Archive for the ‘Appetizers and Food on Sticks’ Category

I have a great love of what I think of as international hot pockets.    A delicious savory filling in a pastry crust  is always a winner in my book, and it seems like every cuisine has one.  Samosas, dumplings, peirogies, pasties…they’re all excellent.

So when I saw this empanada recipe on Smitten Kitchen I immediately added it to the list of potential frozen apps  to bring  to the shore with my family.

I made some changes, mostly switching out the chorizo (which I don’t often have) for Italian sausage (which I do always have), and using hot Hungarian paprika instead of sweet Spanish paprika.  Pretty sure my changes resulted in highly inauthentic empanadas, but they were a huge hit with my family.  There was talk of my quitting my job to open an empanada shack, and there was some skepticism about whether I had really made them myself since I just pulled them out of a plastic bag in the freezer and threw them in the oven.  So yeah, not only is the filling tender and flavorful and the crust flaky and buttery, but they freeze wonderfully.  I make them in giant quadruple batches and freeze them in gallon freezer bags.  Sadly I think I’ll have to hang onto my day job.  They’re good, but they aren’t that good.

Chicken and Sausage Empanadas adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 24 empanadas

  • 2.5 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (or thighs+legs)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper pepper
  • olive oil
  • 3 hot Italian sausages
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp hot paprika
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup white wine*
  • 1/3 cups chopped green  olives (I just use the standard cocktail olives with pimentos.  Pretty sure it’s meant to be the much better non-pimento-ed kind.  Use what you’ve got)

Sprinkle chicken w/ salt and pepper and brown well on both sides in a swirl of olive oil in a deep skillet.   Remove chicken and set aside.

Squeeze sausage out of the casing and brown well in skillet, breaking up into small pieces as it cooks.  Drain off excess fat if needed, you want some still in there, but you don’t want it to be swimming in grease.

Saute the onions and garlic w/ the sausage till the onions are softened.  Add the bay leaf and paprika and cook for another minute. Add olives, broth and wine*, and bring to a boil, deglazing the bottom of the pan.  (i.e. scraping up the yummy brown bits).  Put the chicken pieces back in the pan along with any collected juices and reduce heat to low.   Simmer for 25 to 30 minutes until the chicken is nearly fall off the bone tender.

Pull out the chicken pieces and place them on a (clean) plate and allow them to cool until you can handle them.  While the chicken is cooling, if needed, simmer the remaining stock/wine/onion mixture until the liquid is the consistency of heavy cream.

Remove the skin and pull the meat off the bones in small pieces and mix it back into the broth/onion mixture and allow to cool for ~25 minutes.

Note: *I don’t always have white wine on hand, so sometimes I sub in 1/4 cup dry vermouth and make up the rest of the liquid with extra chicken stock.  You could also just use all chicken stock, but the little bit of alcohol definitely adds something worth having.  Vermouth is a great general sub for white wine because it keeps much much longer than a bottle of wine.  A Tbsp here, a Tbsp there, it’ll last you a long while.  Plus you’ll be ready if any martini drinkers drop by.

The finished filling, it’s not pretty, but trust me, it’s tasty:


  • 4.5 cups flour
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks  butter, frozen
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup ice water
  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 tsp paprika*

Combine flour, salt and paprika and mix well.

Place half of the flour mixture in the base of a food processor fitted with a shredding disc**.  Shred the frozen butter.  Dump the frozen butter shreds and flour into the rest of the flour mixture into a large bowl, and break up the butter clumps gently and as quickly as possible.

(You are trying to distribute the butter evenly while heating i t up as little as possible.)

Whisk together the cold eggs, ice water and vinegar, add to the flour/butter mixture and mix until the dough just comes together.  I’m serious about the coldness here.  The colder the liquid the less your butter pieces will melt and the flakier your crust will be.   It will still look dry and a little clumpy. Like this:

Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour, and up to 6 hours.  While it’s chilling the water will distribute itself and the dough will come together.


*I often  make multiple flavors of empanadas in one session to freeze.  I realized that i was going to need a way to tell one flavor from another, so I started adding colorful spices to the dough to color code the different flavors (pink/paprika=chicken, yellow/turmeric=beef, brownish/chili powder = pork).  I decided I liked the hint of flavor it adds, so I do it all the time now even if I’m only making one flavor.

**The shredding blade is not necessary.  It’s my favorite way to make large volumes of pastry crust in short order, but using a hand held pastry cutter, or just two butter knives will work just fine.  You just need to break the butter up into small pieces without letting it melt.


Divide dough into 3 equal pieces.  Work with one piece at a time, and keep the other thirds in the fridge covered with plastic wrap.

