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Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!  I’ve been slacking on the blogging lately, but I have an  totally lame extremely reasonable excuse – I’ve lost my recipe for beef empanadas.  I was going to follow up my chicken empanada recipe with one for completely inauthentic and excellent beef empanadas, but my raggedy, grease-covered recipe card is missing.   I’ve been so annoyed with myself for misplacing it that I’ve avoided the blog because the half finished draft of the beef empanada post was just pissing me off all over again.  So…my overly emotional response to losing a recipe aside…I’ve been cooking up a storm and have lots of other recipes to share so I’m going to get back into the swing of blogging regularly and just figure out the beef empanadas later.

This year we went to thanksgiving with my mother-in-law’s family.  When the giant planning emails started making the rounds I noticed that sweet potatoes were missing from the prospective menu.  So I volunteered to make them, and after a lot of deliberation, decided to make a standard glazed sweet potato, but to dial down the sweetness a bit.  I love sweet potatoes in any form, but the ooey-gooeyness can be a bit cloying on a plate piled high with other rich foods.  So enter these glazed sweet potatoes that definitely fit in that traditional sweet-sweet potato category, but with some citrus and a touch of booze to cut the sugar.

Several people told me that they aren’t generally a fan of Thanksgiving sweet potatoes because they are too sweet, but that these were good.  Most of them got eaten, so it seems that they weren’t just being nice about it.  I loved them, but I’m a sucker for sweet potatoes so I can’t trust my own judgment.  I would reduce the amount of zest I used though, and the recipe below reflects that change.  The only issue is that I didn’t get a picture until the leftovers were packaged up.  So it’s…umm…quite possibly the least appetizing picture you will ever see on this blog.  The recipe is good though!  I promise.  It’s just a little worse for the wear here…

Honey Citrus Bourbon Glazed Sweet Potatoes adapted from Epicurious

  • 5 lbs sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 mild honey
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar
  • juice from one orange
  • zest from half of the orange
  • 2 Tbsp bourbon (I used Makers Mark.  Mister tsked over this and told me to use the cheaper stuff next time, but it’s a holiday and it’s two Tablespoons.  Live a little!)
  • 1 tsp salt

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into 1-2 inch chunks and place in a large mixing bowl.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine remaining ingredients in a small sauce pan and heat over medium high, mixing until melted and combined.  Continue to boil for ~10 minutes until syrupy.

Pour glaze over sweet potato chunks and toss to coat.

Dump sweet potatoes and all the glaze into a 9×13 pan and bake until the sweet potatoes are tender and the glaze is reduced to a thick syrup. (~30 minutes)

Once or twice while cooking use a rubber spatula to gently mix the tater chunks to assure even cooking and glaze distribution.

Nom.

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Chicken & Sausage Empanadas

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:

Crust

  • 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.

Notes:

*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.

Assembly:

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.)

Coming Soon: Empanadas

I know I had a couple of requests for the empanada recipe, and I promise it’s coming soon.

I’ve been too busy cooking to blog lately, but I’ll catch up.  😉

Here’s a picture for you in the meantime:

I went to an all-girls summer camp for two weeks every August from about 4th grade to 10th grade.   The last year I was there I was actually older than some of the junior counselors but I just wanted to squeak in one more year of being a camper.  I LOVED that place.  My sister and I still talk about it as if it was some sort of idyllic fantasy-land.  Which honestly, it kinda was.   You wake up every morning snug in your sleeping bag with the crisp mountain air wafting through the screened cabin, spend all day riding horses, swimming, hiking, canoeing, doing arts and crafts, dancing, and playing tennis and volleyball, and then you lull yourself to sleep at the end of the day by reading books by flashlight under your sleeping bag.  And as you can imagine, all those activities result in a healthy appetite, so thankfully, the food was actually good!  Institutional food is rarely anything more than edible, but the ladies who cooked at my camp kept it simple and tasty (think tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches), and there was always dessert.  My absolute favorite was the gingerbread, which they served with big bowls of whipped cream and lemon curd.

Now that last part may have induced a “huh?”, but trust me.  Gingerbread with lemon curd is not to be missed.  So when I had a half a bowl of leftover lemon curd from my sister’s baby shower, I immediately started looking for something gingerbread-esque to go with it.  And David Leibovitz came through with these chewy ginger cookies.  He paired them with lemon-ginger ice cream, so you know I’m not crazy.  They are dark and intensely gingery, with a soft yet chewy texture.  They are actually non-fat, which is great, but that is totally negated by adding lemon curd.  The cookies call for 2 egg whites, which leaves you two yolks for making a small batch of curd.  Clearly it’s meant to be.

Chewy Ginger Cookies adapted from David Lebovitz

Makes about 20 cookies.

