine
Salt to taste but I use about 2 tbsp

Combine all ingredients in a crock pot and cook over low to medium low heat (200-250 degrees Fahrenheit) for about 6 hours. Remove the meat and rest on cutting board until cool (up to an hour). Meat should fall apart into strands very readily. If it does not continue to cook until it does. Pull meat apart using two forks and working away from each other. Cover in container and refrigerate overnight.

For the liquid remaining in the crock pot, strain and discard the solids and use the liquid in any recipe that calls for beef broth. We need about ¾ cup for the empanada filling. It can be frozen in an airtight container for at least a month or 2 (perhaps longer but that’s as long as I ever have).

For the filling

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion
1 tbsp salt
4 cloves garlic
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional or to taste)
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp smoked Paprika
1 ¼ cup beef broth
Pulled beef from day before

In a large sauce pan over medium heat add the oil and onions and salt and begin to sweat. Do not brown. Once soft and just becoming translucent (about 4-5 minutes) add the next 6 ingredients. After the tomato paste and spices combine and become aromatic (3-4 minutes) add the broth and pulled beef. Simmer over low heat until the broth is reduced and the mixture is thickened (about 10 minutes). Add broth if needed to desired consistency. Remove from heat and let cool an hour before making the empanadas.

Put these empanadas together

Empanada dough (such as this one)
Beef filling
Chopped green olives with pimento (enough for a few slices per empanada)
Enough Peanut oil to fill a large pot or deep fryer about 1/3 full (about 8 cups for me)
2 cups sour cream
3 green onions, thinly sliced
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper

The recipe I used made dough for about 15 empanadas. I had meat for about another 15 so I suggest doubling the dough recipe I used.

Roll the dough out to about 1/8th inch thick. Cut into about 6 inch rounds (don’t get hung up on exactly 6 inches; I used a stainless steel bowl that I guessed was about 6 inches in diameter but I could be off a bit). Using a floured surface to keep from sticking, add about 2 tablespoons of the beef mix to the center of each dough circle as well as a few slices of olive. Fold into a half moon shape. The edges should be crimped down with a fork using a rocking motion on the work surface. This will give you greater control so as not to penetrate the dough. This is both aesthetic and functional. It seals the half circle and makes for an attractive presentation.

Bring a pot of oil to 360-370 degrees Fahrenheit (If you don’t have a candy thermometer, get one –they are super cheap and oil temperature is crucial in most frying recipes). Add the empanadas in batches (only add as many as can float freely in the size vessel you are cooking in) and cook for 3-4 minutes. Remove to paper towel lined plate and lightly salt immediately. Continue to work in batches until finished. Empanadas can be kept warm in a 200 degree oven while waiting for the rest to finish.

Combine the sour cream, green onion, salt and pepper in a bowl and reserve as dip for empanadas.

I serve these family style on a platter with the Scallion sour cream on the side.

Depending on the exact size of your rounds, you should get 25-35 individual empanadas.
Our next project was home made potato gnocchi. I can’t wait to tell you about that. Till next time….

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

OK no word of a lie- the key in the ignition left on/dead battery thing happened to me just this morning- first day of school, no less. My kids don't drive yet so nobody to blame but myself. Fortunately I was able to jump start successfully. Going to give the roasted beet salad a try this evening, as we have much leftover corn from the holiday weekend cookout. Great pics of you and your daughter- I enjoy making a mess in the kitchen with mine too.