Thursday, October 20, 2011


Empanadas are, essentially, meat pies. (There are empanadas made with fruit and vegetables as well, but this post is about meat empanadas.) Practically every culture in the world has meat pies in one form or another; empanadas are the variety - varieties, actually - that appeared on the Iberian peninsula during the time of the Moorish invasion and which can be found all over the Hispanic world today.

These are my interpretation of the empanadas we Zonians used to buy at our clubhouses. (It's difficult to explain the concept of a "clubhouse" in this sense to a non-Zonian. Just think of it as a kind of cafeteria, with perhaps a movie theater, a bowling alley, a soda fountain, and / or a public swimming pool or other such attached.)

They're cocktail empanadas; meaning the sort of thing you'd find at a party in a private home or at a wedding reception at an Officers' Club. A larger variety, suitable for a typical Zonian's or Panamanian's lunch two or three times a week, was more common.

First we fry up some ground beef and pork: 

While that's cooking, we prepare our vegetables, spices, and herbs. Here we have onion, green pepper, tomatoes, parsley, and sliced green olives w/ pimento, as well as red pepper, black pepper, salt, oregano, and a bay leaf. The canonical recipe(s) also typically include(s) hard-boiled eggs, capers, and currants, but I usually leave the eggs and currants out. I've also left the capers out this time, but only because I happened not to have any at hand at the time.

Note that I've prepared a smaller bowl of all of the above ingredients. This is because I'm making a smaller batch of shrimp empanadas for someone who doesn't eat red meat. I don't think I've ever seen a shrimp empanada in Panama or the Canal Zone, but it sounded like a perfect opportunity for an experiment - and, as a matter of fact, those turned out rather well.

Rather than sweat or sauté the vegetables separately, we just add them to the beef and pork once it gets going pretty good:

For the shrimp empanadas, however, we sweat the vegetables and spices separately in just a bit of oil:  

Here's what the red-meat mixture looks like after a while. We'll cook it down a bit more to reduce the volume of liquid, and if too much remains behind we'll just drain it off.

The shrimp, of course, we just throw into their pan to par-cook.

The next day (or whenever the filling has cooled), we assemble the empanadas.

Those dough rounds are just plain pastry dough, like you'd use for a pie. I always cheat and just buy some boxes of pie-dough mix at the supermarket - making the filling and assembling the empanadas is trouble enough, and nobody ever seems to notice anything wrong with the crust. I guess if I were working for Dean Fearing or somebody like that I might take more care with it.

The dough rounds are folded over the filling into half-moon shapes and crimped with a fork. Here on the left we see two pans of beef-and-pork empanadas and one small pan of shrimp empanadas, ready for the oven:


And here's what they look like after having an egg wash brushed on them and baked at 350° for a while. 

These were a big hit. They always are!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Morning Drivetime Handmeal Options

I still can't believe I thought this might be a good idea:

The filling is rather bland and lifeless, and the coating is greasy and fragile. Not good commuter food at all.

These, on the other hand, aren't too bad:

The crust (note that I didn't write "coating") is neither flaky nor tender, but it's dry and serviceable. And the filling has just about the right balance of identifiable meat, cheese, and egg to qualify as real food.

Moral: stick with what's real and what you know, even when purchasing processed foods. Empanadas are real food. "Omelet Crisper?" Never heard of it.

(apologies to Larry Niven)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Jack Rose

The Jack Rose is a classic that's fallen out of favor - it just hasn't enjoyed the continued popularity of the Manhattan or Martini, or even, say, the Sidecar. It's a fair bet that most bartenders will have to look it up in Jones (or, in the less-fancy places, Mr. Boston's). Fortunately, it's enjoying a bit of a revival.

It's one part Grenadine, two parts lime juice, and four parts applejack. If you can't find applejack, you can use calvados, but by no means should you use store-bought grenadine when it's so easy to make your own. Just start with a pint of pomegranate juice, simmer it with a cup of cane sugar till it's reduced to about a cup, and chill it. You can add a bit of 100-proof vodka to it as a preservative, but it'll keep fairly well in the refrigerator without it.

Anyway: shake it well in a standard cocktail shaker (I use my standard 128-count), and serve it straight up in chilled stemware. It's really quite a nice little tipple - not too sweet, just a little tart, and who doesn't like apples?

Pasta with Red Meat Sauce

Mise en place: beef, veal, onion, bell pepper, garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, basil, pasta, parmesan. I used to simmer this for hours, but lately I've just been using a pressure cooker. The results are slightly different in a way I can't quite put my finger on, but pretty good either way.
Sweat the onions and bell pepper in a little olive oil in the pressure cooker, adding garlic at the end.

Remove the vegetables and brown the meat...

.. and drain. I find it easiest to just use a strainer in a trash can.

These San Marzano tomatoes are a little pricey, but they're worth the extra expense.

Add them to the pressure cooker along with their juice, and crush them with a - um, whatever that thing is. A masher, I guess.

Then add the meat back in along with the herbs, and simmer a bit.

Add the vegetables back to the pot...

.. seal it up, bring it to pressure, and cook for about half an hour.

Run under water to release the pressure.

The finished sauce:

Boil the pasta.


I learned this from my dad, who'd been making it for as far back as I can remember. I don't think he used bell pepper, and I think he added some neck bones as well, but of course you can change this up any way you like. Last time I made it I browned a strip of pork chine (the little bones from a rack of ribs that you usually just cut off and cook separately), and that added quite a lot of flavor.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Salt-baked potato

What you see here is a russet potato on a bed of coarse salt with a shredded bay leaf and a shallot. This is yet another thing I got out of a magazine. The idea is that the salt is supposed to help cook the potato evenly and keep it from drying out.

What goes with a baked potato? Steak! Here's a flat iron (AKA clod or top blade) steak. It's a shoulder (chuck) cut, and has been kind of neglected until recently - so it's usually fairly inexpensive, even though it's quite tender and has a lot of flavor.

And what goes with steak? Mushrooms! Oyster mushrooms, in this case.

Mushrooms sautéing:

... a little darker:

... deglazed with a bit of brandy:

Finished mushrooms:

Potato's done:

Here's the cooked shallot, peeled:

... and some fresh thyme:

Use both to make a nice compound butter:

Slice the steak and top it with the mushrooms; split the potato and top it with the compound butter:

Verdict: not too bad, although I didn't really notice any significant difference in the potato between this method and simply baking it with olive oil and salt. Next time I'll probably throw a shallot in the oven for more compound butter, though.