A cooking and baking journal

The Man with the Orange Clogs' Empanada

2/21/10: Empanadas and Easy Fruit Salad

Meal details: For the main course I made empanadas with a bacon, chorizo sausage, bell pepper, onion, and cheese filling. But these weren't your typical half moon shaped empanadas, these were of the full scale variety. And for a side dish I made a fruit salad that had pineapple, apple, oranges, bananas, and something a little different: stove-top pudding. Hmm. . . Interesting, huh?

Defining moments: It's kind of funny but this is my first time making stove-top pudding using a mix. :) I only helped stir the pot before! And this is the first time for empanadas.

Recipe sources: The empanada recipe is from Mario Batali, the host of Molto Mario and numerous other cooking shows. He is known for his exceptional knowledge of Italian cooking and of course everyone knows his scooter and orange clogs! You might remember him from the show, Mario Eats Italy. I haven't seen the show in years but that was one of the most interesting (and funny!) cooking related programs I've seen. I chose this recipe because I am part of the Food Network Chef Cooking Challenge that is being hosted by the writer of the I Thank My Mother blog. When I was searching for a Batali recipe I learned that Mario had (or does, not too sure) a show on PBS about his road trip in the great country of Spain. It is called Spain: On the Road Again. Boy, I would like to watch that!
The empanada recipe requires pizza dough and I made my own using a recipe from the 2500 Recipes from Everyday to Extraordinary cookbook. I discovered earlier while making my Le Hog Pizza that this is one great recipe!
The fruit salad recipe came from the October 2006 issue of Home Cooking Magazine. Here is the recipe for those whole are interested:

Easy Fruit Salad
  • 1 (3 1/2-ounce) package cook-and-serve vanilla pudding
  • 1 can pineapple tidbits
  • 1 apple chopped
  • 1 (11 ounce) can mandarin oranges
  • 3 bananas
Drain and reserve juice from canned fruits. Add 1 1/2 cups juice to vanilla pudding mix; cook until thick. Cool; add fruit. Serves 4 to 6.

What I learned: I learned what an empanada is. :) Yeah, that's always important. I sort of had a good idea of what it is but I get kind of confuse with all those calzone-type dishes. So what is it exactly? An empanada is a stuffed bread or pastry and comes from the Spanish word empanar, which means to wrap. In Spain, an empanada is usually a large circle that is cut into wedges, but in Portugal and Mexico, the empanadas are made in semi-circular shapes like the one seen here.
Did I learn anything else? None of the recipes I did this week were really foreign to me. I mean, the empanada recipe was very close to the way I prepare my BBQ Chicken Pizza; the only difference was adding another crust on top of the filling. And the fruit salad was really easy to do. So not many new techniques or ingredients this week.

Any modifications? Yes, I made modifications to both recipes. For the empanadas, I didn't roll out the dough in a circle, I just stretched the dough out to the shape of a cookie sheet. And by the way, there is a typo in the recipe. Where it says to roll out into a thin round, they mean a 14" round, not a 1/4 round. Yeah, it kind of confused me a bit! And I also substituted bacon for the pancetta and added a Monterey Jack cheese mix to the filling because my family can't have pizza without the cheese!
And for the fruit salad. I used two Clementine oranges instead of the canned mandarin oranges. And to reach the necessary amount of juice, I added some orange juice from the carton.

How it tasted? Super! Everyone enjoyed the empanadas immensely. The fruit salad was loved by some and was "OK," for others. It mainly was caused by the addition of bananas. Some don't like bananas mixed with other flavors, but for some, like me, they love it that way. So it was a sort of hit and miss recipe for this family.

How about a 2nd time? Yes, I will do both recipes again but will take away the bananas from the salad and just add more apples or oranges.

Oliver's "Twist" on Apple Pie

2/14/10: Cheesy Stuffed Meatballs and Appleberry Pie

Meal details: For the main course I made meatballs stuffed with mozzarella cheese to be served on top of spaghetti. And for dessert I made two apple pies, one with blueberries and orange added.

Defining moments: First time for me to make meatballs, an apple pie with additional fruit, and an apple pie made with frozen apples. Frozen apples? Learn more about me freezing Gravenstein apples here.

Recipe sources: The meatball recipe came from the cookbook, Ciao Italia - Five Ingredient Favorites by Mary Ann Esposito, the host of the Ciao Italia t.v. show. The appleberry pie recipe came from Jamie Oliver's website. Jamie Oliver is the host of The Naked Chef, Jamie's Kitchen, and Jamie at Home on the Food Network channel. I chose this appleberry pie because I am part of the FNCCC (Food Network Chef Cooking Challenge), being hosted by the writer of the I Thank My Mother blog.
I don't often see Jamie on Food Network now, and I only watched one episode of Jamie at Home. So he is one of the few chefs from Food Network that I haven't watched much!