David recommends cooking down applesauce from 1/2 cup to 1/4 cup and using that in the cookies for a denser cookie.  I just used apple butter since I have several jars leftover from last year’s apple picking bonanza.  I think the apple butter added an extra level of spicy goodness, so if you were making this with apple sauce I’d consider bumping the spices up by just a pinch.  He also calls for mild-flavored molasses, but I have no idea where you’d find such a thing.  Regular old molasses worked fine for me.  Also, I love that David gives weights because I hate using a cup to measure molasses.   If you don’t have a kitchen scale just give your measuring cup a quick spritz of Pam and the molasses will slide out much easier.

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 apple butter (75 g)
  • 1/3 cup molasses (45 g)
  • 2 1/4 cup flour (315 g)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 1/2 tsps cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsps ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 egg whites at room temp (set aside the yolks for the lemon curd)
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped candied ginger  (I like leaving a couple of slightly bigger chunks as a nice surprise in some bites)
  • ~ 1/2 cup white sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon for rolling

Beat the brown sugar, apple butter and molasses on medium for about 5 minutes.  Scrape down, add the egg whites and beat for another minute.

Sift together the dry ingredients and add to the wet with the mixer on low.  Mix well.

Stir in the candied ginger and then chill the batter.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Put your cinnamon sugar in a shallow bowl or dish.

Scoop the batter in heaping tablespoons and plop into the sugar dish.  Roll the balls of dough into rough spheres using the sugar to help keep the sticky dough off your fingers.  They don’t have to be perfect.

See, not perfect:

Place the dough balls on parchment or silpat lined baking sheets with at least 3 inches between balls, because these will spread.

Bake for about 13 minutes, until just barely set in the middle.  They are supposed to be soft, so don’t overcook.  Let cool.

Lemon Curd (not sure where exactly this came from…but it’s lemon curd.  It’s a staple)

Makes a small batch.   I didn’t measure.  Maybe about a cup?

  • 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp (white) sugar
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 egg yolks

Combine the lemon juice, lemon zest and about half of the butter and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.

Whisk together the yolks and the rest of the sugar.

Slowly pour about half the hot juice mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly, and then pour the yolks back into the rest of the hot juice in the saucepan.

Cook on medium-low, whisking, until the whisk leaves a trail.

Turn off the heat and add the remaining butter, whisking well to combine as it melts.

Strain into a bowl and press plastic wrap directly to the surface.

Chill at least 30 minutes.

Serve sandwiched between cooled ginger cookies.  Or on top of gingerbread.  Or with a spoon.

(now I want to try making a layer cake version of gingerbread with lemon curd as the center filling and a whipped cream lemon icing.   Hmmm…)

Bacon Ranch Coleslaw

As I’ve mentioned before, I love cabbage.  It keeps forever in the fridge, so during weeks where my schedule is up in the air, cabbage is a great standby veggie.  If it ends up hanging out in there, keeping the ketchup company, it won’t turn into a slimy mess by the time I manage to turn it into something.  Besides, it’s surprisingly pretty.  See?

This particular time the “something” included the ranch dressing that has been hanging out in the condiment shelf and the 1/4 lb of bacon languishing in the fridge.   Bacon ranch style might not be the healthiest way to eat your vegetables, but it was damn tasty.

Bacon Ranch Coleslaw

  • 1/4 head green cabbage
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 1/4 lb bacon
  • 1/4 cup ranch dressing (you can go all fancy and make your own, but I like Hidden Valley)
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • a splash of bacon fat
  • a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper

Shred the cabbage.  I use my mandolin, but a box grater or sharp knife will work too.

Slice the onion as thinly as you can and toss with the shredded cabbage.

Saute the bacon till crisp, drain and crumble.

Whisk together ranch, vinegar, a splash of the bacon fat and pepper.  Taste and add salt  if needed, but with the ranch it probably won’t be neccessary.

Pour the dressing over the cabbage and onion and toss well.  Sprinkle the bacon over the top and toss lightly.

I think this would be a great side to some burgers.

My mister has very specific taste when it comes to desserts.   He likes chocolatey chocolate chocolate.  He likes cheesecake.  And he likes chocolate chip cookies.  So of course one evening when I found myself with a hankering for some cookies he requested chocolate chip.

I usually make the Tollhouse bag recipe, but I didn’t have any chips and was planning to use a chopped up Trader Joe’s Pound Plus bar so I headed off to the interwebs to see which recipe I wanted to make.  Bridget over at The Way the Cookie Crumbles came through big time with a chocolate chip cookie comparison post.  Reading through her comments, I decided on the Cook’s Ilustrated Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip cookies.   She described them as “cookie flavored bubblegum” which doesn’t sound like a glowing recommendation, but I have a thing for chewy cookies.  And chewy they were.  I’m a definite fan, but I have three quibbles:

1. The instructions involve a ridiculous forming, ripping, rotating, reforming process instead of just normal balls.  I tried it, saw absolutly no effect and decided that I was A-OK with my usual scoop and plop method.

2. Freezing had an interesting effect.   I froze about half of the dough and when i cooked it later it came out as a very different cookie.  Still tasty, but it lost a lot of its chew.  Mister actually liked them better this way.

