Fig and Walnut Empanadas

2-17 Fig and Walnut Empanadas

Food cravings- I get them all the time. Sometimes I crave a salad, or some veggies, and that is great- my body thirsts for nutrition when I deprive it too long. And sometimes I just need some chocolate, red meat, or salty potato chips. Fine too, a little snacking and indulgence never hurt anyone. But the worst cravings are when I crave food I ate in another city. I’m looking at you, beaver tails

Well, practically every time I head home to Houston, I stop at this amazing empanada place. In fact, last trip, it was the first stop in town. I was grouchy and “witchy” after a long drive home, but all that grumpiness melted away as we stopped and I took my first bite into my empanada.

But what’s a girl to do when she is grumpy at home with no empanadas to listen the mood? Well, make her own! The emapanda dough I use is quick to whip up, only takes a little chill time the refrigerator, and is very easy to work with. Cheese and fig may seem weird, but think of it as a warm cheese plate wrapped in pastry dough. It just works. Then dollop some of your favorite fillings, bake, and devour.

FIG AND WALNUT EMPANADAS
Inspired by Marini’s Empanada House

INGREDIENTS

For the Crust:

1/2 cup water
5 ounces butter
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
Pinch of salt

For the Empanadas:
3/4 cup fig preserves
1/2 cup chopped walnits
3-5 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded

DIRECTIONS

For the Crust:

In a small saucepan combine water and butter. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until butter is melted.

In a bowl combine flour and salt. Slowly pour in butter mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until a wet, oily paste forms. Pour dough onto a sheet of cling wrap. Wrap cling wrap around dough, forming into a disk. Chill for at least 1 1/2 hours, preferably 2 hours.

For the Empanadas:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Divide the dough into 20-25 small equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece into a 4-5 inch circle. Place about 2 teaspoons of fig preserves in the center of each piece of dough. Sprinkle walnuts and mozzarella cheese on top. Fold over the dough tightly, forming a half moon shape. Crimp closed with a fork.

Place on lined baking sheet. Freeze for 15 minutes. Bake for 18-25 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool slightly before eating.

**To reheat, I have found the empanadas still get a crispy shell when you bake as directed above, let cool and store at room temperature, and reheat for 5-7 minutes at 400°F.

Makes 20-25 empanadas.

Spinach in Puff Pastry

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I love food around the holidays since it always involves so many desserts.  And while I will happily provide you all with lots (and lots) of sweets during this month, unfortunately we do have to eat some non-dessert food in order to be socially appropriate. Sigh.

Another great thing about the holidays in the winter season is that you get to eat a lot of rich, warm food.  Casseroles (like my homemade green bean casserole), pastry, and lots of cheese.

This spinach in puff pastry dish is another winner from Ina Garten.  I have yet to eat one of her recipes that wasn’t fabulous.  And how could this dish be bad when it has cheese and puff pastry?  I am happy with just a piece of warm puff pastry so when it’s stuffed with a cheesy spinach, spanikopita-like filling, it gets even better.  Serve this with soup or a salad and you got a great lunch or dinner.

SPINACH IN PUFF PASTRY
Slightly Adapted from Barefoot in Paris

INGREDIENTS

4 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
20 ounces frozen spinach, thawed
6 scallions, chopped
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, for egg wash
Kosher salt, for topping

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add butter and melt. Add onion and toss. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until tender. Add garlic and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and pour into bowl.

Squeeze liquid out of spinach. Add to bowl with onions. Let mixture cool slightly if needed. Stir in scallions, Gruyere, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg and eggs.

On a lightly floured surface, roll one sheet of puff pastry to approximately 12 inches by 17 inches (an additional 2 inches on each side). Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread spinach mixture evenly on top, leaving about a 1/2 inch border. Brush the border with egg wash. On a lightly floured surface, roll out second sheet of puff pastry to approximately 13 by 18 inches (an additional 3 inches of each side). Place second sheet of puff pastry on top and crimp the sides with a form. Brush the top with egg wash. With a sharp knife, cut three slits on top. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes. Cut and serve.

Serves 4 as a main dish, serves 12-14 as an appetizer.

Classic Cream Scones

This baking season was a season of some horrific surprises.  Apparently, many of my mom’s homemade recipes that I believed to be her creation from her natural motherly instincts come from the boxes and bags of ingredients.  The horror! The horror!

With the confidence from my upbringing destroyed, I had to bake away the pain (Just kidding, a recipe is a recipe and all that matters is that what you make tastes delicious.  Props to mom for cooking anything for us little brats).  When I want to try something new, I often turn to my cooking holy book: Cook’s Illustrated.  I love their explanations and scientific recipe testing techniques.  I have yet to have one of their recipes fail me.

I have had very few scones in my life, just the occasional Starbucks scone at the airport or some store bought scones as snacks. They were all just okay, but these scones were crumbly, slightly sweet, and tender.  Want to treat yourself to a light tasting breakfast these holidays?  You need to look no further.  And you’ll feel so fancy eating these scones instead of a handful of cereal that your pinky may involuntarily rise into the air.  These are a great gift to bake up for your friends and family.  Or serve it as part of your Christmas breakfast.

CLASSIC CREAM SCONES

Barely Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
INGREDIENTS

10 ounces all purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
5 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
2/3 cup currants
1 cup heavy cream
Turbinado sugar, for topping*

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a food processor combine flour, sugar  salt, and baking powder.  Process for 5 seconds to mix.  Sprinkle cold butter on top and process until crumb mixture forms.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Stir in currants and then heavy cream.  Stir until soft dough forms.

Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead into soft ball.  The mixture will be very crumbly still but press into a 9 inch circle.  Cut into 10-12 small pieces   Transfer to baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Sprinkle with sugar, if desired.  Bake for 10-11 minutes, rotating pan halfway through.

Cool on wire rack for at least 10 minutes.  Eat warm or at room temperature with butter or cream cheese.  Store in airtight container (they flavor gets better over time, so try to save some for the next day).

Makes 10-12 scones.

*You can also use normal granulated sugar.

Spanakopita

After only trying Greek food for the first time last year, I have been busy at work making up for lost time.  All those years when I turned up my nose at those “funky” foods with yogurt, sweet spices, spinach, and olives- what a waste.  I am now enamored with Mediterranean cuisine in all forms.
For those who have never had spanakopita before, it’s a pastry of phyllo dough filled with a spinach, nuts, and cheese. It’s warm, crunchy, and cheesy all at the same time- perfect as a side dish with some lamb or a main dish served with a Greek side salad.  Making homemade spanakopita seems like an intimidating and long process, but it really isn’t.  It takes a little more effort than a microwave dinner perhaps, but the results are so much better.  The only step that might pose some difficulty is buttering each phyllo dough and layering.  I’ll be honest- I often don’t bother with buttering each sheet when I am feeling lazy, and it still tastes good.
(On a side note, I am very proud of these pictures.  I have taken dozens upon dozens of pictures of Spanakopita, but these are the first to actually look appetizing- all thanks to a new camera from my uncle!)
SPANAKOPITA
Adapted from Ina Garten
INGREDIENTS
12 cups fresh baby spinach
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chicken stock
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 ounce Romano cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

12 sheets phyllo dough
3-4 tablespoons melted butter

Kosher salt
DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.


Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Add spinach and cook until wilted.  (You may need to do this in two batches if you don’t have a skillet large enough).  Cool in a colander.  Drain and squeeze out excess water.  Set aside.


Heat a medium skillet over medium heat.  Heat olive oil and  add onion. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until golden brown and tender.  Add garlic, and cook for 1-2 additional minutes until fragrant. Deglaze the pan with chicken stock and continue to cook until all liquid has evaporated.  Cool and set aside.


In a large bowl, combine eggs, Parmesan, nutmeg, spinach, onion, and garlic.  Season with a generous pinch of salt and some freshly cracked black pepper.  Fold in a pine nuts and goat cheese.


Working with 3 sheets of phyllo dough at a time, brush each layer with melted butter as you layer then on top of each other.  Cut the sheets in half lengthwise.  Place a dollop on each strip of phyllo dough.  Fold in a triangular shape as if you were folding a flag. Place on baking sheet fold-side down.  Repeat with remaining phyllo dough and filling.  Brush the tops of the spanakopita with melted butter and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until tops are golden brown. Let cool for 3-5 minutes on baking sheet before eating.


Makes 8 spanakopita.  Serves 2-4.

Fig and Strawberry Baklava


I have been waiting for fresh figs to pop up in grocery stores for about a year.  I just missed last year’s fig season by a couple of weeks (this was back during the days when I was only beginning to cook for myself), so it’s been a long year of anticipation.  Except that I completely forgot that fig season was happening, so maybe not so full of anticipation.  I nearly walked past these in the grocery store, but luckily I finally got to buy my fresh figs while they are in season.
Now that I had fresh figs, and I went to work finding a recipe to make with them.  I wanted a recipe that let figs shine as the star.  I debated between a savory or sweet recipe, but in the end, I decided not to fight my sweet tooth.  I browsed through my recipe books and was sad to find that most of the recipes with figs only needed dried figs.  I wanted to make a recipe that could only be made with fresh figs, so I decided to come up with one myself.
This is my spin on baklava, using fresh fruit instead of all nuts.  And it’s still somewhat healthy for a dessert, so everyone can stick to their resolutions for 2012 and still enjoy a little something sweet.

FIG AND STRAWBERRY BAKLAVA

From Cinnamon Freud
INGREDIENTS

15 strawberries, chopped
10 figs, chopped
3-4 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon brown sugar
16 ounces walnuts, chopped
1 pound phyllo dough, thawed
2 sticks butter, melted
2 cups honey
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
Toasted almonds, for serving

DIRECTIONS

In a large bowl, combine strawberries, figs, honey, and brown sugar.  The amount of sugar and honey needed will depend on the the sweetness of the fruit used.  Taste and add more sugar if needed.  Macerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Brush a 9×13 baking pan with butter.  Layer 6 sheets of phyllo dough, brushing with melted butter on each layer.  Top with a small layer of the strawberry and fig mixture.  Top with walnuts.  Layer 3 sheets of phyllo dough, brushing with melted butter on each layer.  Top with a layer of strawberry and fig mixture.  Top with walnuts.  Layer 6 sheets of phyllo dough, brushing each layer with butter.

Bake for 35-40 minutes.  If top begins to brown too much, cover with aluminum foil.

Meanwhile, combine honey, water, sugar, and vanilla extract in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer.  Let cool.

After taking baklava out of oven, pour honey sauce over top warm baklava.  Let cool to room temperature for several hours.  Cut with a sharp knife into triangles.  Top with toasted nuts if desired.