Divide each chunk of dough into 8 roughly equal pieces and roll them into balls.  Roll each ball out into a 3″ by 7″  inch oval on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin.

Gently pick up the dough oval and make sure that it’s not sticking anywhere, then place 2 Tbsp filling in the center of the circle and fold the dough in half over the filling to make a half circle.

Seal  the edges of the pocket by folding the bottom edge over the top and pinching well.   Keep the seal close to the filling, but don’t pull it taut.   Press the seal all around with the tines of a floured fork.

And now in photos in case the text description makes no sense (sorry about the nail polish):

At this point if you wish you can freeze the empanadas on a tray till firm and then package in freezer bags or saran wrap and foil. (saran first, then foil)

Bake directly from frozen (or unfrozen)  at 400 degrees for ~20 minutes on a parchment or silpat lined sheet till golden  brown.   Your oven may vary, keep a close eye on them and switch the position of the cookie sheets halfway through baking.  Remember the filling is already cooked, so no worries about undercooked meat.  As soon as the crust is done you are good to go.  They’ll look like this:

The one on top there is actually a beef empanada, with tumeric in the dough – hence the yellow color.

And then if you cut one open it’ll look like this, and you’ll want to cram it into into your mouth as quickly as possible so as not to lose any flaky goodness.  Mmmm…

P.S. Just for funsies – recipes like this can get pretty tedious.  I like working with dough, but when I make a quadruple batch of empanadas (24×4=96) that’s a LOT of rolling and filling and sealing.  So this is how I make it less tedious:

That’s blurry me, on the couch in my sister’s living room, rolling out empanadas on a cutting board on my lap (kinda getting flour everywhere…sorry sis) while watching Harry Potter DVD’s.  So now you know my secret, and you too can engage in couch cooking!  Hopefully you are less messy than I am and/or you have a coffee table without little grooves around the edges to trap the flour when you try to wipe it up.  (sorry again sis!)

(The choice of a blurry picture is intentional…my hair is a fright and I think I’m still wearing my PJ’s.)


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I love pistachios.  They are by far the prettiest of nuts, and they are fun to eat in their little shells.  During my macaron adventure I learned that pistachios plus rose water is a wonderful combination, and so when I saw this post from Beth over at One Hundred Eggs it immediately caught my eye.  I filed it in my “next time I have a party” pile, and pulled it back out for a friend’s baby shower a few months later.  I am so glad I did!  The soft sticky dates, with the sweet honeyed nuts and just a hint of floral fragrance go so well together.  The warm spices offset all that sweet nicely too, so it’s not tooth ache inducing.

Oh and, they were easy too!  Yeah, it’s assembly work so it takes some time, but it’s the kind of thing you can do while watching TV and not mess up.  (otherwise known as “couch cooking” in my house.  I can often be found in front of the TV with my big cutting board in my lap and a pile of something to be chopped/peeled/stuffed/wrapped in a big bowl next to me.)

I also took Beth’s advice and wrapped about half of them in bacon and popped them into the oven to get crispy.   Stroke of genius.  The salty crispy meat against the sweet sticky date and the nutty-spiced filling – so much going on there and it’s all good.   Sadly, they were pretty much the ugliest party food I’ve ever made, and it was reflected in the fact that nobody ate the darned things.  Granted, we also had about 3 times as much food at the party as we needed, but still, I ended up taking almost all of them home again.   I’m not sure why I’m saying that like it’s a bad thing though…it meant I got to eat them all myself!  You can see a picture of them, looking sad compared to the rest of the party food, on my friend Dani’s blog here.   Scroll down about halfway through her post and check out the bottom corner of the table.   Ugly right?  But totally delicious.  The mama-to-be  (who as of yesterday is a mama!  Congrats Lisa!) described the non-baconed version as baklava wrapped in a date.

I made some changes from Beth’s recipe –  I increased the amount of pistachios (of course) and took it easy on the rose water.  I love rose water, but I do not like a heavy dose of it.  It starts to make me feel like I’m eating a fancy floral soap.   And I did the whole thing in the food processor since that seemed like an easier way to combine nuts with sticky honey.

Stuffed Dates adapted from One Hundred Eggs

1/2 cup almonds
3/4 cup pistachios (or other nut if you insist)
1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
4 Tbsp honey
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1 healthy pinch of salt
1-2 tsp rosewater
30 pitted dates
15 pieces of bacon, cut in half (Optional)

1.  Toast your nuts.  Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for 4-8 minutes.  Keep an eye on them, burnt nuts are a horrible thing and cannot be salvaged.