What I learned: Hmm. . . Let me think. First off, I learned that I should take a shopping cart to the freezer when gathering the ingredients. :) You should have seen the load of freezer containers I brought up for this meal! A package of ground beef, two quarts of spaghetti sauce, three quarts of frozen apples, a quart of blueberries. . . What an armload.
Secondly, I learned that moving the ground beef to the fridge on Friday morning gives just the right amount of thawing time. I had no problem forming the meatballs.
Another thing I learned is that these pies love to spill their juices over during the baking process. I needed to place cookie sheets on the bottom rack to catch the falling juices from the two 'geysers' on the second level. :) And once the collected juices started to steam and later smoke. . . Well, you can guess the rest. Exhaust fan on full blast!

Any modifications? I made one modification to the meatball recipe. Instead of using the recommended ground chuck and sirloin, I used all ground chuck. Sirloin is a bit too expensive so that's why I made the change.
And I also made some changes to the pie recipe. To better explain what I did, here is my ingredient list: (Note: I am including cup equivalents to the gram weights and American lingo to the British lingo.)

For the pastry:

  • 500g plain flour, plus extra for dusting (4 cups All-Purpose flour)
  • 100g icing sugar (3/4 cup powdered sugar)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 250g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes (2 sticks) -- For the Gravenstein apple pie I made, I used half butter and half shortening. Wanted to try out this ratio because Alton Brown mentioned it on Good Eats last year.
  • 2 large eggs
  • a splash of milk

For the filling:

  • 10 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and halved, 3 sliced -- I used Calville Blanc variety of apple for the appleberry pie and Gravenstein apples for the 100% apple pie. I didn't prepare the apples like he states here, I sliced all the apples. Why? The apples I chose don't cook down as much as Granny Smith and my family is used to slices.
  • juice and zest of 2 oranges -- I used one orange.
  • 7 heaped tablespoons caster sugar (granulated sugar) -- I used 5 tablespoons.
  • 400g huckleberries or blueberries (2 3/4 cup) -- I used blueberries.
  • 1 heaped tablespoon plain flour (All-Purpose flour)
  • 1 large egg
  • A small handful of demerara sugar -- I didn't use this sugar, never seen it before. I read from an internet source that this sugar is used in sweetening tea and coffee.
How it tasted? When I first read the recipe for the meatballs I thought, "These aren't going to be very flavorful." I mean, only salt, pepper, and mozzarella for flavor? No need to fret next time. I served delicious meatballs and everyone liked them. Now I know why good Italian food is known for its simplicity.

The appleberry pie and Gravenstein pie were both very tasty. The appleberry pie kind of surprised me because the major flavor is orange. I thought the blueberries would be the primary fruit in this pie, but it was that one orange I used! Go figure. I'm not a big orange fan so I was kind of disappointed by this. I'm glad I only used one orange instead of the suggested two, or boy, that would have been a very orange-y pie for sure. Next time I think I will either eliminate the orange altogether or just add orange juice. But for those who do like orange, go for a whole orange here.
The appleberry pie had a good amount of juice on the bottom, but from what I can tell from the recipe's picture, this is normal. It didn't affect the 'mucho' crust at all. The crust for this pie was flaky.

The Gravenstein pie was surprisingly good. The frozen apple slices I used held up well and had a good texture. Initially, I thought this pie would have applesauce for a filling; thank goodness I was wrong. The crust was less flaky than the appleberry pie but was more tender. So the addition of shortening and subtraction of butter did make a difference. Gosh, Alton Brown was right. ;)

How about a 2nd time? Yes, to both recipes. But maybe next time I'll add onions to the meatballs (I love onions, hehe) and omit the orange from the pie.

As you can see, there is a bit of juice on the bottom of the pie.

Baking Fish for the First Time

2/7/10: Baked Costa Rican-Style Tilapia with Pineapple, Black Beans, and Rice with French Bread on the Side

Meal details: For the main course I made a baked fish dish that included pineapple, black beans, rice, lemon, orange juice, and more. For a side, I baked two loaves of French bread.

Defining moments: First time for me with cooking fish (I've only eaten it before!), using black beans, and marinating.

Recipe sources: The fish recipe was created by Ingrid Hoffman, the host of Simply Delicioso on Food Network. I chose this fish recipe specifically for the FNCCC (Food Network Chef Cooking Challenge) that is being hosted by the I Blame My Mother blog. And the French bread recipe came from the February/March 2010 issue of Taste of Home magazine. Here is the recipe:

French Loaves
  • 2 Tbsp. active dry yeast
  • 2 cups warm water (110F to 115F)
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups bread flour
  • 1 tsp. cornmeal
  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the salt, sugar and 2 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.
  2. Turn onto a floured surface; kneed until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
  3. Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Shape into 12-in.-long loaves.
  4. Place seam side down on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with cornmeal. With a sharp knife, make four shallow slashes across the top of each loaf. Bake at 450F for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
What I learned: Ahem. I learned how to cook fish. Period. I never thought I would do fish--the job is usually given to my brother--so I am very proud of having chosen this recipe. Anything else in particular this week? Ya know, putting together this fish dish was not too far off from the ordinary for me. Sort of like making a casserole, in a way. Perhaps the marinating part? Nah. I've seen that old, ziplock bag trick so many times on Food Network, that when the time came for me to do it, it felt like deja vu.