3. The dough tasted strongly of vanilla extract.  I actually didn’t mind that, but Mister did and that meant that when i grabbed a chunk of frozen dough to eat while watching Mad Men on Netflix he handed his piece back to me and I was stuck eating it all on my own.  (ahhhh…first world problems)

So all in all, they were good.  If you want chewy cookies and want to freeze the dough, make something else.  And if you want to eat frozen dough and don’t like the idea of a slight alcohol flavor, make something else.   But if you want warm from the oven, giant, soft and chewy chocolate chunk cookies?  Go for it.

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies from Cooks Illustrated via The Way the Cookie Crumbles

Makes 1½ dozen giant 3-inch cookies

  • 10.5 oz flour (2 1/8 cups.)
  • ½ tsp salt (I used kosher, because that’s what I have.  I increased it to 3/4 tsp to account for the increased volume of kosher salt)
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • ½ c. white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1.5 cups chocolate chunks (semi or bittersweet)

Preheat oven to 325 deg F.

Mix flour, salt, and baking soda.

In your stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, mix butter and sugars well. Add in egg, yolk, and vanilla and mix well.  Add dry ingredients; mix until just combined.  Stir in chunks.

Original Instructions:  Form scant ¼ cup dough into ball. Holding dough ball using fingertips of both hands, pull into two equal halves. Rotate halves ninety degrees and, with jagged surfaces exposed, join halves together at their base, again forming a single cookie, being careful not to smooth dough’s uneven surface. Place formed dough onto one of two parchment paper-lined 20-by-14-inch lipless cookie sheets, about nine dough balls per sheet. Smaller cookie sheets can be used, but fewer cookies can be baked at one time and baking time may need to be adjusted. (Seriously America’s Test Kitchen?  I know overly complicated recipes are like, your thing, but still.   Ridiculous.  There was no discernible difference between cookies made using this method and the scoop and plop below.)

My Version:  Scoop into balls using a large spring loaded scooper or two tablespoons.   Make the balls big.  Giant cookies are better than little cookies when it comes to chewy.  Places the balls onto silpat lined cookie sheets, about 9 per sheet.

Bake, switching your cookie sheets top to bottom halfway through baking if you are lucky enough to actually have an oven that will hold two sheets at once, 13 to 18 minutes.  They will be lightly colored, and set and crispy around the edges but still soft in the middles.  Leave them on the sheets to cool and then eat while still slightly warm.  With a glass of milk.

Go-To Yellow Cake

I admit it, I’m a box cake snob.  I’ll eat them, happily, in giant pieces slathered in frosting.  But I won’t cook them.  I just can’t make myself do it.

I wanted to have a counterpoint to my favorite chocolate cake at my sister’s shower, so i went looking for a good yellow cake recipe that could stack up to the box cake standard.  And lo and behold, I found it over at Smitten Kitchen.  Has it become clear yet that I am a big fan of Deb’s?  She waxes rhapsodic about the joys of this cake as a birthday cake stand-by, and I have to agree.  It’s moist (there’s that word again), it’s soft without being too squishy to stack easily and it has a great vanilla flavor.  I will happily be filing this away in my recipe box to make an appearance at birthday parties and celebrations for years to come (whenever I can drag myself away from the chocolate cake of course).  I’m looking forward to trying this as a layer cake, but I can say with certainty that it is excellent as a cupcake.

Go-To Yellow Cake borrowed (not really adapted at all, just cupcaked) from Smitten Kitchen

made ~24 cupcakes, but also works for a 2-layer 9″ cake.

  • 4 c plus 2 Tbsp cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks softened butter
  • 2 c sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 eggs, room temp
  • 2 cups buttermilk*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.   Line cupcake pan wells with cupcake liners, or if making a regular cake, spray 2 9″ cake pans with Pam, line with parchment and then spray the parchment.  Or use butter, which is messier, but probably a little better in the taste category.  I am lazy and use Pam.

Combine dry ingredients (except sugar).  In a separate large bowl beat butter and sugar till fluffy.  Add vanilla and beat.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating and scraping after each one.  Turn speed to low (so as not to fling batter everywhere) and slowly add the buttermilk.  It will look like a mess.   Trust in Deb and just keep going.   Add the dry ingredients in three batches, mixing until just incorporated (i.e. no dry streaks).

Fill the cupcake liners about 1/2 – 2/3 full, and smack them on the counter to get rid of air bubbles.  (or fill two cake pans, also with the smacking).  Bake until it’s a lovely golden color and a toothpick comes out clean.  (Deb says 35-40 minutes for a cake, cupcakes take considerably shorter.  My oven is unpredictable so I’d say start checking around 15 minutes to be safe.)  Cool in pans on rack for ~10 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely on racks before frosting.  The frosting I used for these cupcakes are here.

*As usual, I subbed in regular milk+2 Tbsp lemon juice.  Combine, let sit till curdley, mix and use as directed.    One of these days I’ll buy some powdered buttermilk.