2.  Pulse the nuts in a food processor until finely chopped.  Add the spices and sugar and pulse to combine.  Add the honey (start with about half of it and see what happens) and the rosewater and pulse to combine.

3.  Squeeze a pinch of the nut mix.  If the clump holds together you are good to go.  If not, add the rest of the honey (and feel free to consider adding more rose water as well.  Taste it and see what you think) and pulse to combine.   The resulting mixture reminded me of Floam, and started to climb the sides of the food processor.

4.  Stuff the pitted dates with the nut mixture.  Both the filling and the date are sticky enough that you shouldn’t have any problems getting the filling to stay put.  Just put a spoonful in there and shape the date back into a football shape around the filling.  You will get sticky; just go with it and remember not to lick your fingers until you are done.   (to pit dates – cut a slit down one side of the date using a paring knife.  Remove pit.  Very easy)

5. (Optional) Wrap with bacon, using tooth picks if needed to hold the bacon in place.  Bake on a broiling pan or rack above a cookie sheet at 375 degrees till the bacon is crispy.  Let cool and eat.  Tasty warm or at room temp.

The bacon-less version will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container at room temp.  The bacon-ed version needs to be refrigerated to store and should be reheated for a few minutes in a warm oven.  And should you be without food processor, this could all be done with some diligent knife work on the nuts, maybe a little smashing in a ziploc bag with a rolling pin, and then just stirring in the spices and honey by hand.

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I received a delightful email a couple of weeks ago from my friend Lindsey.   She has a CSA share, which she has been blogging faithfully over at Our Share of the Harvest.   She was going to be out of town for a week and asked if I wanted to be her veggie stand-in.  I was thrilled, and of course I said yes.  So following her directions I drove to the farm on Wednesday after work, pulled up to a barn and found myself a lovely bin of veggies with her name on it!   Check out her blog here for a rundown of my haul.

It also happened that the following Sunday both Lindsey and I would be attending a baby shower for a friend of ours.  Perfect timing to make a baby shower dish starring some of my borrowed veggie bounty!  Looking at the haul, the obvious answer was to make something featuring these beautiful cherry tomatoes.

Seriously, how gorgeous are they?  Glowing red and yellow gems.  And they had the flavor to match their good looks.  Firm, but totally ripe, with a delicious sweet pop of tomato flavor.  Tastes like pure summer.   (also check out the purple basil on the bottom of that picture.  They made an appearance at the party as well)

I wanted to really show them off, and I decided a tart would be the best showcase.  Off to Epicurous I went, and came across a Tomato-Goat Cheese tart that looked perfect.  I made some slight changes, mostly due to necessity, but if (when) I make it again I think I’d make another couple of adjustments.  The cherry tomatoes are so sweet that they need a little bit of help standing up to the rich custard.  I think I’d cut back on the goat cheese a bit, and increase the basil significantly.  And then maybe either add a dollop of Dijon mustard to the custard or maybe drizzle a bit of reduced balsamic vinegar over the top to serve.  Some crumbled bacon would also be an excellent addition.  (Mister tested that one out with the leftovers and gave it a thumbs up)  Add a side salad and this would be great for a lunch or brunch dish, or a light summer dinner.

Cherry Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart adapted from Epicurious.com
For crust:

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold butter
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp ice water
  • raw rice for weighting crust (or pie weights if you’re fancy)

For filling:

  • 1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves  (this is all I had in that little bunch of purple basil.  I’ll do at least 1/2 cup when I make this again)
  • 7 ounces mild soft goat cheese, softened
  • 3/4 stick (6 Tbsp) butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup cream (or just use a total of 1/2 cup sour cream as the original recipe calls for.  I only had 1/4 cup so I improvised.  It worked)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 pound cherry tomatoes  (you might be able to sub in slices of regular tomatoes.  I haven’t tried it, but if you do let me know how it goes)

Optional add-ins worth trying:

  • 1 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/4-1/3 cup crumbled crisp bacon
  • reduced balsamic vinegar

Making the crust:

I make all my pie and tart crusts in the food processor.  If you don’t have a food processor, a pastry cutter, two butter knives or your hands are all valid options.   You just need to somehow smush the butter into little chunks combined with the dry ingredients quickly so the butter doesn’t get a chance to melt.

Dump the dry ingredients into the FP and give it a quick pulse to combine.  Add the butter (which should be as cold as possible without being frozen) and pulse it until it is a mix of coarse crumbs and pea sized chunks.   Add the water and pulse until it will hold together when you pinch it.  You might need to add more water…take it one tsp at a time if you do, and only pulse till just combined.   Note: the water should be actual ice water, not cold tap water.