Any modifications? Yes, to both recipes. For the fish recipe, I didn't use cilantro (not available here right now), used bass and bluegill fillets instead of tilapia (the fish were caught by us!), and used lemons in replace of limes. I also baked it for 45 minutes instead of 30; longer baking time could have been caused by thicker fillets--not too sure. I mean, I never saw tilapia before!
For the bread recipe, I added two cups of whole wheat flour to the dough and 1 tablespoon of vital wheat gluten. The whole wheat was added because a) I like the flavor, b) more fiber and nutrients, and c), I want to use it up. The vital wheat gluten isn't really "vital" for this recipe since there is bread flour added too, but I just wanted to make sure since I've never really changed a bread recipe before.

How it tasted? I didn't find one morsel left of either! I couldn't find one complaint anywhere. The fish were moist, tender, and perfectly cooked. The rice, black beans, salsa, pineapple bottom layer was very flavorful and had wonderful texture. The bread rose and baked just fine (no problem caused by my addition of whole wheat), and it had a chewy crumb and a soft crust.

How about a 2nd time? Yes!!!!!! And maybe I'll try using some Northern Pike that my brother caught this winter. Yummy!

Pizza Heaven

1/31/10: Le Hog Pizza and Peach and Blueberry Crumble

Meal details: For the main course I made a pizza using homemade pizza dough that was topped with a white sauce, bacon, ham, etc. For dessert, I made a crumble consisting of two of my favorite fruits: peaches and blueberries.

Defining moments: First time making a white sauce (aka cream sauce). I've seen this done many a time on tv and I was very excited to try this one out.

Recipe sources: Both recipes came via the Food Network channel. The pizza recipe is from Guy Fieri, the host of Guy's Big Bite and the crumble is from Ina Garten, the host of Barefoot Contessa--Back to Basics. I chose to do these two recipes in honor of the FNCCC (Food Network Chef Cooking Challenge) that is being hosted by the I Blame My Mother blog. Ina Garten is one of my favorite chefs so I have been looking forward to doing one of her recipes since the beginning of the challenge. The pizza dough recipe came from the basic recipe section of the 2500 Recipes from Everyday to Extraordinary cookbook. I received this cookbook as a birthday gift and it has many delicious sounding recipes in it.

What I learned: I learned a very unique way of baking pizza in the oven. The 2500 Recipe cookbook told me to place my pizza dough on a lightly oiled sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil and stretch it to my desired diameter. I then add the pizza toppings and move the whole pizza--foil and all--to the oven. (I used a cookie sheet to transfer it.) The book says to leave the pizza on the foil for the whole baking time but when it was in the oven for 15 minutes I didn't see any browning action happening on the bottom. So as soon as the pizza was sturdy enough, I moved it to our pizza pans that have large holes on the bottom and I gave them another 15 minutes to bake. The bottom crust was then able to brown. I didn't want to put the pizza on the pizza pan at the beginning of baking because I thought it would seep through the holes. I think the foil and pan technique worked out well.
I also learned how to make a cream sauce which was unexpectedly easy. I was thinking about this sauce all week long and when it was time to make it, I was finished in a matter of 10 minutes. For some reason I was wishing the process took longer!
I didn't learn anything new from doing the crumble. I've done similar preparations in the past.

Any modifications? Yes, I made major modifications to the pizza recipe and a couple to the crumble. The pizza recipe found on the Food Network website is the scaled-down version of a recipe used in a restaurant. The recipe was scaled down drastically and, in my opinion, suffered dramatically. Proportions were way off in some places. This is my revised recipe for two 14" pizzas:

Le Hog, Revised Edition:
  • Pizza dough (I used the pizza dough recipe found in this cookbook and doubled it)
  • 6 meatballs, broken up
  • 1 lb. chopped cooked bacon
  • 10 slices of honey ham cold cut slices
  • White Sauce (see recipe below)
Roll out pizza dough to 14 inches and top with white sauce, bacon, and meatballs. Bake in a 425F oven for 25 minutes. Top with ham slices and bake for another 5 minutes.

White Sauce recipe:
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3/8 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 12 oz. whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp. black pepper
In large pot, over medium heat, add the butter, onion and garlic and saute until the onion is translucent. Stir in the flour and when flour starts to bubble, whisk in the chicken stock, cream, cheese, and pepper. Remove from the stove and cool. Yield: 3 cups.

For the peach and blueberry crumble: The original recipe had ramekins in mind and since we don't have those I used a 4 quart casserole dish and tweaked the recipe. This is my ingredient list:

For the fruits:

  • 1 1/2 quarts of canned peaches, drained (I used the peaches I canned last year, see here to learn more)
  • 2 teaspoons dried lemon peel (didn't have any lemons on hand)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/8 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart frozen blueberries
For the crumble:
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/8 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 sticks cold butter
How it tasted? Both dishes were wonderful. The pizza was crispy and slightly chewy and the white sauce was very rich and flavorful. The crumble was warm, tart, and sweet. Everyone liked the meal!
How about a 2nd time? For sure!

Note: There was enough white sauce to cover both pizzas. I just wanted to make sure half of one pizza was done in the ''traditional'' way just in case someone didn't want to give the new sauce a go.