Dump the dough (which will still be crumbly) out into your tart pan and press into the sides and bottom in an even layer.  I used a 11″ round pan, but a 10″ would also work, or a rectangular pan as called for in the original.  When I make it again I want to use my 4″ mini-tart pans, and I think the full recipe will make about 6 of them.  Don’t worry if it’s not even at the top, this crust is pretty rustic with the cornmeal, so it doesn’t need to be perfect.  Stick it in the fridge to chill for at least 20 minutes.

While it’s chilling preheat the oven to 375.

Carefully line the dough with tin foil and fill with rice or pie weights.  Bake for about 10 minutes until the edges are dry and firm and then carefully remove the rice and tin foil and cook for another 5-8 minutes until the center is done but not browned.

Set the crust aside to cool.


Chop your basil.  Wisk everything together, and season to taste with salt and pepper.   If you want to try the mustard add-in it would go in now.

Pour the filling into the crust.

Halve the tomatoes and arrange cut side up all over custard, lightly pressing them in.  If you want to try adding crumbled bacon I’d sprinkle it over the top before adding the tomatoes.

Bake the tart at 375 degrees F. for about 25 minutes, or until the filling is just set (i.e. not jiggly in the middle.)   Let cool on a wire rack and then remove the sides of the tart pan and dig in.  It slices pretty neatly, but the crust is not terribly sturdy so a careful transfer from pan to plate is needed.

As a serving suggestion try drizzling a couple of drops of reduced balsamic vinegar over the finished tart and let me know how that tastes.  I was going to try this myself, but somebody ate all the leftovers before I could get a chance.

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Chocolate-Covered.  Peanut Butter.  Cheesecake.  On sticks.  Seriously, could these sound any better?  Besides, everything is better when it’s on a stick.

This was one of the many treats that I served up at my sister’s baby shower.   Among all those other sweets, these were the standouts.  They were also the first of the leftovers to disappear, since it’s just so easy to grab just one more bite every time you walk by the fridge.

The name really says it all.  Creamy, peanutbuttery cheesecake with a chocolate shell.  They are particularly good straight out of the freezer where they will keep for at least 2 weeks.  They’d probably be fine for longer, but that’s as far as they made it in my house.  I had some problems cutting the cheesecake into neat squares, but I have that problem with everything.   Learn from my mistakes:  be patient, mark your even squares out before you start, and wipe your knife down with hot water after each cut.  They were still awesome even if they were lumpy.

I followed the recipe largely as originally written, but I decreased the shortening in the chocolate coating quite a bit.  I might consider increasing the peanut butter next time.  I adore peanut butter, and it ended up being drowned out a bit by the rich chocolate and tangy cream cheese.

Chocolate-Covered Peanut Butter Cheesecake Bites adapted from The Food Network

  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 3 8 oz. packages (1.5 lbs) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cups creamy peanut butter
  • 12 oz good quality dark chocolate, chopped finely
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable shortening
  • Toothpicks or small lollipop sticks

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Use foil to line an 8×8 pan, leaving a generous overhang on two sides (this is your sling to lift the finished cheesecake out of the pan) and spray the foil with nonstick spray.

Beat the creamcheese and sugar until very smooth.  Add the cream, yolks and vinilla and mix on low till just combined.  Stir in peanut butter.

Pour the mixture into the 8×8 pan and bake for 15 minutes.  Lower the heat to 200 degrees (opening the door for a bit to allow the excess heat to escape) and cook for ~45 minutes.  The edges will be set, but the center will still be wobbly.  Turn off the oven and let the cheesecake cool in the oven for 45 minutes.  Cover the cheesecake and transfer to the fridge for at least 8 hours.

Remove the very chilled cheesecake from the pan using the foil sling (it’s much easier to cut when nice and cold) and carefully slice into 1.5 inch cubes using a long knife.    Arrange cubes on a sheet pan and stick a toothpick into each square.  Freeze the squares till firm – at least an hour.

Melt the chocolate and the shortening together in a small deep bowl.  I like to use the microwave at 50% power (nuke for a minute, stir, nuke again in 30 second intervals as needed), but if you prefer you can use a double boiler.  If you do, be careful not to get any water into the chocolate.

Take the bites out of the freezer and dip them one by one into the chocolate (holding by the toothpick) and place onto a sheet pan lined with wax paper or a silpat.  Put them back into the fridge till the chocolate hardens and then serve – or (and this is my preference) stick them into the freezer until nice and hard and then transfer to a airtight container for storage or serve straight from the freezer.

They are good at room temperature, or fridge temperature too, but definitely best frozen.

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